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Why empathy is the missing ingredient in banks’ digital customer experiences

Why empathy is the missing ingredient in banks’ digital customer experiences

By Nick Caley, VP of UK & Ireland, at digital identity specialists ForgeRock

Online banking has become an essential service during the pandemic, and banks have been scrambling to accelerate their digital transformation efforts to keep up with demand, relieve staff from overly complex processes and stand out from their competitors.

A big focus has been on providing streamlined, personalised online experiences. These were previously the reserve of digital natives like Google and Facebook then more recently the challenger banks, but consumers have come to expect them across all services. So far, it’s been working – a recent ForgeRock survey found that most global consumers surveyed now prefer to check their account balance (86%) and make a bank transfer (84%) online.

But amid the pandemic’s many stresses and strains, all banks’ digital transformation efforts will be for nothing if customer interactions come across as robotic, faceless experiences. Banks therefore need to deliver digital experiences with a healthy dose of that all important human element – empathy.

So what does this mean in practical terms? Here’s how banks can deliver empathic experiences which drive customer loyalty, now and in the future.

The empathy imperative

Over the past 12 months, we’ve already seen a number of brands put empathy at the centre of their marketing strategy. eBay’s ‘Up and Running’ campaign; IKEA’s ‘Making Home Count’ campaign; Burger King’s promotion of independent competitors; or Allbirds’s ‘We’re Better Together’ campaign; the list goes on.

While this has been catalysed by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s something that consumers have been coming to expect for some time. Pre-pandemic, a study from marketing firm Braze, found that UK consumers were 54% more likely to engage with a brand when it effectively demonstrated human communication, with 57% were more likely to remain loyal to that brand.

However, while empathy has proven to be an important marketing strategy, banks, who sit at the very centre of people’s financial wellbeing, can’t rely on being empathic in their marketing alone. Empathy should be at the heart of everything they do – particularly in how they design their customer journey.

This goes far beyond merely streamlining processes. It’s about understanding what your customers really need, and giving them what they require. From conducting simple transactions via mobile app, to speaking to customer support, consumers now require a joined up, personalised service that demonstrates an understanding of their needs and concerns like never before.

Technology with a human touch

How well banks can deliver an empathic customer experience depends on successfully joining up the various technologies they have implemented as part of their digital transformation, so customers can quickly get to the service they need, with as little friction as possible.

For example, one side effect of the pandemic is the added pressure it has placed on banks’ contact centres. Customers are still often required to speak to a human to complete certain complex tasks – particularly when a higher level of security is needed – or when things go wrong. And with customers doing more things remotely, contact centres have picked up many of the processes that were previously conducted in-branch.

This has created a runaway cost for many banks and, with lengthy hold times and tedious, resource-draining authentication processes, this can lead to a frustrating experience for the customer.

The recent push to implement bots and other digital innovations has been seen as one solution to maintaining a streamlined experience while keeping up with demand. But bots can only do so much, and too often present friction, with inadequate navigation options and stock answers. Perhaps most importantly, bots are devoid of empathy, making dealing with them like speaking to a wall. I’m sure most of us can relate to furiously clicking through a bot’s decision tree until it presents us with a human!

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way. An alternative approach is for banks to embrace digital identity to provide context-aware responses to individual touchpoints at every step of the customer journey. In practice, this just means knowing who a customer is, which part of the business they are interacting with and how they are interacting, and connecting that with relevant information about their needs.

That sounds simple. But it has some important consequences as far as empathy is concerned. First, digital identity allows banks to develop a 360-view of customers and develop a mutually beneficial value exchange built on trust. When underpinned by a set of explainable consent options that put the customer in control of their data, digital identity can create a virtuous circle where organisations gain a better understanding of their customers, encouraging users to share more actionable information. This can then be used to create authentic, engaging and personalised customer experiences that bolster loyal customer relationships.

Second, by taking an identity-centric approach, and treating data as a shared asset that benefits the customer as much as the bank, banks will be able to recognise, understand and adapt to each customer as an individual, regardless of how the customer chooses to interact with them. It will also enable banks to make best use of new technologies such as AI-driven analytics and intelligent authentication to provide richer, more personalised experiences.

And third, this approach has benefits on a security level. A modern digital identity platform can help protect against malicious attacks and identity fraud through multi-layered security models, while making the customer feel known. This can be combined with the latest biometric and other authentication technologies such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) for added security with less of the unnecessary friction. If a bank can take a more adaptive, context based approach to risk, it will make it easier for them to demonstrate that they trust a customer, ultimately making the customer feel known as a person rather than just a set of credentials.

What does all this mean in practice? To return to the contact centre example, a strong understanding of who the customer is and what they need to speak to someone about could be intelligently shared with the contact centre before they even reach an agent. By the time the customer gets to the agent, they could have been authenticated via the chat channel, thereby avoiding additional security questions and as it will be immediately known where they have got to in their online journey, the agent will be able to pick up from the right point. The customer immediately feels listened to, and won’t have to repeat themselves. People and technology can work together in a symbiotic relationship that creates more space for empathy and understanding.

The rise of the empathic executive

Of course, none of this is possible if teams aren’t working together towards a shared goal. Empathy works internally too – and should be a value held by those from top to bottom.

As banks’ digital journeys become ever more central to how they interact with their customers, they’re no longer just a concern for the IT department. Now, the whole bank needs to rally behind the digital experience, which exists as a front door to the bank’s multiple functions and departments.

Executives in particular need to recognise this. Just as they should strive to understand their customers and meet their needs, they must also listen to their colleagues (whether that’s their closest VP or the teller in a branch) and understand their individual requirements too. Time consuming, overly complex processes will benefit from automation and especially orchestration of back office user journeys, ensuring that appropriate access is granted to the right people at the right time.

An organisational ethos based on empathy will be essential in the years to come. Responsible, ethical banking is more important than ever, and customers are increasingly turning to those brands that are able to demonstrate strong values which prioritise people above profit.

Without empathic executives who treat their customers and employees as humans with individual needs and desires, any brand risks falling short of the expectations of tomorrow.

Peace, love and personalisation

Despite the horror of the last 12 months, there have been a lot of positives too. We’ve seen communities band together, companies realising their social responsibility must be more than just good PR, and the triumphant development of life saving vaccines in record time.

While our connected world is not going away any time soon, neither is our desire for human understanding. Rebuilding businesses and lives severely affected by the pandemic takes time, a lot of effort and much needed support, especially financial. Banks therefore need to place a premium on empathy if their digital transformation is to deliver positive customer experiences and build loyal customers for years to come.

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