Retailers long ago realised that shopping was as much about the experience as the need to buy things, and the most successful shops now seem to have an endless imagination when it comes to thinking of fun ways for us to buy their products. As it became clear that people spend more when they are enjoying themselves, many other industries followed suit and developed a smooth and pleasant customer journey that enhances satisfaction and loosens purse strings at the same time. Banks would love to get those levels of customer satisfaction, but can banking ever be fun?

The US experience suggests it can certainly be better – American banks consistently beat their UK counterparts in customer satisfaction scores. But theirs is a culture steeped in service, where everyone smiles and wishes you a nice day. We’d rather queue quietly, while a faint smile and polite demeanour is all we expect from customer-facing staff. Increasingly, many of us would rather not be queuing to speak to someone at a counter at all – we’d rather be on our smartphone or tablet. This is where banks can make a step-change in the customer experience, and there are plenty of challengers trying to do so already.

The ubiquitous nature of smartphones and tablets is seen by many industry observers as a fundamental catalyst for change. Seizing the opportunity are thoroughbred digital banks, such as the UK’s Starling Bank and Berlin-based Number26, free of the shackles of existing IT infrastructure and singularly focused on meeting the needs and expectations of customers. The model is relatively cheap to run and the barriers to entry are considerably lower than the traditional banking model. Each new entrant seems to get more lean, digital and customer friendly, so that even the original ‘challenger banks’ are in constant danger of being outflanked.

It may be most noticeable in the younger demographic, but across all generations customers are increasingly driven by speed and convenience, with little sympathy for the technical challenges facing banks in unifying disparate channels. Standard internet banking no longer meets that convenience criteria: customers want an app that makes banking an integral and seamless part of their favourite device. That may be a tablet but above all people now have a phone in their hand, pocket or bedside table at all times.

Colin Dean
Colin Dean

Needless to say, the app needs to be backed up with huge amounts of security and needs to work seamlessly all the time. And from the bank’s point of view, the customer interface needs to fit seamlessly with its own line-of-business systems. Any documents relating to an account need to be translated into the app format and visible to the customer on demand. Full digitisation and strong encryption are essential, and enterprise content management (ECM) holds it all together.

Challenger banks and the new digital thoroughbreds have embraced ECM to ensure they have a smooth digital model that, importantly, can adapt to new formats as they appear and thus keep pace with changing technology and customer trends. Even the best app is useless unless it has the right system feeding into it.

For legacy banks, ECM offers a way of moving into the digital sphere while retaining the traditional model that is still important to many customers, especially of the older generation. By making sense of digital documentation on any format, it also allows a smooth journey for even the most demanding customer, who may choose to start a process in a branch and finish it on their tablet, with intervening telephone calls suitably taken into account.

With a robust ECM system in place, a bank’s customer relations department can really start having fun with an app. Designers can learn from the games industry and social media sites to build a fun, intuitive banking platform that uses a smartphone’s full capabilities. A customer can set alerts that warn of low funds, or to confirm a payment. On a Friday afternoon, a customer might get a notification saying “your wages have arrived” – which will put them in a better mood for spending.

It is easy to see how such a system could evolve further, to link in with future smartphone-based payment systems. There is also the possibility for a bank, sensibly, to use the data derived from the app to make personalised offers to a customer. Perhaps there is a deal for customers at a restaurant chain near where they just bought an item, or maybe they would benefit from a certain credit card given that they booked a holiday to Europe. If done sensitively, banks could finally start to join in the fun of modern customer services. And the more fun it is to use, the more customers will use it.

Colin Dean is account manager EMEA insurance and financial services of Hyland, creator of OnBase.

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