There can be no dispute that the connected-consumer is firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to dictating how, when and where they interact with brands. Today, nearly three-quarters of consumers expect a complaint on Twitter to be answered in less than an hour, and more than a third are making monthly purchases on their smartphones.
The financial-services sector is not immune to these changes in customer behaviour and expectation. How consumers interact with financial institutions is fundamentally and rapidly changing, and this presents a huge opportunity for retail banks. For example, in the last two years, the number of consumers using mobile apps for financial services has more than trebled, while web chat has jumped from one per cent to 11 per cent in the same period. The challenge now is for the banking sector to find the right balance between digital innovation and tried-and-tested customer-service methods—in a way that makes customers want to stick with one bank for life, using more than just one service from it.
Boosting customer engagement through innovation
While online banking and self-service dominate simple transactions, customer preference and legislative requirements in financial services mean that often an element of personal contact is still required.
So how can banks adapt their engagement to respond to customer demands to be more effective and efficient, while at the same time adhering to regulatory controls, driving business profitability and keeping that personal, human touch? Around the world there is already much innovation happening in the sector that banks can easily adapt to their own markets. For example, in the US, Avaya customer Landmark Bank recently implemented a voice-activation feature that allows its customers to be immediately connected to their favourite bankers just by saying their names when they call in—a feature that may seem small but went a long way to improving customer satisfaction.
In the UK, some of the most well-known retail banks are reinvigorating their services by adopting a more customer-centric approach. In local branches, customers are currently missing around 75 percent of mortgage appointments, often because they are unable to access the right person at a time that is convenient for them. One high-street bank is overcoming this issue by installing video-conferencing software on terminals and tablets in private rooms, in-branch. This means that customers can have a video meeting with any available mortgage advisor whenever they drop into their local branch, even if that branch is small or in a remote location. What’s more, using the software they can also scan, send and receive documents in the same room, enabling mortgages to be approved while in the meeting. The video element provides personal, human engagement that complies with legal requirements, while creating a much faster and more efficient service for both the customer and the bank.
In Germany, too, several financial institutions are using video to improve specific areas of service. Some retail banks are using advanced video-conferencing technology to help multiple parties join a meeting either from within the bank or when invited by customers themselves. Herr Schmidt could quickly conference in his joint-bank-account partner to authorise an action on their account, or a third-party guarantor based in a different location. Third-party advisors such as brokers or business-development managers can also be brought into the meeting on an ad-hoc basis as required. This can all be done using virtually any device, from a smartphone to a tablet, desktop PC or even SMART TV. As a result, for the customer, banking is more convenient, while the institution gains competitive advantage and significantly reduced operating costs. A win-win.
Another example is from the United Arab Emirates where Mashreq Bank has launched a virtual teller machine (VTM) that delivers self-service and video-enabled engagement between customers and the bank’s call centre. Today the VTM enables 80 percent of banking transactions, and soon customers will also be able to use it to open accounts.
Keeping it human
These examples demonstrate how the banking industry is taking the needs of the connected-consumer seriously. Most retail banks have already deployed mobile applications that provide product and service information, account management and some transactions, but at the end of the day it’s the overall customer engagement, across all channels, that leaves a lasting impression with customers—good or bad.
Innovation in the banking industry is happening at a global scale. The widespread adoption of digital devices and “always-on” connectivity means customer engagement is no longer limited to the traditional voice channel and face-to-face meetings. As new mobile devices and social-media platforms emerge, financial institutions will continue to be challenged by the evolving digital era. While considerable strides have already been made to cater to the needs of today’s connected-consumer, it’s crucial for banks to find a balance between bringing traditional customer service into the digital age and creating an experience that still has a human element at its core.