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Customer expectations have changed forever – how do FS firms meet these changes and keep their customers happy, asks Paul Sweeney, director of innovation at VoiceSage

The ‘now’ generation & fs customer service
The ‘now’ generation & fs customer service

For Financial Services (FS) brands, customer service has never been more challenging. We live in an era of consumer empowerment, where expectations are higher than ever before and increased choice means consumers are more prepared than ever to take their custom elsewhere.

The recent launch of a white paper from VoiceSage and Serco looks at these rising customer expectations and what they mean for companies trying to keep customers happy. It emerged that being ‘incredibly easy to do business with’ has become the single most important determinant of consumer choice and ongoing loyalty, yet this is rarely where brands focus their efforts. So what should organisations be doing to ensure customer loyalty?

The rise of mobility and smart devices
The changing nature of customer experience has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the growth in mobility and smart mobile devices. In response to this, companies have created impressive content and services ready for these expectant users to consume – providing mobile users with personalised, immediate and in-context solutions and offers.

But it would be a mistake to divert all resources in this direction. While a growing number of customers are ‘app happy’, others will feel more comfortable texting, calling or interacting in person. So it is vital that companies can switch seamlessly between channels and be coherent in the flow of messaging ‘into that mobile app’. The mobile, social customer creates an enormous volume of interactions which organisations must respond to – in a way that is highly personalised and contextual, yet which simultaneously stays true to the corporate brand. If companies are to meet customers’ rising expectations they must find a way to be responsive to structured, process driven communications on the one hand, and to unstructured and ‘barely repeatable processes’ the other hand.

The only way to achieve this in a manageable way is to invest in technology platforms and services that can handle the way that structured, unstructured, planned and unplanned interactions take place across the customer journey. Remembering that “big bang” IT projects are a thing of the past, companies should be thinking how they can be lean in their customer interaction programme design, and move forward in a facts based, data driven environment. The challenge is delivering this cost-effectively and in a way that is appropriate to customers and in keeping with the strategic aims of the business.

Social media and the customer experience

Paul Sweeney, director of innovation at VoiceSage
Paul Sweeney, director of innovation at VoiceSage

The rise of social media as a customer communications channel in FS has changed the game too. Consumers have realised that they can get a prompt response if they contact a company ‘publicly’, especially if it is about something negative. Banks, building societies or insurance providers have no desire to be publically criticised or have their poor customer service highlighted and are only too aware of how easily criticism on social media can be spread.

So brands have learnt they must react quickly in the interests of damage limitation, with an audience now watching to see how an issue is resolved. With each company that develops its customer service offering through these additional channels, consumer expectations continue to rise about how and when they can get in touch with organisations – and what happens when they do.

Measuring customer satisfaction
FS brands require a much more nuanced and sophisticated view of customer interaction, one that factors in the timeliness, pace and mode of interaction, and the effect of efficiency, effectiveness and intimacy on customer perceptions. Too often companies pay scant attention to how they schedule their interactions with customers, and have no idea how it might impact the customers’ perception of their service.

This means looking afresh at popular measures of customer satisfaction such as Net Promoter Scores. Paying very close attention to metrics and how they are defined, understood, collected, shared and acted on, can have an impact even before companies implement measures to improve their scores. But simply measuring the metric does not change it and most companies do not understand how all of their various processes line up to influence this metric, nor how a customer interaction strategy can be refined to boost progress.

Customer Effort Scores (CES), on the other hand, measure how easy it is do business with a company and why interactions occur at all – not merely whether or not they are handled efficiently. This gives companies an opportunity to review and improve the underlying processes. Ultimately customer satisfaction is determined by whether consumers’ needs are being met, including the time spent searching online, the time to email you, the time waiting in a call centre queue, to the time you actually have your issue resolved. Increasingly this means being able to get in touch and sort things out in a satisfactory time frame.

But in an age of cloud-based customer contact platforms and software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions, it is important that companies in FS retain the ability to derive real value from their customer service systems. Rather than commit vast amounts of money up front, organisations should aim to adopt a leaner approach – one that gives them scope to experiment, measure and learn about what works best in a given situation. This ability to flex and test ‘campaigns’ is particularly important given the speed with which customer expectations continue to change over time, and as the various channels are refined and continue to multiply in number.

Paul Sweeney is Director of Innovation at customer communications technology specialists, VoiceSage.
Paul has more than 20 years’ experience in research, new venture development, venture capital and outsourcing across the telecoms, Internet and technology sectors. With particular expertise in software, SaaS (software as a service) and cloud technology, he leads VoiceSage’s product innovation and development, seeing through each new value proposition from concept stage right through to launching it on the international market.