Revamping Failed Financial Customer Service Strategies

Firms are reigniting customer loyalty and reinventing subpar strategies with new technologies and service approaches.
Customer Experience

Reputation plays an integral role within the financial services industry, as fruitful relationships rely upon trust and satisfaction. However, many customer service strategies throughout the space leave much to be desired, as banks and credit unions still try to "surprise and delight" customers instead of realigning their approaches to fulfill consumers' demand for effortless experiences.

In most cases, financial customer service strategies don't flat-out fail. Instead, the institution itself fails to take the entire customer experience into account. Many lag because they lack visibility into the customer journey and suffer the inability to mine critical insights from unstructured data. Thus, customer service issues most frequently arise from an institution's inefficiencies, for these organizations fail to recognize that understanding goes beyond listening. Financial brands must look at internal data and dig deep to gain insights and effectively leverage the information they have to satisfy customer needs.

"Too often, companies treat customer queries independently without looking at the complete picture," says Mike Hennessy, vice president of sales and marketing at IntelliResponse. "Institutions need to be able to recognize whether these questions are part of larger service issues and utilize this knowledge to offer a more comprehensive solution."

Banks can also analyze their vast repository of customer queries to see which questions are most common and use this insight to improve overall customer experience, Hennessy adds. Banks may then proactively alter the options on their website to make things easier for customers to understand, as most take to self-service avenues prior to contacting the contact center directly. Online self-service options remain ideal for many, as these records can provide customers with fast, accurate answers to frequently asked questions, eliminating the need to speak with an agent and alleviating frustration. Reducing the number of inbound calls also leaves representatives free to focus on more complicated requests that require phone support, ultimately making the experience more positive across all channels.

"Offering cookie-cutter products that treat all people the same misses the mark and leaves most people to commoditize banking products and services, leading to rate shopping and a race to the bottom," says Tyson Nargassans, president and CEO of Saylent. "Seeing the same tired products from one financial institution to the next makes people feel that banks and credit unions aren't relevant to their individual needs, reducing customer loyalty. There's no incentive to do all their banking at one institution."

Many financial brands think that it's enough to simply call their customers by name and proceed to treat everyone the same. However, such behaviors ultimately result in loyalty loss. Yet, while consumers pursue personalized relationships, these individuals also seek brands that demonstrate expertise and skill, as such matters require knowledgeable employees to guide consumers along the path toward financial security.

According to one recent study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of NICE Systems, 30 percent of consumers attribute customer service woes to unprepared or unskilled agents, 16 percent get frustrated when the customer service provider doesn't know their history or preferences, and 26 percent become irritated when it takes too much time and effort to get their issues resolved. Therefore, to curb potential negative sentiment and customer attrition, financial institutions must be sure that employees across all touchpoints have the right skills and information so they may deliver service with the urgency that today's customers demand and maximize satisfaction.

"Banks have really had to focus on innovation through customer experience," says Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond the Arc. "The products most banks offer are pretty much the same, so this has become the only way to truly stand out. By gaining better insight into customer pain points, financial institutions have been able to address complaint areas, which has given them that competitive ability. There's also the focus on rolling out new digital capabilities as another way to differentiate and respond to potential reputation threats. At the end of the day, customers are looking for the products and services that help them reach their financial goals and that make life easier. With all the negative sentiment that can build up, banks are certainly trying to make things easier for customers by improving customer experience and helping them achieve their objectives."

Beyond all else, customers crave easy-to-use channels, competitive pricing, and financial expertise. These elements allow financial institutions to build and reinforce loyalty, while also differentiating the particular organization within the market. Customers want to feel as if they're in the driver seat when it comes to their financial relationships, with experts to co-pilot when the journey becomes murky. Therefore, loyalty should never come down to "winning customers back" because its essence relies upon sustained trust and dependable service. For financial institutions that have yet to adopt this mindset, internal culture change may be in order as loyalty must be the organization's universal goal and mission.

For Mountain America Credit Union (MACU), customer service strategies don't fail-they evolve. Every morning, teams throughout the organization conduct meetings to review MACU's mission statement, core values, and motto to ensure all employees remain on the same page and live the company's vision in their daily service. In recent years, MACU has increased its focus on member experience by specifically seeking feedback from members in ways that improve engagement and enhance experience. MACU reformulated how it collects feedback, using both direct phone calls and customer surveys to unveil any issues that may threaten satisfaction.

MACU specifically noticed that, about nine months after implementation, there was an unexpectedly high drop-off rate with regard to its survey. Thus, just as with its overall customer strategy, the institution sought to revamp its approach by eliminating or rewording some questions in order to boost completion. So far, these regular surveys have helped MACU establish new branch locations, implement new Saturday lobby hours at 18 locations, and expand its online and mobile services. MACU also recognizes that highly engaged members buy more products and services and give positive referrals. Overall, the number of products per household increased by 16 percent, and membership increased by 31 percent-an average of 20,000 new members each year.

Krystalina Brown, member engagement specialist at MACU, advises lagging financial institutions to start small when it comes to refreshing their customer strategies. "Don't be overwhelmed by the complexity of customer data. Start small and gather feedback that will enable you to improve member experience. Buy-in from the top down is also essential because these leaders must value feedback from members to make sure employees value their relationships with members. It's important for everyone within the company to share the same vision so everyone can work to accomplish the same goals."

Much frustration, however, stems from the customer authentication process, as increasingly strict federal rules and regulatory compliance initiatives leave banks struggling to find an ideal balance between safety and service. Because financial institutions must protect sensitive information, companies have numerous safeguards in place to curb data breaches. But, as Matthew Storm, director, innovation and solutions at NICE Systems, highlights, fraudsters continue to attack the contact center, while legitimate customers are left struggling to answer the questions required to gain access. New regulatory restrictions are important, but organizations cannot rely on traditional methods for authentication. Thus, many financial institutions have begun to embrace voice biometrics and real-time agent monitoring in an effort to halt hackers and serve customers without complicating relationships.

"On average, customer authentication at the start of an interaction takes 60 seconds," Storm adds. "The savings in handled time alone make biometric technologies innovative. But imagine the delight in your customers' voice when they are not asked their dog's name for the fifth time!"

Ultimately, most financial strategies don't fail. Instead, they're seen as misguided attempts to retain and satisfy current and prospective customers. But financial customer service doesn't need to fail in order to falter. Brands must actively collect customer feedback at regular intervals to detect pain points that may undermine loyalty. Banks must constantly work to rebuild or sustain their positive reputation, as their strategies must evolve alongside consumer behaviors and preferences. Customer loyalty and satisfaction require continuous maintenance and only diligence will prevent financial customer service strategies from alienating the consumer.