How to Build Customer Trust, With Sergio Feo

Episode 55 Sergio Feo, Director of Customer Experience at Pibank, shares their story of becoming one of the top banks with the highest customer satisfaction. Feo emphasizes the importance of creating a strong value proposition that guides major corporate decisions and acts as the building block in gaining trust with customers. 

Episode 55

Episode Summary

Building a strong relationship with customers.

It is no secret that high levels of customer satisfaction relate to valuable relationships with customers, but how can businesses build those relationships differentiating their service from their competitors? According to Sergio Feo companies need to move away from exclusively transactional services and propose a new and different kind of relationship with their customers. At Pibank they do this by portraying their branches as a place of valuable information where customers can go and listen to someone whose judgment they trust as if they were friends sitting on the same sofa giving advice to each other. If the customer recognizes you as a useful source of information and value, they are also more likely to start trusting you, choosing your business over others.

Integrating customer trust into the value proposition.

To make sure that building trust is a consistent part of the business, companies need to include it in their value proposition. When putting the statement together, Sergio and his business partners needed to envision their target customer, their personas, making sure to direct their services to their needs. The first questions they asked were “What do people need?” and “What do people need Pibank for?”. After running some informal meetings, they reached out to anthropologists to investigate the behaviour of digital banking customers in Spain and found three main profiles, the expert, the one who looks for advice, and the amateur. They then targeted their services to these categories, making sure they could all find value from building a relationship with Pibank.

Building trust in technology.

If building trust in people takes time, building trust in technology is probably even harder. Sergio Feo shared an interesting story about how for the hundred years that followed the invention of elevators, elevator operators were used because people needed someone to rely on that would take responsibility for that short journey. As Sergio stated, “to build trust in a technology you need a record of consistently good performance without major incidents until it becomes ordinary”. Mistrust is, therefore, an evolutionary tool and according to Sergio, it is the most valuable asset as a brand. This is because customers’ perception is key since the fact that something technically works doesn’t mean that it works for the people, and companies need to understand how to implement the right tools at the right time.

Looking at the future, it will be interesting to see how people start familiarising themselves with self-driving vehicles and more automated services and how long it takes to build trust in AI to the point where it could be implemented in ordinary daily operations on every level.


This article summarises podcast episode 55 ” How to Build Customer Trust" recorded by CX Insider. For more information, listen to the episode or contact Sergio on his LinkedIn profile.

Written by Alessia Trabucco



Full episode transcript

Sergio: The fact that the technology works is not enough for people to trust that technology because trust takes time. And I think there's a very nice example when elevators were invented in the 19th century they had a pilot. They had an elevator operator that would press the buttons, and it was an extremely easy operation but people needed to feel there was someone in charge, someone that took responsibility for that trip from the ground floor to the fifth floor. So elevator operators were useful until the 50s, which is almost 100 years after the invention of the elevator because to build trust in technology, you need a record of consistently good performance without any major incidents.

Valentina: In today's episode, CX Insider invited Sergio Feo, director of customer experience at Pibank, who's going to tell you how Pibank became one of the top banks in Spain with the highest customer satisfaction. We will talk about earning customer trust, building relationships, and how having a strong value proposition can help you achieve that. So enjoy the episode and let us know your thoughts on LinkedIn.

Valentina: Pibank is a digital division of Banco Pichincha in Spain. Its brand was created as a response to an increasing number of consumers who fully adapted to self-service channels. Since its launch in 2018, Pibank has become the third bank with the highest customer satisfaction. We talked to the director of customer experience at Pibank Sergio Feo and asked him to tell us the story of their success. In the next 15 minutes, Sergio will walk you through their mission vision, finding their customers, and he will explain how all these components enable them to deliver a great customer experience. Going back to 2017, when the initial idea was born, Sergio, unlike his colleagues, did not have any previous experience in the banking sector.

Sergio: Pibank is a very interesting and young brand. It was born in 2017, that's when when when I became part of the project, when Begonia Martinez, which is the general manager of the bank, put together a management team formed by the product manager, marketing manager, and me as a customer experience manager. So the fact that that customer experience had such a relevant role in the management team was I mean, I was aware that it was very unusual. But Begonia herself has been previously a customer experience manager for another bank. So customer experience was, yeah, was at the very core of the bank from the beginning. In my case, unlike the rest of the team, I had no previous experience in banking. My academic training is in design and communications, and I spent many years in this very same consultancy business, so to a certain extent, I consider myself a designer who works in a bank. Actually, I mean, even though the design is something that has a very slippery definition, my favorite definition of design is that it's what happens between a person and an object, meaning something created by humans, so it can be something by dimensional, like a puzzle or three dimensional as an object or something more complex or even non-tangible as services to an organization. So my work is that experience between in this case, Pibank and our customers, either with a more functional or operational perspective, like right now or with one more focus on the whole experience. But that, yeah, that's basically my background because of that background I cannot help having a view of customer service and customer experience that pays special attention to the cultural perspective and social perspective and also to the cognitive process, you know, like how why people behave the way they do and why and that I think that's a sure viewing in people.

Valentina: An immediate question that I thought of when I first heard of Pibank and its purpose in providing banking services to consumers who want self-service technology is what's the value of a physical branch anyway, especially in their case?

Sergio: We have five branches which are in some of Spain's main cities, such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Zaragoza, and Bilbao. In my opinion, I mean, going back to this idea that you asked me about the branch of the future, if there is a branch of the future, it should encourage a cultural change, proposing a different relationship with customers. So how does that materialize in Pibank? The branches of the bank are a space where the team of Pibank shares the same sofa and the same screen that the customer has at home. So it has I mean it recreates the same layout and interaction and dynamics that you may have with someone whose good judgment you trust, a friend, for instance, or a relative with whom you might sit by his or her side. And you would both look at your laptop to see if he can give you good advice about financial products. For instance, in Pibank branches, you don't make transactions, you find information, and it is a place where the customer goes to look, listen, and where you can build a trust that eventually is the basis of our interaction.

Valentina: When Sergio and his teammates first started putting together their value proposition, they also needed to envision their target customer, a.k.a. persona. For this task, they hired a couple of anthropologists to conduct research and help them find the right customers.

Sergio: If I go back to the very first day, there we were, you know, a group of people that that, you know, had to we had to build a brand from scratch. And of course, the very first question is what for, why people need another bank? So it's very easy to be tempted by the idea that you are needed and take that for granted. That's not necessarily the truth, the first thing you do need to answer is why do people need you? And most importantly, what do people need? Need banks for and what do people need money for? So what we felt that we needed was to ask the right questions to other people. And that's what we decided to do. So first, we gather people in informal meetings to ask them these kinds of questions. And later, we would do more structured research interviews and at some point, we also collaborate with anthropologists to understand digital banking customers in Spain. So they found that it's very interesting they found three main profiles.

One of these profiles is what we or they call the expert. That is someone who is knowledgeable about the financial world likes to have control and detailed information and spends the time that he or she needs to make the best decisions. The second profile is someone that looks for advice, so usually, this person relies for financial decisions on someone he or she trusts, like a friend or relative. And that typically it's the so-called expert is that kind of person. And the third profile was what we call the amateur which is the majority of customers. And this kind of these people is not particularly fond of banks. They only need banks for the important things of their lives, such as us achieving their goals and spending more time with their kids and family and the good stuff of life, you know, whatever that means for every person. But that's what they need you for. So, for us, that was an extremely valuable insight because that was going to be the target.

Valentina: As a challenger bank starting from scratch winning customer trust is hard. You have a great product and years of experience, but trust has to be earned. Sergio talks about how major decisions and essentially everything they do should reflect in their value proposition in order to earn trust from their customers.

Sergio: I would not dare to say that it's unique, but it's our value proposition for sure. I think that we want to be the partner that our customers can trust to focus on the important things of their lives. And that basically requires offering good products, easy to understand and, if possible, among the best three of their category. So, I mean, if we are going to be that partner that they can trust, you need to build trust. Of course, you don't take it for granted, you have to earn it. And trust requires transparency, and transparency requires simplicity. That's, for example, the reason why we have one product and not many of its category, because if you are trying to do the best product, it is unlikely that you will have five products of that category because maybe four of them are not the best, you know, so that philosophy of simplicity is absolutely correlated to transparency and eventually trust. So there's an example I always use because I think it's illustrative when we launch our first product, it was a payroll account, we had to decide whether we would charge for using ATMs or not. So we decided not to charge for using it, so in this case, the sentence ATMs free of charge doesn't need a second lecture. Which ATMs? Any ATMs. Where? Anywhere on the planet. So wherever there is an ATM, people and customers can use it for a free period. Of course, that's the sunny side of that philosophy, sometimes decisions will require giving up on certain things, which is painful. But these will be always transparent, honest decisions. And in my opinion, that's how you build trust. You build it little by little and are consistently transparent and simple.

Valentina: Further, in our conversation, after speaking about building trust and keeping things simple, I was interested in how these values manifest in technology and innovation as a digital bank primarily, how do they tackle the challenge between technology and building trust?

Sergio: For us, technology is at the service of people, and not the other way around. And while this is, of course, it's obvious for everyone and for every company, it is very easy to lose perspective because you have work. Think of it fast and it may happen. For instance, we would not implement chatbots right now, and there is a good reason for that is not that we are against chatbots, which of course we are not. The reason is that I say, as I said, Bank is about building trust and trust takes time. And of course, we could choose to use chatbots for what we could consider a low-value interaction, but for other cases, trust is key. And when you're receiving attention on any channel, a feeling that the person on the other side really cares is very powerful. So the fact that the technology works is not enough for people to trust that technology because trust takes time. So for instance, nowadays, I think no one has enough confidence in self-driving cars to prefer a self-driving car to a car driven by themselves. Even though we are awful drivers because we are I mean, compared with a machine, we are awful, but trust in self-driving cars will take time. And I think there's a very nice example: when elevators were invented in the 19th century they had a pilot. They had an elevator operator that would press the buttons, and it was an extremely easy operation. But people needed to feel there was someone in charge, someone that took responsibility for that trip, from the ground floor to the fifth floor. So, elevator operators were useful until the 50s, which is almost 100 years after the invention of the elevator, because to build trust in technology, you need a record of consistently good performance without any major incidents until it becomes ordinary, then you know what to expect. For instance, today, when we get in an elevator, unless we are afraid of elevators, we don't expect anything to happen. You know exactly what to expect from that experience. So, the fact that something works doesn't mean that it works for the people. So, perception and trust are key. And while chatbots might work for low-volume interactions, for the more important stuff you want to feel that somewhere that there is someone who cares and takes responsibility, and we all know that with a chatbot it doesn't occur even though it works, of course. And I think this is OK. I mean, eventually, mistrust is an evolutionary tool, something that kept us alive for millennia. But on the other hand, is the fabric of social life and on and I think it's our most valuable asset as a brand.

Valentina: I hope you'll like this episode. And if you did, please don't forget to like, share a common subscribed on your preferred channel. Or did I forget something? Yes. Follow CX Insider on our LinkedIn page, and I will see you in two weeks.