THE CUSTOMER IS KING IN FINANCIAL SERVICES

How to successfully build a digital experience for customers

By Stuart Drew, Executive Vice-President, Financial Services Europe, HCL Technologies

It’s an irrefutable fact: we live in a digital world. From the proliferation of smartphones to the rise of social media, digital technology has pervaded every aspect of our working and personal lives. While this shift has delivered enormous advantages for consumers and businesses alike, it has also created major challenges for the teams responsible for service delivery. Nowhere is this felt more so than in the financial services industry.

Welcome to the world of tomorrow

Right or wrong, the rise of online and mobile services has led to much speculation as to whether the likes of high street banks and insurance brokers will soon become relics of the past. Being able to transfer money, take out a loan or buy a new insurance plan online offers customers a far more convenient alternative to visiting the high street. More forward-thinking firms have been looking at ways in which they can embrace this trend in order to drive service improvements and cost efficiencies in both front-end services and back-end processes. For example, some are encouraging customers to use self-service channels instead of high-street facilities; a movement that is seeing face-to-face conversations being replaced by online interactions. In short, digital channels are now driving the way that customer experience is delivered in the financial services industry.

Customers are now more connected, so any incident where they receive a bad experience could result in a commensurate amount of revenue loss and reputational damage. Against this backdrop, customer experience management in financial services has now become more of an investment into proactive risk management and profitability enhancement, rather than a nice-to-have function that is secondary to core business goals. As such, organisations need to become far more versatile and responsive in order to keep up with the pace of the changes in the digital arena. The ability to adopt new digital channels and implement them into services as quickly as customers demand them has become essential. The challenge is that many more established financial services firms are not naturally given to being digital businesses. They are often being held back by legacy IT infrastructure that has been in place for decades; while budgetary constraints prevent them from investing in a major overhaul. Decades-worth of paper-based records are being replaced by digital files, which is bringing with it a whole number of complexities for back-end systems.

In the insurance industry for example, processing a claim now involves a far more complex process than checking a few documents and scanning some copies; a number of online records from a variety of internal and external databases must be corroborated and verified in real-time. This makes digitalisation a daunting process, but unfortunately, there will be severe consequences for those that fail to act swiftly. Industry analyst Gartner forecasts that a quarter of organisations will lose market position through failing to digitalise their business effectively.

Connecting into the digital era

Stuart Drew
Stuart Drew

There are two critical aspects to bear in mind when developing a digital strategy; the needs of the customer and the business’ ability to deliver a consistent experience across its wider channel ecosystem. It’s no use rushing out a mobile platform if it’s substandard compared to the existing online service. If social media customer service teams don’t have access to the same information that those in contact centres do, they won’t be able to offer the level of service that is expected of them. True customer experience management designed for a digital business requires an end-to-end solution approach for transforming the value chain. This involves addressing the watch, build, run cycle of the complete business operation and pre-emptively builds risk mitigation into the change strategy. Those designing the customer experience must therefore start with a clear picture of user and business needs, in the context of the technical feasibility for delivering integrated digital channel solutions that enable employees to serve them consistently.

The speed at which digital channels are evolving also means that this process must be continuous. Organisations need to adopt a more agile, customer-centric approach to service delivery. This can best be achieved through co-innovation with technology partners; to implement robust ‘learn, understand and act’ processes that use customer data and analytics to provide a better grasp of the customer journey and user-experience issues. This continuous design-loop will help to ensure that the processes and systems for service delivery are constantly being optimised around the needs of the customer and the ability of the business to meet them. Rolling out digital changes iteratively using an agile development methodology will also ensure that financial services firms don’t need to wait forever to see the fruits of their labour.

Working with technology partners in this way also indemnifies the organisation against some of the potential risks or losses, since systems integrators and product vendors are often happy to account for them in their own Profit and Loss Statement (P&L) to provide a safety net against business disruption during the change process. Of course, achieving this operating model requires a significant cultural change within the organisation, which cannot be achieved overnight. However, the costs of service delivery will escalate significantly if digital channels are poorly aligned with the rest of the business, so the need to usher in these new ways of working cannot be ignored.

Creating an edge with digital differentiation

The first step in making this transition is to realise that digital channels transcend the traditional boundaries that existed between business functions on the back-end. Experience design teams need the support of all key stakeholders within the business; from the IT, analytical and creative teams responsible for the creation of digital channel solutions, to the marketing and business-level managers that deliver them to customers. This united approach can significantly improve customer satisfaction, by helping design teams to get a much more accurate understanding of the needs of the business, its customers and employees. With this insight, they can work much more effectively with digital channel experts and technology partners to co-design and create solutions that are aligned with those needs. This more informed approach also helps to optimise deployment times and minimise the costs of digital channel delivery significantly.

The next step is to ensure that the infrastructure and process design has been fully integrated so the organisation can offer a truly omni-channel service experience. As customers move away from high-streets and towards digital channels, contact centres will become their main port of call if problems arise. As a result, they will become far more prominent as a measure of the quality of service that the business offers.

This makes it essential that contact centre operatives have a detailed understanding of who the customer is and what they are looking to achieve when they call in with an issue, so that they are able to be proactive and efficient in resolving it.  They should instantly be able to see which services the customer uses regularly, whether they’ve experienced similar issues before and how long they’ve been experiencing the current problem for.

The key to achieving this is in integrating and harnessing all of the data that the organisation has on a given customer, so that the contact centre operative is provided with the insight that they need. If they can pull this off successfully, financial services firms will have created a service that more closely matches what the customer wants to receive, rather than what the business wants to deliver. This is the holy grail of customer experience design, providing financial services firms with a golden opportunity to grasp a lasting competitive advantage through differentiation.

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