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Five things all financial services leaders need to know about customer service

Posted May 29, 2018 - Updated July 6, 2021
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Competition continues to heat up in the financial services industry. Driven by new technologies that are making it increasingly convenient for people to borrow, save and invest their money, traditional banks – not always known for their over-the-top customer service – are now placing greater emphasis on delivering a more well-rounded experience.

“Banks have suffered by not doing more to help people reach the goals they want to achieve,” says James Darroch, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business in Toronto, Canada and co-author of the book Stumbling Giants: Transforming Canada’s Banks for the Information Age. Darroch says the financial services industry overall is working harder to boost customer service — but there’s a lot more to do.

Here are five things financial services leaders need to know about providing a great customer experience to grow a loyal customer base and stay ahead of the competition:

1. Empathy is critical

Knowing your customer is key to success in any business, no matter the sector. At financial services companies, that means developing employee training programs that help them understand what it feels like to be on the other side of a transaction.

One unique example is at the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), which offers banking, investment and insurance services to military families. USAA employees can sign up to participate in a one-day boot camp that includes a 4 a.m. wake up call, push-ups and other exercise drills to give them a taste of life in the military.

At Wealthsimple, an online investment management service, employees are also clients, says co-founder and CEO Michael Katchen. “Dogfooding, or using our own product, is really important for knowing how we can do better,” Katchen says.

He explains that his firm’s customer service team doesn’t just respond to individual requests, “they work on products and processes to improve the client experience.” For example, Katchen explains Wealthsimple has software engineers embedded into its customer service team to help foster this kind of collaboration. “The goal is to never have the same problem twice. Solve the root cause for the first client who encounters a problem, to make the experience better for all future clients,” Katchen adds.

2. Make a deeper connection with the community

Customers don’t just want loans and savings accounts. They want to know how to better manage their money in ways relevant to their specific situations. The Wealthsimple magazine is one way the company is creating a deeper connection with the community, offering entertaining and educational articles that feature real people and their money experiences.

“The idea is to help demystify the world of money and show that everyone has concerns and anxieties about it,” Katchen says. “Instead of talking about oil prices or what’s happening in the market, we take a human approach when it comes to talking about money and investing. Through our ads and online magazine, we tell real stories about people’s relationships with money.” For example, the magazine featured Major League Baseball player Mike Piazza, who shared his story going from earning an allowance from his parents in college to being a highly paid athlete, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who admitted to not having a savings account until he was 44, and a nun on what it’s like to take a vow of poverty.

Some banks are taking the concept of ‘going the extra mile’ to make personal connections with their customers to whole new levels. Blake Morgan, a customer-experience futurist, uses the example of Capital One, where an employee sympathized with a customer who had her credit card declined trying to buy new furniture after being dumped by her boyfriend. The employee gave the customer complimentary travel miles to take a vacation, and even sent her flowers.

“Capital One knows the importance of being there for customers in their times of need. Instead of simply answering banking questions, employees understand what it means to be enthusiastic and do more,” Morgan says. ” Employees feel good about helping customers and are excited to work there, which adds to the overall customer experience.”

3 . Offering consistency in products and service

You can empower team members to be more empathetic to customers and offer perks every once in a while, but financial services companies still need to offer consistent customer service. In fact, a Salesforce survey shows that 75% of consumers expect a consistent experience and that 73% are likely to switch brands if they don’t receive it.

At Wealthsimple, there’s a strong focus on delivering high-quality, consistent service to clients, according to Katchen. “One of the challenges we face is scaling this service to meet the needs of a fast-growing client base,” he says. “One of the ways we’re doing this is by building more financial advice and other value-adds right into our technology product. The other is by developing really great digital tools for our client-service team, so they have all the information they need at their fingertips to deliver really great service, efficiently.”

Consistency is critical for financial services companies, particularly as more digital banks hit the market and increase competition, says Darroch. “People want a clear product offering that’s understandable, and you need to deliver consistently on that expectation.”

4. Build your omnichannel presence

The same Salesforce survey that emphasized consistency in service also brought to light the importance of consistency across platforms including mobile, social media, online, over the phone, in person, and even chatbots and virtual assistants.

Financial services companies have no choice but to offer transactions through all channels if they want to remain relevant, particularly for more technology-savvy consumers. For many, that means building out their customer service network to include all of the most popular touchpoints.

Customer-experience futurist Morgan points to the example of Fidelity, an investment firm that was challenged by the proliferation of channels that customers wanted to use. Morgan says Fidelity invested in a technology platform that allowed it to provide a unified view of the customer to the agent, as well as a technology platform that allowed for greater flexibility with its video customer service and mobile offerings.

According to Morgan, 90% of Fidelity’s transactions now take place online. “They’ve also made a huge push toward omnichannel in order to serve customers on the channel of their choice,” she says of the brand’s financial customer service.

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Omnichannel made easy: Implementation checklist for finance and fintech companies

Download an easy-to-follow checklist created by Everest Group, in partnership with TELUS International, to help financial services and fintech firms acquire and retain customers while managing a true omnichannel strategy.

Download the checklist

5. Take technology to the next level

Technology is constantly evolving and financial services companies need to leverage it to enable the best possible customer experience.

Morgan points to an example at Royal Bank of Scotland, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify customers that may appreciate the offer of financial planning help. “In certain cases, these can be customers who overdraw their bank accounts,” she says. “They are invited to attend a private financial planning session to learn ways to avoid this in the future. This is one of many ways banks can use the latest technology to retain customers.”

Other AI-related technologies, such as virtual assistants, as well as data-driven personalization also improve the customer experience. While consumers are getting pickier about what data they’ll share and how they’ll share it, research shows that many will if it leads to a more personalized experience.

Taking advantage of a captive audience

Given consumers’ reliance on financial services companies for multiple transactions — from borrowing, to saving, to investing their money —companies in this industry have a number of prime opportunities to engage with their customers to keep them coming back. By using an empathetic approach and embracing the latest technology in order to better connect, financial services companies will be prepared to compete with new disruptive firms that enter the market.

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