Latest News

Banks Look to Automation, Personalization to Deliver More Proactive Customer Service

January 26, 2016

(New York, NY):  There are more ways than ever to interact with your bank, from email and text messaging to social media and live chat. But what if you didn’t need to reach out in the first place?

That’s the question banks are asking as they contemplate the future of customer service.
With the rise of digital channels, financial institutions have concentrated their efforts on crafting a seamless “customer journey” – delivering consistent, superior service across a complex and growing array of touch points – and leveraging data to better predict, route, and respond to customer inquiries.

Now, as the industry looks toward the future, a new focus has emerged: how to use technology not only to anticipate and react to these inquiries, but to solve them before they happen.

“Banks are thinking more proactively about customer service and seeking to better understand the reasons customers engage with the contact center,” said Kathy Castle, Director of ACG’s Consumer Banking Customer Service Roundtable. “But beyond that, there’s a growing emphasis on eliminating the need for the call or transaction altogether. That’s taking customer service to the next level and a big part of the next era of contact centers.”

If done right, the benefits of this more proactive approach are clear – improved quality and speed of service, reduced inbound contact center volume, and lower costs.

To get there, Castle said, the industry must take a multi-pronged approach to servicing that focuses on three key elements: continuing to develop a more holistic view of the customer journey; enabling proactive service delivery through strategic use of automation; and personalizing service to bridge gaps in customer preferences.

THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY

A more efficient and proactive servicing strategy begins with exceptional multi-channel experiences – a prevailing goal within the industry. In fact, the advent of digital channels has already led banks to take a more integrated view of customer interactions across all engagement platforms. Contact centers, for their part, are working to provide agents with greater visibility into these touch points and using data to anticipate customer inquiries in real time.

By leveraging this data, banks are able to connect recent customer actions, such as initiating an application process online, to subsequent activity, such as an inbound call to the contact center. This allows for more efficient service delivery – the bank can then prompt the customer or route the call to the proper queue based on a particular product, service, or agent skill set – and has the potential to ease major sources of dissatisfaction. Having relevant customer information on hand, for instance, can reduce call transfers, meaning the customer won’t have to repeat their inquiry to a string of successive agents.

Following the customer’s journey from one channel to the next is also critical to identifying disconnects and process improvements – particularly in the area of digital servicing. Banks are seeking to better understand calling patterns to gain insight into why customers are engaging with the contact center in the first place, and to perform a health check on self-service channels. While some calls reflect a simple truth – that some customers prefer human interaction, at least for certain transactions – others may uncover demand for self-service features the bank lacks or expose process breaks and subpar user experience associated with existing functionality. If captured effectively, these calls can bring to light opportunities to streamline and automate servicing in a strategic manner, benefitting customer experience in a meaningful way.

STRATEGIC AUTOMATION

In addition to mapping the customer’s journey, banks are increasingly turning to automation of both customer-facing and back-office processes to enable more proactive service delivery.

Features like intelligent call routing and predictive analytics can match customers with the right agent based on the nature of their inquiry and the unique skill sets of representatives. To assist with online or mobile support, for instance, banks may route customers to specialty agents capable of handling complex digital servicing issues.
Back-end automation, such as agent screen-pops with information on the customer, puts representatives in a more proactive position, and ensures customers don’t have to explain their inquiry repeatedly on calls. More advanced solutions can eliminate the need for a call altogether, reducing handling costs and improving customer satisfaction. For example, a customer’s browsing activity on the bank’s website may trigger a live chat session related to a particular product or service. Bill payment and balance reminders, fraudulent activity alerts, and other notifications can also make servicing a more streamlined and proactive exercise.

“When done right, automation improves brand experiences,” Castle said. “But it can be a double-edged sword.”  End-to-end system automation is likely to cause frustration, particularly for customers who prefer human interaction, and can result in missed opportunities for banks. To avoid these pitfalls, it’s critical for financial institutions to think strategically about automation and to tailor servicing to the unique needs of each customer.

SEGMENTATION & PERSONALIZED SERVICE

Rather than approaching each customer the same way, financial institutions are increasingly using customer data and segmentation to align servicing with the individual. Intelligent call routing and other technology can enhance personalization, matching customers with the right agent based on the inquiry or the right queue based on pre-determined channel preferences.

Additionally, banks may identify habitual callers and leverage data on past behavior – such as regularly calling in to the contact center to make a payment or check a balance – to auto-route customers to the proper queue.  “Banks don’t want to discourage these customers from calling,” Castle said. “They want to find the most efficient way to handle the call.”

While technology solutions can make servicing more intelligent and personal, a one-size-fits-all strategy is unlikely to be successful. Attempting to change customer preferences or steer customers to self-service channels can be a futile effort, Castle said, and banks that take this approach are likely to waste time and resources explaining technology the customer doesn’t want. Additionally, banks that adopt end-to-end automation risk missing out on opportunities to deepen the customer relationship. As a result, financial institutions should maintain human support options in self-service menus and other channels, and consider supplementing intelligent call routing with straightforward agent dialogue to ensure effective call resolution.

Even as self-service options and automation proliferate, live-agent assistance will remain critical to bridging gaps in customer preferences.

“While automation can make servicing more responsive to customer needs, segment-based strategies and customization are essential to ensure personal connections remain intact,” Castle said. ”Banks that get it right will not only meet growing customer expectations, but elevate customer service to the next level.”

About Auriemma Consulting Group

ACG is a boutique management consulting firm with specialized focus on the Payments and Lending space. We deliver actionable solutions and insights that add value to our clients’ business activities across a broad set of industry topics and disciplines.

Complementary to our core consulting business, ACG facilitates a series of Industry Roundtable groups focused on a variety of industries in which clients exchange information through activities managed by ACG, comparing and analyzing industry practices and benchmarks so that each member can optimize its own performance. Founded in 1984, ACG has grown from a one-man shop to a nearly 50-person firm with offices in New York and London. For more information, contact Tom LaMagna at (212) 323-7000 or tom.lamagna@acg.net.