CX in financial services
It’s hardly a surprise that organisations across industries are prioritising Customer Experience (CX) as key to their strategies in the coming years. What is surprising is that some business leaders still believe that providing a great customer experience is too expensive when stacked against its benefits. People often assume great CX is costly to deliver because they hear stories about customer service reps who go above and beyond, going to extreme lengths to surprise and delight.
These tactics are expensive, so they aren’t replicated. They also aren’t necessary for great CX. There are many myths around what it means to provide a great customer experience, but research shows that customers are most satisfied when they get what they expected and feel they’ve been treated fairly. This is arguably most true in the financial services sector. These services have high personal value (“manage my money”), low barriers to switching (“I can get better rates elsewhere”) and a great need for clarity for customers (“I don’t understand what I was sold”). This means that while all industries benefit from great CX, the financial sector (including commercial and retail banking, wealth management and insurance) has emerged as a hot spot for customer experience (CX) transformation initiatives.
Under pressure from disruptive competitors (think low cost, fully digital banks), the pandemic-driven shift to digital service provision, and the economic fallout from sharply curtailed business activity, financial services companies are counting on CX to differentiate themselves and spur growth. “Banks, for example, have always needed to deliver a certain level of customer experience to hold on to their customers”, says Andrew Cook, CEO of Smoke CI, who works with financial services providers across the globe. “Consider the typical movie scene of an ambitious young entrepreneur going to see the bank manager for a loan for a new venture – great service wins a customer for life; bad treatment sees the young hero going elsewhere for the cash”. This type of interaction still exists, but personal connections are fewer thanks to the digitised nature of transactions. Therefore, the experience delivered maximises value for customers and indeed maximises value for the financial service providers.”
In a recent survey of nearly 1 100 executives by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 64% of the 114 respondents from financial services companies say that improving CX is a top-five business priority for the year ahead.
The financial sector has been prioritising customer-centricity and, by extension, the customer experience for several years. Traditionally, increased strategic focus led to increased budgetary support; however, budgets remain flat or even shrink in tough financial times. Such cost constraints leave leaders with the need to prioritise CX spending in areas likely to have the most significant impact to adopt the next wave of CX solutions and meet their customers’ increasingly high demands for service. As a result, we are likely to see ongoing investment into digitisation in the coming months, but with a heavy focus on the unification of cross-channel experience and an increased focus on personalisation.
Experience unification – digital and in-person
Most organisations don’t expect customers to embrace physical branch services over digital financial tools, but that doesn’t mean CX initiatives in the branch should be abandoned. Instead, working to unify CX efforts across channels, so customers get a consistent experience no matter how they engage with the company will become increasingly important. Digitisation is no longer solely about providing a website or app that allows transactions; it’s about delivering deeply personalised and differentiated customer experiences across channels. This trend reflects a desire to leverage customer data more effectively in the branch and avoid friction when customers switch between channels.
The biggest challenge for the unification of experiences is that often the digital teams operate far ahead of the rest of the organisation. When new systems and approaches are introduced, these often operate on the front line of the business and may not always integrate with other legacy systems. Take, for example, an onboarding process - on the front-end, an entirely digitised process allows a customer to apply for a new account; however, as this application moves through back-end processes and systems, complete digitisation decreases.
The result is that the customer has a lacklustre experience and blames the app or website. This type of situation is a complex one to understand and manage. Customer feedback may indicate dissatisfaction with a digital process; however, the root cause could lie within wholly manual processes that the customer does not see. The only way to manage this type of situation is by breaking down silos and engaging customer feedback in a manner that allows for transparency and measurability across all processes and divisions.
Financial transactions are often considered to be high in value to the customer and not necessarily because of the monetary value. Regardless of the amount of money in question, any interaction with a financial institution carries significance to the customer. Further, there is an exceptionally high expectation of trust, which can be shaken by the slightest inconsistency or miscommunication between provider and customer.
Lastly, the financial industry often carries terms and conditions, policies, and procedures laden with complicated legal and financial language, meaning the level of understanding can be limited even among financially astute customers. These three factors mean that, regardless of the strength of digital interaction, human interaction is an essential part of a customer’s financial journey.
From a Voice of the Customer point of view, a drive for digitisation and unified cross channel experiences has highlighted the following key points:
- Consistent use of a CX metric (e.g. Net promoter score (NPS) or Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) across channels is important to ensure a holistic and consistent view of CX can be tracked across channels;
- Driver metrics such as empathy, ease, or communication are vital to understanding where gaps are – whether in the digital or human experience;
- Human interaction matters, and as such post-interaction feedback tied to agent, advisor or branch teller is important;
- Multiple interactions make a journey. Gathering feedback at a single interaction or touchpoint does not tell the whole story. Numerous feedback opportunities exist and should be leveraged to ensure a consistent picture is created across a customer journey;
- Feedback invitations should suit the channel the customer engages with. For example, the telephonic interview remains a popular choice of feedback in some instances, but when a customer is transacting in a wholly digital manner, this type of feedback intervention becomes quite jarring when aligned with other interactions. Feedback forms part of the customer journey and should flow seamlessly with different interactions and communications.
An old adage says, “Everyone person's favourite word is their own name” and personalisation within marketing, and indeed CX, was born from this understanding. However, organisations have realised that addressing a customer by name while communicating generically is not how a personalised customer experience is built. In a recent study by Accenture, 73% of customers prefer doing business with financial institutions that personalise their experience.
Customers have grown to expect and value personalisation, but only to a point. The growing problem is that some companies can be a little overzealous in approaching personalisation, ultimately alienating their customer base. Sending congratulatory marketing messages about a new baby or impending nuptials, for example, can set off red flags for your customers who are increasingly concerned about data privacy and protection. At the same time, when used appropriately, personalisation is an essential tool to improve customer loyalty and retention and decrease levels of effort. So when it comes to personalisation, look for opportunities to bring value to the customer, not just introducing personalisation for personalisation’s sake.
Personalisation is a simple concept; the better an organisation knows their customer, the more likely they are to be able to offer personalised products, communications, and processes. But such a level of understanding hinges on data – and not just data for data’s sake, but data that is useful in informing customer requirements and behaviours. Undoubtedly, customer feedback is the best data source for understanding customers since it is customer-generated. The key is to gather customer feedback at scale and distil it into relevant segments and insights that assist in driving hyper-personalisation at scale.
Customer effort score (CES) is a known proxy for customer loyalty. If a customer has to jump through hoops to make a purchase with your business, they won’t be returning. The same applies across all touchpoints within the financial customer journey. If you can use the data you have on them to make their lives easier, you should personalise their experiences so they can interact with you more quickly and efficiently. The integration of metadata obtained from customers over time into your various systems can be an essential tool to reduce customer effort. This is an area in which the financial industry can use personalisation to excel at CX. For example, if a customer has provided feedback on a poor digital interaction, trigger human intervention earlier the next time they interact. If a customer shares that access policy information is complex, initiate a marketing communication detailing how to use an online portal. If a customer views a particular product, prompt them over time towards similar solutions. The key lies in taking a complete view of interaction and feedback data and driving personal engagements that are not invasive but helpful.
This drive for mindful personalisation has an important implication when gathering feedback – ensuring you don’t ask customers for the information you already have. Personal information, contact details, spending habits, location data, etc., are all details organisations have within various systems, thanks to details gathered during onboarding or through every interaction. By leveraging feedback platforms with the ability to integrate all the meta-data, you can perform advanced analysis. For example, despite privacy concerns, most customers are aware that financial institutions hold data on their habits and generally don’t mind when such is used to improve business practices. The same goes for integrating with your customer service processes or contact centre. Your contact centre teams should have all of the customer’s data and information on past purchases and interaction history on hand as soon as they begin a new interaction with a customer.
Feedback vs AI
For many, a future of predictive satisfaction looms. One where data is used to anticipate behaviour and trigger responses before the customer even knows they want to take action. While this may be the ultimate utopia for CX professionals, in practicality, we are still a way off from AI delivering the absolute right insights, and this means that customer feedback is not dead. Far from it, in fact. As customers become more and more comfortable in the role of authors of their destinies when it comes to purchasing decisions, the importance of hearing from them increases tenfold. The trick lies in how such data is gathered and interpreted, and this needs a robust technology solution that allows for the measurement of both digital and human interaction.
As the financial world continues to evolve, customer centricity will become more and more complex, and companies looking to stay ahead of the rest are well-advised to continue to invest in CX into the future. As Africa’s biggest lender by assets, our client holds the ambition of the leading financial service provider in Africa. From a customer experience perspective, the organisation had implemented a variety of solutions over the years, with varying levels of success. For more information – download Smoke Customer Intelligence's Financial Services Case Study.
Smoke Customer Intelligence is making the world more customer-centric by providing the best multi-channel customer feedback solution around. Helping companies to understand their customer's perception of the service that they provide and highlighting strengths and weaknesses in the full-service offering.