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Customer services lessons for a banking boom

Yesterday’s UK budget unveiled some fresh incentives for savers, but, given recent online problems experienced by customers of several British banks, how confident are we that our digital piggy banks are reliable?

How do you do your banking? Are you a stickler for queuing through your lunch hour to sort your personal account matters or are you a digital native, content with controlling your finances with the touch of a button? Recent research from consumer watchdog Which? found that 90 per cent of its members now have access to online banking, and three-quarters use telephone banking. Yet nearly six in 10 say bank closures are a cause for concern – not surprising given recent technological problems. So what lessons can the financial sector learn to garner seamless customer service? Brand Perfect considers the options…

1. Anticipate consumer behaviour better

Last month’s payday saw the mobile banking apps of several big banks in the UK – RBS, Barclays and Santander – being affected by glitches that drew complaints from their customers.

RBS’s press office acknowledged the problem using its Twitter account, retweeted by the corporate account and customer service account.


Statements from the other two banks to the BBC were similar in nature. So what could be done to ease this problem?

Camelot Group CEO and Market Research Society President Dianne Thompson explains: “It’s important that we look at the why, not just the what. We combine factual and behavioural understanding with what consumers think and feel which is key to getting user experience right.”


2. Remember that consumers value personal interaction for complex and confidential subjects

Rather than be concerned that e-banking and m-banking are potentially making face-to-face interactions less prevalent, financial brands should be recognising the inherent limitations of the internet and putting customer service emphasis into their branch persona. While a phone call can often involve the frustrating grappling with an offshore call centre and the internet can be deemed temperamental, branches have the opportunity to offer a more customised and personalised service.

A report by brand consultancy Bancography says there is a long-term future for branches, but they will need to change and adapt with modern technology to remain profitable. It adds cash machines, online banking and mobile banking have not replaced the branch, but have just given consumers more choice. “Branches still matter, because consumers say they do. The role of the branch is changing, but the fundamental consumer preference for it endures,” the report says.

3. Respect customer data

Last year Barclays told its customers that, from the autumn, it could start selling their anonymised data to other companies. The new Barclays terms also made it possible to tap location data from customer mobile phones to tackle fraud by, for example, tracking their movements if their cards are used abroad or by holding information on customers gathered through contact via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Such moves seem to be welcomed by consumers so long as banks can prove they are protecting their customers’ accounts and not opening up scope for data misuse.

Steven Walden, senior head of research and consulting at Beyond Philosophy, argues: “Companies need to understand that looking at the physical aspects of touchpoints is not the same as looking at the customer experience data. Inside your company you may think customers see everything about your physical experience. In fact, customers only see an impression and data misuse would tarnish this.”

4. Don’t be boring – engage in dialogue

A report from Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group (CG) polled consumers on their experience with financial institutions on social media and found that 87 per cent reported banks are “annoying, boring or unhelpful” on social media.

Much of this can be correlated to the nature of social media use for these brands as a complaints resolution service, but as well as a customer service channel, banking firms need to establish more character to drive their online brand equity and make consumers feel like stakeholders in their bank.

Dr Patricia Sahm, CG’s Customer Experience and Channels practice lead, says: “Banks need to make their customers feel like they’ve resolved whatever problem there is online, not just avoid conflict.”

In 2008 much of the West’s banking industry suffered a downturn that had it on its knees. But now the banks are trying to regain the consumer confidence they enjoyed before the crash. Customers today want to bank while they sit on a train via their mobile device, and they are interested in being made appropriate offers too. Translating technological wins to the overall consumer experience could just be the revival hope the banks are desperately seeking.



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