Customer Experience Q&A With Steve Quirk, SVP, Trader Group, TD Ameritrade

Do you like those thinkorswim commercials from TD Ameritrade as much as I do? Because I love them. Although that’s not the reason we recruited Steve Quirk, a senior vice president (SVP) at TD Ameritrade, to speak at Forrester’s Forum For Customer Experience Professionals East in New York this June.  

Sure, Steve was responsible for the development of new trading tools and technology enhancements for the thinkorswim trading platform. And he does an incredible job of connecting customer experience improvements to technology innovation (as you’ll see if you read on).

No, we recruited Steve because TD Ameritrade shot up seven points in our Customer Experience Index this year, edging ahead of last year’s leader in the investment category, the formidable Vanguard. How it did that and why it did that is a story we want customer experience aficionados to hear.

In the run-up to the event, Steve answered a series of our questions about some of things he’ll talk about. His answers appear below.

I hope you enjoy his insights, and I look forward to seeing many of you in New York on June 24th and 25th!

Q: When did your company first begin focusing on customer experience? Why?

A: From our inception in 1975, we’ve been focused on customer experience, and it is the very core of our firm. TD Ameritrade was created to make trading and investing accessible and understandable. At TD Ameritrade, we believe in the pursuit of better. This concept of continuous improvement inspires us and reminds us that there is always a more efficient, innovative, or smarter way to do what we do, and we are focused on finding it. We are a service provider, and in order to build lasting client relationships, we must understand and deliver on our clients’ needs to earn their trust.

Our clients are savvy, passionate, and engaged; with that in mind, there are many variables that affect the markets that are not under our control. As a firm, we embrace our responsibility to help our clients understand the factors influencing their assets, while providing them with best-in-class tools and resources to help them feel comfortable as self-directed independent investors.

Q: What aspects of the experience that your company delivers matter most to your customers?

A: Trust is critical in our industry, yet few people believe that financial institutions place client interests ahead of their own. At TD Ameritrade, we’re dedicated to minimizing the conflicts that are inherent in our competitors’ models so we can truly focus on helping traders, investors, and advisors.

Access to better tools, products, services, and information has traditionally been a luxury available only to those willing to pay a premium. At TD Ameritrade, we focus on making professional-level resources available to traders, investors, and advisors.

The market can be both exciting and intimidating, and many investors would prefer not to go it alone. At TD Ameritrade, we are committed to equipping traders, investors, and advisors with knowledge, skills, and understanding essential for both enjoying and pursuing success in investing.

Q: What if anything is different about what you're doing now to improve customer experience versus what you did when you were starting out? Why did you change?

A: One change that we have embraced is the acceleration and compression of technology release cycles. This has enabled us to get cutting-edge technology to our clients, in some cases years before our competitors. Staying on the leading edge and challenging ourselves to be an innovation leader is part of the ethos of TD Ameritrade.

As our world has gotten faster, our approach to speed has changed, and we now practice iterative development. We rely on our clients to help us iterate to the best experience. We actively encourage them to participate in the process to ensure we’re meeting their needs. Our investing and trading platform updates are less about big-bang releases and more about small, continuous, iterative improvements.

We’ve changed because the speed-to-market has become condensed, and now it’s more important to be flexible in today’s fast-paced market.

Q: How do you measure the success of your customer experience improvement efforts?

A: We measure customer experience success in a number of ways. Perhaps the least scientific, but in some ways most important, is getting client feedback the old fashioned way, directly from our clients. I personally read individual client emails and the responses. I want to see firsthand the emotion, and I ensure our entire product team reads them too. When we receive critical feedback, we reach out directly and try to further understand how we can cultivate a better client experience. Some organizations may shy away from critical feedback, but our organization is fueled by it.

Secondly, we employ an in-house group that reviews all inbound messages to categorize and assign a sentiment. From there, major trends are shared with the various teams to evaluate and address.

Thirdly, we stand on the side of the client, and our people are a differentiator for us. Our client experience also goes beyond technology. An important factor in our success is our people working directly with them and behind the scenes every day. Not only is the knowledge provided by our client service representatives invaluable but they also help improve the client experience by acting as a funnel point for client feedback and suggestions as to how we can improve. 

Finally, we have absolutely seen Net Promoter and client satisfaction scores increase. And the best indication of how we’re doing is by looking at our referral rate. We get a lot of our clients through direct client referrals.

Q: Where do you think your industry will be with regards to customer experience quality in five years?

A: I think the customer experience will continue to become more fluid and integrated into what makes sense in our clients’ lives. Right now, we’re the leaders in mobile trading and put a tremendous amount of thought and effort into constantly refining the experience based on our clients’ ever-changing needs. Mobile will remain a top priority for us for the foreseeable future. 

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