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Two steps to success: why financial services companies need to master the customer journey

By Siddharth Parashar, Chief Revenue Officer at Firstsource Solutions

Financial services companies are under more pressure than ever before to both defend and gain market share, and with so many businesses in the sector citing ‘customer experience’ as a key focus, or USP in order to win custom, it’s more important than ever that we know exactly what that means.

‘Customer experience’ is a massively catch-all term and it can encompass a vast variety of interactions – from applying for a mortgage to a simple balance check. This means that for many FS companies, there can be thousands, if not millions, of touch-points with customers every day, all contributing to their ‘experience’. Ensuring each and every one is successful is a herculean task. So, where to begin?

Define the customer journey

Siddharth Parashar
Siddharth Parashar

Banks should look away from this intimidatingly large umbrella term and focus on what’s more tangible. The customer journey is one of the most crucial elements of customer experience – and, getting it right is a significant challenge. A customer’s journey can be long or short, urgent or menial, profitable or loss making – but each one needs due care and attention. Something as small as a phone call to change address can become a negative experience if the customer doesn’t achieve the resolution they are after, or if it takes too long to complete.

In these days where customers extensively use apps and technology in their everyday lives, they are not only extremely well informed, but also impatient for response and excellent service – they require instant gratification.

Gaining a clear and precise understanding of the customer journey is a vital step for any financial services company to take. Banks need to take the time to look into when the first interaction starts and ends, how it differs for each customer, and how it differs for each sort of request? Stripping back to the basics is an important step banks often overlook when hoping to improve their ‘experience’, but without this, they can’t hope to make that ‘experience’ any better.

Of course, a uniform approach to all customers with a particular journey won’t be feasible, and some banks have a slightly easier task of pleasing their customers than others. For example, Monzo, which has been winning awards throughout this year for good customer service, are fortunate enough to have a very targeted audience. Challengers like Monzo have customers who are often younger millennials, or at least the tech savvy older generation who are jaded by the bigger banks. They’re not just okay with mobile banking, it’s their primary method of communicating with their bank. It’s therefore no surprise that chatbots work for the majority of their customers, fewer of them will be calling in the first instance, and so the customer journey is narrowed.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the legacy banks. They’ve been around for donkeys’ years and subsequently enjoy huge customer bases. Some of these customers may only want to use their branch for interactions, while others will prefer everything to be done on the phone with a real person. Some will want a top-notch app experience, with limited human contact, and others will want to do everything outside of business hours. This, as it sounds, is a real challenge for big banks.

The transformation in these legacy businesses has been immense in a relatively short period of time. In 2012, for example, Barclays had no mobile customers and their branch network handled around 1m customer interaction per month. In 2018, they have 6.5 mobile customers and need to handle 150m customer interactions per month. Each customer journey is significantly different, and so is each customer. Working out the customer journey is a much bigger challenge here, but that makes it all the more important.

Take immediate action:

Here’s the good news, defining the customer journey isn’t rocket science. Too many companies hold misconceptions about the process, which often acts as a blocker to what can actually be incredibly simple. In fact, there are two steps that companies can take to understand and define their customer journey accurately. Firstly, customer segmentation: which enables businesses to group customers into demographic groups such as age and location. This categorisation will be the first part of ensuring each group of customers embark on the most appropriate journey not only for their query, but their classification, Secondly, channel identification is critical. This process delves into the details of who is contacting you using what channel, and how those channels are working to accommodate different types of requests. What businesses can expect to get at the end of this, is a selection of ‘types of customer’ and which channels they’re most likely to use to contact their bank. This means that they can start to be more tailored in what they offer, and to whom.

Don’t be distracted by tech:

Much is made of the transformative power of technology. Challenger banks build their offering on it and legacy banks are working hard to incorporate it into many aspects of their businesses. But while tech is of course important, its role should be to enhance the customer journey, not be the sole driver of it. In other words, it is a facilitator but, to get the best out of technology, the end to end processes need to be thoroughly tested for optimal efficiency.

Companies often think ‘customer experience’ equals ‘the latest technology’. We’ve had requests to implement things like AI, VR chatbot assistants, and many other tech services over the years. All of this is of course possible, and while these technologies can be transformative, they are no use if they are being layered onto weak foundations. It is vital that financial services companies get the basics of the customer journey right first by looking at things like “why is this customer calling”, “how long is it taking to handle their call”, “how do they feel at the end of the call”?

When it comes to customer experience, or more specifically the customer journey, it’s surprising how many companies aren’t getting these basics right. We once worked with a large retail bank which had 17 different customer service numbers listed on their site with 15 of them being inactive. It’s a cheap and easy fix, which fresh eyes and the right consultancy can find quite easily. Another client found many customers were making phone enquiries about their balance, despite being registered for mobile banking, due to the fact the process was broken.

At a time where many companies want to offer financial service businesses big expensive transformation contracts, I cannot stress enough the importance of simplification. Good ‘customer experience’ experts won’t sell you technology, they’ll give you solutions to make your business better tomorrow, next week, and for years to come.