Overcoming 4 Obstacles That Stall Financial Customer Experience

How can banks adapt to the changing consumer landscape? By overcoming the roadblocks that throw the customer journey off balance.
Customer Experience

For financial services brands, navigating the modern customer experience means retracing the consumer's footprints to fully understand where they've been and where they're going. But when it comes to forging their own strategic paths, banks often encounter numerous roadblocks on their journeys toward customer experience optimization.

With rules and regulations always weighing heavy, financial firms acknowledge that the road to strategic success can often be bumpy, if not treacherous, at times. In fact, according to an article from The New York Times, author Steve Lohr explores how mobile usage among Millennials has upended the consumer banking industry by opening the door for FinTech startups. Such companies provide the digitally inclined with alternatives to the standard retail banking experience, tapping into tools and technologies that have yet to gain real traction among large, established firms.

But how can standard banks spice up their more traditional methods and adapt to the changing consumer landscape simultaneously? By proceeding slow and steady, of course. First they must overcome these four obstacles.

Obstacle #1: Developing consistent customer experiences across all available channels.

Inconsistency has become the root of all evil for financial brands. Often times, each line of business operates in its own silo, with its own strategy and supporting technology, complicating the customer experience for those clients who interact across multiple channels. For instance, if someone tries to fill out an online form using their tablet and the form hasn't been optimized for touchscreen devices, it's going to take much longer to complete, leaving the customer frustrated.Therefore, as Stephanie Pieruccini,vice president of research & enterprise and technology consulting services at Madison Advisors, explains, banks must consider the complete customer journey for each scenario from start to finish to ensure there are no gaps or challenges that would deter the client.

Pieruccini adds that today's customers are looking for convenient experiences that are tailored to their lifestyles and preferences. If customers come upon any challenges or roadblocks on their journeys, they're increasingly likely to walk away immediately and turn to the competitor for assistance. Fundamentally, financial services brands need to put themselves in their customers' shoes to truly assess customer experience and gauge what needs to be done.

"Since financial services plays such a large role in our lives today, customers are becoming more and more particular about their options for receiving their transactional communications and finding information," Pieruccini says. "We're very much in a self-service age, but not everyone is that independent, so it's important to segment the customer base and understand their specific requirements to ensure they're able to access the experience they expect."

For instance, Pieruccini often hears that banks rank paper suppression or the move to electronic communications as their top priorities. But when asked how they'd prefer to receive their own communications, those managing such strategies typically opt for print or print-digital hybrid communications. While there are many customers who want the latest and greatest ways of receiving communications, others prefer their trusted routines. Understanding the diverse preferences of all customers will help drive strategies that meet everyone's needs.

Ideally, banks should create centralized strategies for managing communications across all channels and lines of business. From a technology perspective, there should be one platform for all communications, whether it's one singlecustomer communications management (CCM) solution orspecific best-of-breed tools carefullyintegrated together to delivera consistent experience. Pieruccini also recommends testing these experiences across all channels, including inbound such as contact centers, Web chat, email,and payment processing to provide a complete picture of all customer engagement touchpoints and allow for each customer journey scenario to be mapped out for testing.

Obstacle #2: Providing personalized services that further loyalty and support retention.

Personalized experiences are also critical for financial firms looking to preserve trust and improve retention. As Scott Andrick, director, retail banking and cards at Pegasystems, emphasizes, brands that don't understand their clients as well as they think they do are likely to encounter numerous hiccups along the customer journey. One recent Pegasystems survey found that 68 percent of banks think they understand their customers as individuals extremely well, but less than half (41 percent) of financial customers believe the same, while another 16 percent feel banks hardly understand them at all.Banks need to implement the right strategies to ensure their customers are receiving personalized, relevant experiences that enhance their lives.

"Today's customers are extremely empowered," Andrick notes. "Iffinancial brandscontinue to have impersonal, irrelevant interactions withcustomers, there's a strong possibility they'll take their business elsewhere.With increased competition, particularly with the emergence of new digital financial services providers that are disrupting the market, dissatisfied consumers have new options to consider if their current financialproviderisn't meeting expectations."

According to the same survey, when it comes to customer service, respondents seek providers that listen to and understand their needs above all else. Financial leadersmust implement processes and tools to ensureeach customer interactionreflects specific preferences, history,andcontextacross all channels, Andrick adds. It'salso critical for leaders to execute strategies thatenabletheir staff to provide the best experience possible so customers' needs are consistently met. In doing so,each interactionwill providevalue, ultimately building brand loyalty and satisfaction. Survey results also show that social and mobile are the top two investment areasfor banksover the next 12-24 months. While these aresmartareas to invest in, banks must first master consistency with regard to the basics of what makes an excellent customer experience. Getting the fundamentals right will enable leaders to correct this course and maintain happier customers.

Ensuring the customer history and context follows them throughout their journey translates to relevant, useful experiences. By analyzing critical customer data, banks can also understand the next best actions they need to take with customers for optimal results. Andrick explains that, while this may include cross-sell and upsell opportunities,it's not just about selling. Each recommendation should enhance customers' lives, providing balance rather than creating noise. Overall, customers will receive faster service the way they prefer, allowing leaders to outpace their competition.

Obstacle #3: Getting enterprisewide commitment to preserve brand engagement and trust.

Before financial firms can fully meet their consistency and personalization goals, institutions must create an internal culture that values both employee and customer engagement. Jenni Palocsik, director, solutions marketing at Verint, indicates that successful companies must achieve acceptance and full support across the organization, particularly within the executive management sphere, in order to effectively undertake most new banking strategies. Banks must also agree on success criteria, ownership, and ongoing resource commitment at the beginning of the project.

Organizations that capture and analyze large volumes of customer data, as well as implement decision-making around key points along the customer journey, must learn to think differently about how each customer interaction contributes to their view of the organization and their likelihood to recommend or buy, Palocsik adds. Banks need to step away from trying to assign 'credit' to any single area that interacts with the customer and instead, consider the overall relationship and how all the contributing factors combine to provide lasting value.

"Access to data-driven performance metrics and visibility into how each individual employee or team contributes to the business can help build a culture of personal accountability and drive customer engagement," Palocsik says. "Employees feel empowered and believe they'll be evaluated fairly, and become more vested and engaged. Highly engaged employees are motivated to provide high-quality service, resulting in greater customer engagement."

In order to benefit from solutions like desktop analytics and scorecards that can help improve sales effectiveness and productivity, banks must also involve employees in pilot projects and clearly demonstrate the value they provide in equitably assessing each individual's performance (objective versus anecdotal review) against KPIs, and in sharing with each employee how their behaviors contribute to the bank's bottom line. Communicating benefits generated from the solutions through internal case studies on an ongoing basis is also important. Organizations that supply employees and managers with the technology and processes to help them deliver such objectives will ultimately start to see positive results tied to customer satisfaction, loyalty, and the bottom line.

Obstacle #4: Winning the competition for experience expectations across all industries, not just financial services.

Most banks now recognize that omnichannel experiences are essential to the customer journey. Kristin Julbert, director of customer experience at BBVA Compass, indicates that finding the right mix of communications can even build stronger relationships within an increasingly digital environment. Yet, while firms typically focus on improving the branch or digital experience, taking their cues from competitors within the industry, the BBVA Compass team understands that strategic development must draw from customer experiences across industry lines.

"We have to remember that, while we may face an increasing number of competitors in banking, with the addition of tech firms and the like, we're also facing an infinite number of other competitors in experience," Julbert explains. "When customers think about how they're interacting with banks, they are comparing us against every experience they have across all industries and companies."

Bank leaders can no longer assume that they completely understand what customers want and need from their banking experience. Instead, these leaders must look outside their industry and to their customers directly for guidance on how to proceed successfully. Banks need to take their cues from behaviors and preferences expressed throughout their entire journey. Organizations must also recognize that customer needs vary now more than ever before.

"For example, when my parents interacted with their bank years ago, they really had one routine," Julbert describes. "On payday, my dad would go to the bank and deposit his check. He interacted with the same two teller, and he had to be prepared before he went there and give thought to how much money he deposited versus how much money he would need for the week. In those days, banking was similar from person-to-person. However, today, clients have immediate access to funds through ATMs, debit cards, online banking, person-to-person transfers, and more."

To account for this generational shift, BBVA Compass places customer feedback on high priority, making sure that the information shared gets propagated throughout the entire bank. Customers count on BBVA Compass to satisfy their needs and expectations, so the brand ensures that all groups within the company hear what customers are saying by quickly getting feedback into the hands of people who can bring this insight to action. Julbert advises laggards that adequate application of feedback require the right talent to analyze and understand what customers are saying. Banks must be able to analyze high volumes of data, while also connecting with consumers on an emotional level. Consumers aren't necessarily talking about their checking accounts or credit cardsthey're talking about the experience. Leaders must relate to the feedback in order to ensure their actions will have the biggest impact. They must also make sure they're connecting with every comment and implementing structures that ensure this insight doesn't start and stop with one department or group.

Ultimately, financial services organizations must be sure not to get lost among all the trends and technologies that have come to rule the customer experience. While clients may now expect mobile apps and social profiles, customer centricity still remains at the heart of any successful relationship. As long as brands focus on what matters mostthe customerthese obstacles seem like mere detours on the road to long-term satisfaction and loyalty.