Bank to the future: how customer engagement technology is helping financial services seize competitive advantage

Stephen Ball, Senior VP Europe & Africa

Bitcoin and blockchain may dominate the fintech headlines, but there are equally exciting innovations taking place in the battle for supremacy between the major high street banks and the disruptive fintech start-ups entering the market. Lloyds recently announced that it will be closing 49 branches to cut costs and improve its digital services in response to customers switching to internet, mobile and telephone banking. This restructuring reflects the growing trend of consumers moving away from traditional bricks-and-mortarretail banks in favour of online-only products and services and highlights the importance of an effective customer engagement strategy. Within such a highly competitive market, it is imperative that banks prioritise investing in a powerful digital communications platform that can efficiently resolve customer enquiries and provide additional product or service support.

Fintech challengers and digital disruption

One of the catalysts for change was the Open Banking directive in January 2018, which forced the UK’s nine biggest banks to release their data in the hope it would increase competition and encourage innovation within an industry that has remained relatively unchanged for 100 years. The new legislation started the ball rolling on advancements in apps and website development, fuelling a boom in challenger banks offering a broad range of products and services not previously available, including real-time spending notifications, instant card blocking, 24/7 in-app support and low cost international transfers. With concepts of brand loyalty becoming less important, the consequences of a poorly performing digital customer platform have never been more serious as the big traditional banks risk losing their customers to these agile and inventive start-ups.

To compete with this new wave of fintech start-ups, high street banks are striving to innovate in a similar way by investing in the latest digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI)and chatbots to improve their customer engagement experience. However, if they hope to retain their existing customers while attracting new ones, they will have to ensure their developers focus on creating a seamless user experience through the successful convergence of email, telephone and internet engagement channels.

 The value of effective self-service

The Aspect State of Consumer Experience 2017 survey revealed that knowing your customer (letting the customer interact using their method of choice) and being effective (answering your question, resolving your issue, completing your transaction) are the most important features of the customer service experience. This emphasises the significant value of self-service, as consumers want the option to solve issues themselves whenever possible. Unsurprisingly, the most common cause of frustration is a lack of effectiveness and not having an issue resolved.

75 per cent of consumers stated they would pay more for exceptional customer service, with 71 per cent revealing they want the ability to connect with a live agent when interacting with a chatbot or intelligent assistant. This highlights the importance of a flexible, balanced and adaptable omni-channel experience that can automatically switch between automated self-service and human agents – if the handover is smooth and the issue is resolved successfully and quickly, it is highly likely to lead to greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Humans working alongside machines

Despite their rapidly increasing sophistication, advancements in automation and cloud-based engagement software incorporating features such as AIand on-line chatbots should not be viewed as replacements for humans that will result in staff being made redundant. Instead they should be viewed as tools to support the human workforce, connecting different stages of the enquiry process to enable a faster, simplified and more personal online experience. The correct design, build and implementation will be vital in creating a smoother engagement process that will enable banks to improve satisfaction levels, and hopefully retain their customers.

There is also a multitude of strategic and economic benefits for banks that prioritise investment in customer experience. An omni-channel solution that can automatically switch between social media, chatbots and live agents will be essential for reducing contact centre traffic, improving resource allocation and minimising costs, while giving banks the ability to collect and analyse large amounts of customer data that would have previously gone to waste. This data is a valuable asset that can be exploited to identify new revenue streams and offer an improved level of personalised service which will benefit all financial services organisations and their customers.

Adapt and thrive

The drive towards digitalisation is causing a seismic wave of disruption throughout the entire financial services industry that no business can afford to ignore. It is becoming much easier for customers to switch banks if they are not satisfied with the service they receive, so customer satisfaction will play a crucial part in retention.

To adapt and thrive, institutions will have to focus on creating a versatile customer engagement offering that can consolidate all existing channels into a single effective platform,utilising  next-generation technologies. Once successfully implemented, customers will have access to a wider range of services that will drastically improve customer satisfaction levels, and banks will benefit from streamlined human resource processes and reduced expenditure that will ultimately contribute towards increased profit margins.

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