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Howard Williams, Marketing Manager, WhosOn

As we all become increasingly reliant on accessing our bank and finances online while using a range of mobile devices – being further necessitated by branch closures and the popularity of modern digital-only banks such as Tesco Bank, Virgin Money and M&S Money – so banks are improving their IT systems to enable secure, cross-device access. This trend is set to be a constant technology driver in the future for improvements and upgrades as consumer demand soars.

accessing our bank and finances online while using a range of mobile devices
accessing our bank and finances online while using a range of mobile devices

This means when banks have IT issues, it creates a huge problem. When systems fail, which unfortunately they occasionally do – the pre-Christmas RBS and NatWest outage on one of the busiest shopping days of the year is a graphic example, and, more recently, Lloyds Banking Group card and ATM problems – the customer service fallout is massive. It also has a negative effect on their brand, although difficult to measure, there is inevitably brand damage every time a large problem occurs and a negative story hits the media.

Whatever the problems are, and I’m sure they’re working to ensure it won’t happen again (but just as night follows day, there will always be IT challenges), it leaves thousands of customers with queries around what to do, how to access their money. So where do they go? First port of call is usually to phone the call centre, which jams up the systems as they can’t cope with the massive spike – the recent RBS outage led to call queues of 45 minutes and longer, whilst mobile providers charged £1 per minute – or a visit to a branch which means massive overloaded queues and irate customers. A visit to a website, even if the bank has been able to post an update, doesn’t usually placate a worried customer – they want to speak to someone quickly, or at least have some one-to-one interaction, to solve their specific problem and understand that their concerns are being addressed.

So how do banks cope, what is their disaster avoidance strategy? Well worryingly it’s to use the normal methods of call centres and pushing people online as a self-help strategy. So the systems go into meltdown as thousands want answers immediately. But there is another option, another largely untapped resource for the financial services – live chat. Using online live chat means call centre agents can respond to multiple simultaneous chats, often providing exactly the same reassurances and guidance – quicker and easier for both consumers and call centres. Plus consumers stay online rather than being pushed to different channels and they don’t have large telephone bills as a result of calling a call centre from their mobile.

Live chat, that works via the brand’s websites and alongside the phone channel, can more easily to scaled up to deal with such disasters, thus minimising waiting times, providing a bit of good old fashioned personal service (albeit in a modern digital world) and heading off negative impacts on brand and customer loyalty. The tech is proven within some financial organisations, but other business sectors are much further ahead in their adoption, such as retailing and logistics organisations. By encouraging customers towards live chat at peak times such as a sale period, in support of marketing campaigns, or the run up to Christmas, brands can more easily stay on top of customer enquiries. Furthermore, using live chat as a customer service tool means some brands have seen call waiting times slashed, while customer satisfaction and loyalty rates rise dramatically. It’s a useful highly personalised medium and one that we are all increasingly familiar with, rather like secure instant messaging which is designed to obtain a quick resolution to your problem.

There will always be the occasional issue which leaves many customers requiring guidance and answers – the aim is to cover all communications channels in an integrated approach and use the most appropriate ones when a spike of (similar) enquiries is expected. Disasters happen and systems need to be in place to deal with the consequences covering websites, call centres and branches. Brands need to ensure they are using their assets and resources efficiently, having planned for contingencies, and bring their communication methods up to date through meeting the needs of modern consumers. If they cannot, these customers will simply walk away, especially as it is now all too easy to switch banks within seven days.