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By Fabrice Martin, Chief Product Officer, Clarabridge

Today’s banking or insurance customer wants to communicate via their channel of choice, and more often than not, these channels are digital.

Inevitably, when a customer starts a transaction online or via a mobile app, they want to be able to complete their transaction within that channel. However, for many reasons they are unable to do so and are forced to contact the bank or insurance company using the phone or by moving onto live chat for further assistance.

This can be perplexing, and frustrating, for financial service institutions that have invested heavily in digitising customer services to improve efficiency. They are all too aware that the cost per digital customer interaction can be up to 12 times cheaper than when they engage via a phone call. We often hear comments like “I don’t know why we get so many calls to our contact centre relating to balance enquiries when our customers can easily check online or via our mobile app.” What we find when we look more closely is that these enquiries are often more complicated than a simple balance request. There is often another related query that complicates the issue and causes a channel switch.

We know from a survey that we recently carried out in the UK that more than half (58.3%) of banking customers are comfortable carrying out their transactions without speaking to a human being at all. However, there was a proviso, because 60.2% admitted that they would prefer a call if they wanted to discuss more complex issues such as loans, mortgages or financial planning; and over a third (33.7%) also said that a call would be necessary if they wanted to double-check something.

For financial organisations that are thinking about how they can automate more customer interactions, it is important to understand the co-occurrence of related events to the main transaction. It would be short-sighted to design a digital solution that can serve only the most basic requirements and far better to support the more complicated scenarios that may result in channel switching.

It is not that customers like to switch channels. Life presents circumstances that necessitate a change and it is crucial to be aware of this. Imagine, for example, that a customer initiates a transaction using their mobile banking app. However, to complete the transaction, documents need to be sent securely and this cannot be done through the app.  Or, a customer contacts their insurance company using live chat but the issue becomes more complex and this requires an in-person communication so it moves onto a phone call with a contact centre agent.

Customers are open to the use of different channels, as long as these can fully support their needs. Indeed, the benefits of digital transformation in the financial services industries are widely acknowledged, with 45% of customers saying that mobile or online banking is quicker.But there is a lingering attachment to traditional channels. Despite such a large number of customers being happy to carry out their transactions without speaking to anyone at all, when we asked how they resolve quick queries with the minimum effort, the majority, 37%, prefer to do this over the phone and surprisingly, 34.9% still like to go into a branch.

We are in a transition period and although it’s best for the customer and the company to use one channel, this is not always feasible, or desirable. Financial services organisations, therefore, need to focus on making the switch between channels as seamless as possible and for the relevant and up-to-date customer data to be instantly accessible, regardless of how customers choose to interact.

One technology that is experiencing consistently significant growth in financial services is the chatbot. It has become an easy and accessible way for customers to resolve known issues, or to collect important information that facilitates a seamless transition to a contact centre agent. What banks and insurance companies are finding is that introducing a virtual assistant for customer service can improve chat and phone service levels by 10-15%.

To be most effective, chatbots should be trained with a view to improving the customer’s experience. By programming them to understand customer “intent” during a live chat interaction or a phone call, an organisation can start identifying opportunities for chatbot automation. They can also listen for the words that customers use to express frustration and high effort while accomplishing a task. Once these linguistic patterns have been learned, the chatbots can then be trained to express empathy, and to route a frustrated customer to a contact centre agent with a skill set that specialises in the particular topic that is causing frustration.

Channel switching is not set to disappear overnight and customers will continue to select the channel that they interact with depending on how quickly, or how accurately, they can resolve their query. For the financial services industry, however, understanding from the data they are collecting why their customers move from channel to channel, and how best they can serve their needs at the first interaction, will, in time, reduce switching, and with it, their cost to serve.

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