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Published September 24th 2018

Interview: Brenda Wong on Life in Customer Operations at Challenger Bank Monzo

Monzo is expanding fast and showing no signs of slowing – how are they going to scale their customer-centric teams and processes? We chat to Brenda Wong from the Customer Operations department to find out what life is like inside the company that's changing how personal finance works.

“Monzo time is like bullet time in the Matrix,” laughs Brenda as we discuss what life is like working for one of the UK’s most exciting startups.

Having just moved to their swanky new office in Finsbury Square, London, Monzo’s team is rapidly expanding. Someone with an 11-month stint under their belt is now considered worthy of the title “grizzled veteran.”

Customer Operations may not sound like the most glamorous of departments, but Brenda’s proud to work on the front line of customer service and it sounds like an exciting place to be. The team are having to scale fast as the company sends out thousands of new cards a day, and with no branches all customer interaction takes place online or over the phone.

I’m keen to discuss Brenda’s opinions on automation in the space, as well as how the team works together and how a famously transparent company deals with product feedback.

“There’s a perception that banks are slow, banks are extremely unhelpful, banks are not here for you.”

The personal banking industry has been crying out for disruption for years. The big names are known for their big waiting times and general glacial pace when it comes to all things new.

Convenience and moving at the pace of the consumer is key to Monzo’s early popularity. Since convenience, as we’ve found, is something consumers value more than security when it comes to financial institutions, it makes total sense.

Customer support is open 24/7, every day of the year. “When we do get messages in for customer support on social media, and we do every day for all sorts of different things, they are always surprised at how fast we are responding to it,” Brenda says. It’s not just responses to questions that work faster, either:

“For example, the way that you can recover your pin if you forget it – in any other legacy bank you have to wait for, I don’t know, at least three to five working days for a letter to be posted to you, for example. You can recover your pin within five minutes on the Monzo app.
It’s getting people to understand that everything that you can do with your old bank you can do in the app in a fraction of the time. There’s a perception that banks are slow, banks are extremely unhelpful, banks are not here for you.”

Traditional banks can also be intimidating and less than forgiving.

“I think Monzo’s biggest USP and the reason why people love the product so much is that it is a massively useful budgeting tool. There’s a severe lack of financial education, at least in the society we live in today.”

She’s right – personal finance played little to no part in my education. Dealing with heart-breaking calls from people in deep debt clearly has an effect on Brenda and her colleagues, and she tells me about the various ways Monzo champions education around managing your finances in a world where many people don’t know the difference between a debit card and a credit card. Caught trying to navigate the complex language of banking used by the behemoths, you can see why Monzo’s customer-friendly outlook appeals.

This customer centricity is reflected in the company’s approach to product development, too. Brenda describes Monzo’s Community Forum as a fascinating place for both ardent fans and people with an interest in fintech.

It’s one of the many places the team find customer feedback that can be communicated to the product team.

“You’d be surprised how much we do listen and go, oh, that’s a good idea,” Brenda explains. She says that the ‘coin jar’ functionality that rounds up purchases and saves the left over pennies was originally posted as an idea in the forum by a customer.

Mastering communication through the screen and phone

Currently Brenda’s team pick up customer queries coming from social media and on the phone, although a large chunk of Monzo’s Customer Operations team are dedicated to online chat.

She admits that while her team are trained and well-practiced in all areas, the skills needed for social and the skills needed for phone interactions are very different.

“We usually get calls in about people who are potentially suffering from gambling addiction, or particularly vulnerable customers or even people who are trying to scam you out of stuff. We get a lot of potential fraudsters calling us. So that’s one skill – being able to be resilient and listen and understand how to deal with that situation.”

She compares this kind of interaction to social media encounters: “Or, you know, what’s the best GIF to tweet out to a customer who contacts us through their social media channels. I think it’s a very flexible and a very adaptable squad.”

The future of the team could look quite different although, as you’ll see, Brenda doesn’t think things in her line of work will ever be fully automated.

Automation and personalization

Machine learning could have a significant impact on the way tasks are assigned to team members, based on people’s specialisms. It’s a future not too far away for Monzo, Brenda predicts. Even though some machine learning is already used to make suggestions to the Customer Operations members dealing with queries, she says it won’t take over the human element.

“People think the future of customer service is bots and automated things that just read key words and then spit out some answers but that’s just not great customer service. The best customer service that you can provide is human beings delivering a human service because every situation is different.”

One way that Monzo uses data to create a slicker customer experience, and one that requires less human interaction time, is through users’ Help pages. Brenda explains:

“Every person’s Help page on the Monzo app is different. It analyzes your spending history, it analyzes where you are in the world, it also spits out trending articles, so for example if there’s scheduled maintenance on a system for bank transfers across the country we’ll be like OK that’s going to be the trending article – ‘why is my bank transfer delayed’ – on the top.”

There’s a mix of humans and machines at work in Monzo’s Customer Operations team and it’s clear that they’re not shy about experimenting with new technology. That said, Brenda’s faith in humans as the ultimate providers of quality customer service is a comforting thing to hear.

The bank for everyone?

Call volumes are one the rise, and Brenda thinks it’s because the customer demographic is changing – it’s not just tech-savvy millennials signing up for Monzo anymore.

There are customers who don’t understand what an app is or what a selfie is (and you need to be able to take one to recover your PIN), so a lot of Brenda’s time is spent explaining the tech. I ask her whether a lot of the interactions they have over the phone are linked to people adapting to dealing with a branchless bank. She says “people tend to call us because they think that’s what you have to do – you’ve got to call the bank and it’s like, no, you can contact us through all sorts of different means.”

There are challenges to being the bank of the future that everyone needs. It’s certainly the bank of the future that a lot of people need, but the tech can be more intimidating for some than others.

Describing the company’s office, Brenda says: “It’s very chill. It doesn’t look like a bank. Nobody in the office looks like a banker.”

As Monzo’s employees head to their Moorgate office on the tube in their T-shirts alongside their suited banker counterparts, it can feel funny. “You’re like, I’m very different from everybody else who’s working here in this particular area of the city,” Brenda says.

It’s certainly true that Monzo is different from most of the banks in the city. Whether or not a bank that does everything differently will be a bank for everyone remains to be seen, but it’ll be exciting to watch the steps they take in the process.

Thanks to Brenda Wong for taking the time to chat with us. You can find Brenda on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Have you got a unique perspective in working with social? We’d love to speak with you! Email [email protected] for more information.

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