Stephen Ball, Senior VP Europe & Africa at Aspect Software
The banking world is changing fast. With the era of open banking upon us and a growing number of ‘challenger banks’ and fintech providers emerging to shake up the established order, traditional financial services firms will need to take a close look at how they operate in order to keep up.
The fact is that it’s no longer enough to just offer the basics. Today’s customers want to know they’re cared about and understood on a more personal level than ever before. In an age of instant gratification, social media and smartphones, people expect a high quality of service wherever and whenever. Banks have to respond to this, and the customer engagement centre will be on the front line as more consumers favour digital options rather than going into a branch. So what will they have to do in order to stand out in this extremely crowded marketplace?
Here are five key trends financial services providers must respond to in the coming months:
1. Added value to be a key selling point
While price will still be an important consideration when people are looking for financial products, it is no longer a primary consideration. Indeed, even when it comes to current accounts, the growing popularity of fee-paying accounts that can offer extra rewards as an alternative to traditional free banking illustrates this.
This extends to the customer engagement centre as well. When customers get in touch with their bank, agents should be trying to do much more than simply answer their queries; it is about expanding the overall customer experience, rather than being just a trouble-shooter. With the latest generation of analytics and CRM solutions, they should be able to offer a range of add-ons that are ideally tailored to each customer. With Microsoft’s 2016 State of Customer Service survey finding that 54 per cent of Brits have higher expectations than ever before – and 68 per cent taking their business elsewhere because of a poor experience, then improving the value on offer will be essential in attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.
2. More personalisation
The added value approach leads directly into the second issue for the financial services sector – personalisation. Given the amount of information businesses are now able to gather on their customers, there should be no such thing as a one-size- fits-all solution in today’s environment. Instead, every interaction needs to be unique to the individual customer. The benefits of doing so can be huge, as a study by Forrester Research suggests more than three-quarters of people (77 per cent) will choose, recommend, or pay more for a brand that provides a personalised experience.
This can be as simple as studying a person’s contact patterns so they can predict what a person will be looking for as soon as they get in touch. This approach allows the bank to act proactively to provide a better service, or enable agents to provide unique offers for more complex products such as loans. With the knowledge that it will be suited to the customer in question, there is a reduced chance of applications being rejected, boosting the customer’s individual experience and loyalty to the brand.
3. The rise of the chatbot
True artificial intelligence (AI) is still a way off becoming a reality for day-to- day activities, but the latest generation of chatbots can do a pretty good impression of it. These technologies will be increasingly used by banks at the first point of contact for customers, enabling straightforward transactions to be handled smoothly without the need for human intervention.
As well as providing info on balances and help with payments, this technology could even be used for more complex decisions such as giving mortgage and loan advice. And people won’t be put off by the lack of human involvement, as a recent study by Accenture found seven out of ten people are open to receiving advice from ‘robo-advisers’. If the chatbot can seamlessly switch between itself and a human agent, without the customer needing to reiterate its conversation, then they stand a great chance of being the first port of call for customers.
4. It’s not just the ‘phone
Contact centres may well have already adjusted to the reality that the ‘phone is now just one of many channels that consumers expect to use when they have a query, but in 2017, the balance will shift even further towards tools such as social media and live chat. Microsoft’s survey found that millennials – those aged between 18 and 34 – typically use five different channels for customer service, including the phone, online chat and web support portals.
For banks, it’s not enough just to offer these as options. They must be tightly integrated into a fully-functional omni-channel environment that lets people move between channels as and when it is appropriate, without having to repeat information or experience any drop in the level of service they receive.
5. Speed will be key
One of the consequences of technologies such as smartphones and social media is that people are now connected at all times, and expect the companies they contact to do likewise. Contact centres have made great strides in recent years with tools that can redirect calls to the most appropriate agent or call individuals back in order to reduce wait times and ensure queries can be answered as quickly as possible.
This now needs to extend to every other part of the omni-channel environment. So if a user sends a message via social media, for example, they should only have to wait minutes for a response, not hours or days. Last year, a study by Eptica found the average response time for an email query actually increased by five hours, with response times ranging from just a couple of minutes to more than four days. This isn’t acceptable any more, for any channel.
The financial services sector is changing rapidly due to emerging technologies and the shifting patterns of consumers. The sooner that banks can adapt to these new challenges, the greater their customer retention rates will be along with an increase in new customers. Those who continue to treat customers as a single unit to be handled in the same way, or those with outdated contact channels will face an uphill struggle to stay relevant and appealing to the expanding tech-savvy market.