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By Tanmaya Varma, Global Head of Industry Solutions, SugarCRM

Tanmaya Varma

Tanmaya Varma

The last decade has seen the financial services industry become transformed by digital innovation, as banks have increasingly embraced the convenience and efficiencies technology can offer both their operations, and customers’ lives. This has had a profound impact on the way customers interact with their banks. A report by the British Bankers Association(BBA) revealed customer bank branch interactions declined from 476 million in 2011 to 278 million in 2016. This is having a direct impact on the presence of high street banks, with Which? revealing that more than 1,000 branches have been shut in the last two years. Customers are choosing to take banking into their own hands instead – quite literally – as the BBA study revealed the use of banking apps increased from 7 million log-ins a day in 2014, to 11 million in 2015. But what has the impact been on the customer experience? Is digitisation always best?

Customer experience is the new benchmark for success

It has of course been right for banks to invest in technology to refresh and transform the service they offer; in the last year alone we’ve seen Nationwide investing in behavioural biometrics which learn and adapt to the user’s behaviour– as well as offering advanced security measures –and Spanish bank Caixabank providing customer services via WhatsApp. This shows how innovation is also being fuelled by the need for increasingly sophisticated security processes and to keep pace with the instantaneous mind-set of the modern consumer, who expects 24/7 service and the ability to speak with their bank via a channel of their choosing.

With so much choice available, customer experience is fast becoming the point of difference; indeed, Gartner reveals that 89 per cent of organisations now expect to compete solely on the experience they can offer.  This means banks need to consider the service they offer at every touchpoint, whether on the phone, an in-branch visit or via an app. There is a real risk to the bottom line if this is neglected; anAccenture study highlighted that 52 per cent of consumers have stopped using businesses due to poor digital customer service.

Keep the human touch in banking

I applaud digital transformation and urge all industries to embrace it. But a balance needs to be struck between genuine innovation which enhances the customer experience, and still offering a human service – particularly in banking, where money matters are complex and personal. AV anson Bourne report found that 91 per cent of respondents agree that there should always be a way to contact a real person. There is only so much help or reassurance a mobile app can offer; people still want to be able to discuss issues with a human being who can offer advice.

Human to human interaction will never be completely replaced by machines.  Yes, machines will help automate repetitive or low value tasks.  But overall they will increase human productivity and increase the value of personal interaction.Where technology should play a part is in empowering the employee with all the customer information they need (when did they last contact us? What other products do they hold with us?) – to enable a holistic, seamless experience which proves to the customer they are valued and understood.

Invest in the right tech for the customer experience

Behind every innovative leap forward should be a solid back-end system that contains customer data in a consolidated and easily accessible way. I often find what hinders customer-facing employees is either a lack of access to this data, or access to so many different databases that it becomes a confusing and painful process.

Banks need to break out of the silo mentality and think of the customer experience as one that is consistent across all departments. This means all customer-facing teams (sales, marketing, customer service and so on) need to have the right tools to identify their customers amidst a sea of data. Having complete control of customer data and confidence in how to decipher it will all help to deliver a seamless customer experience.

The need for delivering a great customer experience is more important now than it’s ever been – but this doesn’t start and end with technology. Of course, branches are expensive to maintain and banks need to operate efficiently – but they must continue to invest in ensuring their employees are equipped to provide the personal, human service that may well be the difference between keeping or losing a customer.

“Original publication in Finance Digest Issue 1
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