Zühlke – Empowering Ideas


How Zühlke is helping first direct create amazing service for a new generation

First Direct
  • Launched in 1989, first direct was a challenger to the personal banking establishment, out-ranking its competition for customer satisfaction
  • first direct turned to Zühlke to help it create a next-generation, data-driven capability and embed its customer service culture in its online banking
  • Zühlke is supporting first direct as it joins up its data to deliver real-time, personalised experiences and evolve its vision of autonomous banking.
4 minutes to read

When first direct launched in 1989, it challenged the status quo in UK banking. Offering customers 24-hour branchless banking and intelligent, proactive customer service, it was on a mission to ‘deliver amazing service’. Today, Zühlke is helping first direct to become a data-driven organisation and reinvent amazing service for the future generations of personal banking customers.

first direct has always prided itself on a relentless customer focus, empowering its teams to deliver amazing service. As a challenger bank, first direct stood out for those who wanted to do things their way, generating fierce brand loyalty and a base of 1.5m customers. The bank continues to rank incredibly well for customer service – not just compared to other banks but against consumer brands in general. It has continued to win accolades for its service from the likes of the MoneySavingExpert and even the Competition and Markets Authority.

New habits, norms and expectations

The world has changed dramatically since First Direct launched. Customer expectations, especially for younger people, are informed by their interactions with brands such as Amazon, Uber and Deliveroo. These experiences and relationships are focused on giving customers control, convenience, and real-time access. For first direct, the risk is that its position as a challenger is usurped by a new generation of challengers.

Creating amazing experiences

The bank has always focused on creating exceptional experiences in personal banking. Functionality and features are essential, of course, but their primary goal is to make it a truly personal experience. They want to assist each customer with exactly what they need, when they need it and show that they understand what matters to them.

first direct turned to Zühlke to help them embed their traditional customer service culture and humanity into the digital experience. Working with client teams to break down blockers to change and facilitate cross-silo thinking and collaboration, Zühlke has helped first direct leverage large amounts of high-velocity data to inform actions in real-time. The organisation can now learn from every interaction – or lack of action – and begin the process of engineering and evolving relevant and personalised experiences.

Data pipelines have been established, effectively creating a new bank. They are the foundation of new customer experiences by creating feedback loops that play a fundamental role in pre-empting what matters to the customer at any given moment.

Joining everything up

“Zühlke showed us where there were gaps in our toolset and made suggestions about how we could join things up,” said John James, Head of Digital Product at first direct. “They help us to keep the customer at the heart of what we do in implementation discussions.”

Joining up data across the entire customer journey helps first direct keep ‘working back from the customer’. Customers don’t see their bank as a collection of related but separate functions, products or teams. They expect it to act as a single entity and use everything it knows about them to deliver personalised service. first direct is creating personalised experiences driven by actual behaviour – not hypothetical segments or clusters – experimenting at scale, keeping the customer at the heart of their service, and laying the foundations for ‘Autopilot’ its vision for intelligent, autonomous personal banking.