Failing the 'Marshmallow Test'

Una Morabito, Head of Client Management for the Workplace Solutions unit of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).
Una Morabito, Head of Client Management for the Workplace Solutions unit of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).

Una Morabito, Head of Client Management for the Workplace Solutions unit of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).

More than ever, Americans can’t wait to eat their marshmallows.

The “Marshmallow Test” famously measured patience in preschoolers by determining if they were willing to delay gratification for a future reward. A marshmallow was placed in front of a youngster who was then promised two marshmallows if he could hold off devouring the sweet treat within his grasp for 15 minutes.

It was a tough test for children ages 4-6. But judging by the expectations of today’s immediate gratification culture, many adults would fail the marshmallow test within seconds.

Patience, once thought to be a virtue, is so yesterday. MarketingProfs.com reports that 41 percent of Americans say technology has made them more impatient than they were five years ago1.

Impatience has spilled over into expectations for customer service. Companies are rushing to track customer interactions and feedback instantaneously. Moreover, the fulfilment of requests and correction of problems must happen in real time.

But how does the new “culture of impatience” affect financial services? In a world where saving enough to retire takes not years but decades, can financial services companies possibly be expected to move at the speed of light?

That would be 670,616,629 mph and customers are timing us as we speak. Financial firms, including providers of retirement plans such as 401(k)s, are recalibrating their service platforms and capabilities to respond in nanoseconds as retirement savers now want issues addressed immediately. And complaints – especially when they take longer to address than expected -- are often made not just to the offending firm but posted to potentially millions of social media consumers as well.

Consider that 8,212 messages are blasted out on Twitter and 872 photos are uploaded on Instagram every second, according to Internetlivestats.com2.  No one wants to be on the wrong end of a Twitter or other social media fusillade. And a bad review can pop up on Google at the click of a QWERTY keyboard.

MassMutual is running fast to stay ahead of consumer expectations as much as possible, which is why we’ve introduced our new mutual voice customer experience management platform for retirement plan sponsors, plan consultants and retirement savers. We’re the first financial services company to implement this industry-leading approach, turning up the volume as we listen to customers, attempt to fix problems, answer questions, educate participants and, as we track interactions, spot trends.

  Customer engagement seems to be the secret sauce 

Trends that are the golden nuggets that we are sifting for as they enable us to not only help solve problems but to anticipate customer needs, often before customers understand they have a need. In a world where time is measured in fractions of a second, you need to anticipate to delight. Like anticipating that your customer wants a marshmallow.  Now.

It starts with the right technology to allow us to continuously improve our company’s performance as well as the customer experience. With our new customer engagement platform, we are capturing real-time feedback from all customers, across all channels, and transform the data into actionable intelligence. We listen, adapt, and take actions to improve interactions with customers, often in real time.

If we can turn around a customer’s attitude about a potentially disappointing experience, then we can potentially transform a dissatisfied detractor into a pleased promoter. And you can never have enough of those.

Customer engagement seems to be the secret sauce. Four out of five customers report that the experience a company provides is just as important as the products or services it delivers, according to Salesforce3. And consumers are voting with their wallets as Salesforce reports that 57 percent have stopped buying a company’s goods or services because a competitor provided a better experience.

The longer-term value of customer engagement (CX) though, is the ability to get closer to customers, learn more about them, and then deliver what they really need and want. The CX platform facilitates a dialogue with our customers, helping ensure that their voices are considered in every decision. Because in the end, many customers don’t want products and services, they want solutions.

On the plan sponsor level, the data we are gathering is used to potentially improve and enhance the effectiveness of retirement plans. By tracking interactions and issues, our relationship managers and client engagement managers have the empirical evidence they need to recommend improvements for retirement plans such as incorporating more automation, recalibrating plan designs or reconsidering investment choices. And we can do so proactively before a customer even approaches us with questions or concerns.

In a world where light speed is the new normal, we’re moving faster than ever to provide our customers with as many marshmallows they crave, without delay.

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