Customer experience has now become one of the hottest business topics. Even though financial service organizations agree that improving customer experience always have an immediate positive impact, most struggle to come up with a clear, concise and comprehensive definition. The attempts to define have often lingered around the optimization of the digital customer interaction channels such as the websites or mobile applications. The other set of definitions focuses on retail experience or on the efficiency of the customer service regime. While all these definitions hold true, they are inimical to our understanding of this revolutionary concept in its entirety.
So, what exactly is customer experience? To put simply, it is about putting the customer needs at the center of your business strategy. It is about meeting the level of customer expectation necessitated not only by the level of competition within the industry but also the plethora of marketing communication messages that are disseminated. If brand is a set of values, customer experience is about being able to deliver those values to customers consistently across all touchpoints through the entirety of a customer journey.
Customer experience involves perceptions, emotions and behavior. Hence, it was for long argued that it is beyond the control of an organization. However, banks and financial services companies tried to craft customer experience with an exclusive focus on digitization of customer touchpoints, which according to them were the only controllable elements in the ambit. But digitization alone may not guarantee success for banks and financial services companies. A touchpoint-oriented, metrics-driven approach to customer experience may not result in the overall improvement of experience as depicted by a Mckinsey report. As Cales Fornell, Chairman and Founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) rightly points out, banks that focus on ‘matching technology with customer needs’ will be the winners.
One of the possible reasons why BFSI is considered laggards when it comes to offering customer experience is the touchpoint-driven approach. But, US-based Regions Financial Corporation has been a real aberration to this abysmal record. They are being continuously ranked as the best in the country by multiple surveys. According to John Owen, head of the Regional Banking Group, it is the bank’s strategic approach towards customer experience that has enabled it to perform consistently well. “From online and mobile banking, to our branch personnel and new ATM technologies, we are focused on providing greater convenience and value to the people and businesses we serve. Our teams are committed to offering superior service, as well as financial advice, guidance and education, to help customers reach their goals," said Mr. Owen.
Customer Journey: The New Language
The biggest drawback of a touchpoint-driven strategy towards customer experience is that we might lose sight of a customer journey in its entirety. Such managerial myopia may also result in high-effort, anachronic and ineffective touchpoints which instead of solving customers’ problems aggravate them.
So, how can a financial services company simplify a customer journey? Creating a customer engagement architecture will help to understand all the possible roadblocks that hinder a customer from achieving his/her goals. Once the roadblocks are identified, re-orientation of the resources from the customer perspective comes next in line. This is where cognitive technologies come in handy.
Think about the official website which has now become a crucial touchpoint in query resolution process. The problem with a website is that it is a high-effort channel. Customer needs to actively search for the information they require. In the instance that the information they seek is unavailable, they will have to switch the channel to a human agent, which is a daunting task.
By implementing a cognitive virtual agent in the official website, banks can offer an immersive, conversational and personalized query resolution experience. The cognitive agent, which functions as a self-sufficient level 1 customer support expert, can also be integrated with the human agents so that the engagements that require a more advanced level of support can be escalated smoothly. Here, customers are offered omnichannel customer service experience, where the possibilities of switching between the service channels can be kept to a bare minimum. (If you want to know more reasons why banks/finance services companies should deploy cognitive virtual agent click here)
The purpose of improving customer experience is to strengthen customer-brand relationships. To this end, financial services organizations should increasingly focus on simplifying cumbersome customer journeys. An end-to-end approach of offering flawless, highly personalized experience along all the touchpoints, along all the relevant customer journeys is what is called for.
Addressing the need for personalization
In the mid-1970s when Citi Bank launched the Automated Teller Machines which could carryout transactions such as cash withdrawal and deposits what was being overturned was a legacy system. Banks until then operated within the 9am-3am timeframe and stay-at-home wives were handling all the banking transactions. But the economic conditions forced the stay-at-home wives to take up jobs and thus the operating hours of the banks became inconvenient. ATMs addressed this lifestyle-driven change and brought in the convenience of anytime banking to their lives. And from then on ATMs caught on.
An in-depth understanding of customers, their needs, wants and behavior will only help a financial services provider to leverage the existing technology to reinvent customer journeys. New-age customers crave for personalized experiences be it in sales or customer service. According to the 2017 Global Consumer Pulse Research by Accenture 48% of customer experience personalized treatment with 33% willing to abandon a brand for not providing personalized services.
From personalization to the age of Hyper-Relevance
But, Personalization today is often static and time lagged, delivered at the point of purchase and in response to certain customer behaviors. A white paper titled Trust in Hyper-Relevance by Accenture suggests a paradigm shift from personalization which is based on fixed attributes to hyper-relevance which is based on a more contextual understanding of constantly evolving customer needs. In banking, like in other industries, the need for hyper-relevancy will put an end to the scrip-driven automation of processes in favor of data-driven and inference-driven.
This shift appears around the corner especially with the advancements in AI technologies like predictive analysis, machine learning and natural language processing. The amount of data at their disposal facilitated by the digitization of customer interactions, banks and financial service organizations can create product and service offerings which are tailored to the specific needs of each individual customers wrapped in exemplary digital experience. For banking and financial services companies, customer experience is no more a product of their engagement with the customers, but the sole reason for their existence.