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A delicate balancing act: How to digitalize your customer service

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The digital revolution has fundamentally changed the way banks operate. In fact, as early as 2016, 4.4 million webchats were hosted on UK banking apps or websites  – up 24% from 2015. This signals clear consumer demand for greater digital choice.

As a result, financial services providers of all sizes have made progressive updates to their customer management strategies, and digital customer-centric tools such as apps and web chat now form an essential part of many banking services. The dynamic, digital world is now moving rapidly towards messaging, IVR integration, chatbots, and virtual assistants facilitated by interaction analytics.

It is the seamless integration of all the digital channels backed up by human intervention that can provide a truly omni-channel and effortless experience to customers.

This is especially true for challenger institutions and fintech start-ups that have added fierce competition to the retail banking market against a backdrop of customers looking for easier and effortless banking options. In the face of these fresh-faced fintechs, it’s essential that banks are doing all they can do to digitize their services and provide a truly competitive offering.

So, what must banks bear in mind when looking to digitally transform their customer service?

Webchat best practice

Webchat may have been around for a while, but many banks struggle to make the most of the channel and use it in an intuitive and efficient way. With messenger, brands have an opportunity to engage with their customers in a much more meaningful way and steer them towards a resolution. It is vital that associates on messenger are sufficiently empowered to be able to resolve a customer’s problem quickly and efficiently. In doing this, they should take care to demonstrate the same empathy and engagement that they would through voice channels or face to face. Customer experience must remain paramount – and associates should be careful that they do not let the relative informality of the channel distract them.

Providing an intuitive and personal connection with customers will also help build brand loyalty. For instance, taking a leaf out of fintech banks Monzo and Plum’s playbook, and using emojis or text speak – where appropriate – can help show the personality behind your brand, and make customers feel as if their interaction is as familiar as a conversation with friends.

With digital consumer tools such as apps and webchat now a huge part of banking services, the industry is gradually turning its attention to the potential application of automation and AI for elevating customer experience. We are seeing banks follow in the footsteps of brand giants, including Uber, Twitter and Microsoft – who have all begun trialing chatbots across their services. Several banks are already dipping their toes in the chatbot water. Capital One, one of the US’ largest banks, recently launched their chatbot “Eno”, which lets customers text to see their balance, transaction history, and pay bills.

Capital One’s approach is both a cautious and sensible one. While bots can have disastrous consequences when applied in the wrong setting or for the wrong audience, they can also be hugely useful when solving straightforward transactions and simple questions, or to shepherd customers on a relatively linear journey, such as everyday banking queries.

Integrating chatbots into your customer management strategy also frees up associates to deliver a more streamlined process, and help consumers with more complicated questions. This in turn helps drive great customer experience – a win-win for any business who can get it right.

Back-office automation

Digitization can be used for more than just customer management; this technology has the potential to unlock value across a wide range of of business functions. Top of the list for financial services companies considering how to use digital solutions to deliver benefit to their businesses should be a look at how automation can help transform back-office processes.

Automation can be used to transform more complicated tasks such as commercial finance operations. This holds special significance for the financial services industry, where efficient and cost-effective operations are paramount to success. Automation can also mitigate human error in heavily regulated industries. And by automating simple but time-consuming tasks, companies can free up employees to focus on more complex and value-added work.

Beware of over-digitization

Despite the many benefits of digitization, banks must be careful not to place all their eggs in a digital basket – and instead remain focused on the customer journey across all channels: online and voice. Consumers still have their doubts about automated advice, and reasonably so.

A recent study by Firstsource revealed that for 44% of consumers, the availability of a bank branch is the primary deciding factor when selecting a banking provider. Indeed, a digital-only approach in banking fails to take into account the complexities of customer context and journeys. While customers tend to use digital services for their everyday banking needs, they still demand security and the comfort of voice or face-to-face contact for more important processes. When things go wrong – or get complicated – customers will seek human interaction, not that of a bot or a webchat conversation.

The key is to ensure there is a thorough understanding on what journeys are best resolved through which channels and then build a strategy to steer customers accordingly. This needs to be backed up by the ability to seamlessly switch channels  when required with minimal effort

To this end, training frontline associates in a contact center must be given the same amount of attention as the user experience on an app. Failure to do so may mean alienating huge customer groups. It’s a delicate balancing act, but banks that get it right will reap the rewards.

Originally published at Finance Digest.

Do read our blog ‘Embarking on a chatbot journey: The why, where and how’ to learn more about chatbots.

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