The future of financial services: digital, personalized, customer-centric

lmaugustin —  December 12, 2016 — Leave a comment

(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by Banking Strategies)

Not too long ago in financial services professionals built relationships — and created a positive experience — by meeting the customer in person for coffee or lunch. The customer would then gain confidence in the professional’s knowledge and ability to anticipate and address their needs.

Today, the financial services landscape has changed, and it’s all about “digital.” Digital technologies have revolutionized how banks communicate with customers. Just as sending a letter to a client doesn’t work in today’s world, businesses can no longer rely only on email or the phone. Modern customers want real-time communications and personalized customer experiences.

In fact, a recent Frost and Sullivan report shows almost one-half of financial services customers use three or more communications channels in a year. Whether it’s instant message, mobile applications, websites or social media, customers now have multiple channels at their disposal. They now demand and expect the same level of personalized customer experience regardless of the medium.

However, there is a digital downside. The digital revolution makes communications significantly more complex for banks, credit unions and other financial services institutions. Even without the lunches of yesteryear, financial institutions still must provide personal, unified and memorable customer journeys to remain competitive. Research by Gartner reinforces this point, with 89 percent of companies reporting that they compete solely based on customer experience. This presents an even bigger challenge to financial services industries: Besides increasing their customer numbers, they must also retain current customers — that are more engaged and knowledgeable than ever before.

Meeting customer demand is necessary in any industry, but especially critical in the global banking sector, which has a reputation for “lack of commitment.” And since digital communications make it easier for customers to switch companies, it becomes clear that financial companies must find ways to use the digital world to their advantage.

So what can financial institutions do to embrace the digital age? And, is there really a modern-day equivalent to meeting in person for customer retention?

The answer lies with the customer journey. A guiding principle should be to plan this, and align your business operations with the average customer life cycle. You can do this by conducting an easy “customer journey exercise.” Start by identifying how a customer typically makes a purchase and examine the customer life cycle and interactions with the company. This will help you learn where your company fails to meet customer needs. Once finished, the customer journey exercise will become a best-practices document you can use as a company-wide resource.

With the advent of social media channels, all businesses must truly understand and know their customers. This requires research and deep knowledge of the customer base. Customer relationship management (CRM) technologies help companies navigate these new channels. Customer services teams can have access to all customer information in context to fully understand a complaint. Having all the facts associated with a situation or account remains critical to provide great customer service. For instance, a customer service representative will be more effective handling a complaint when he knows whether a purchase is from a loyal customer and whether they prefer to communicate via Twitter or Facebook.

However, embracing the digital age doesn’t mean discarding human interaction. I still advocate for people actually talking to their customers: It just needs to be relevant. Combining digital technologies with human touchpoints represents the best formula for providing context and creating a unique customer experience.

Meeting customer demands in today’s digital age requires dedication, research and planning from companies. Incorporating these new digital and social methods is essential to make financial services organizations more agile, quicker to respond and better able to provide a unique (and personalized) customer journey across all channels.

Remember, we’ve all been customers ourselves. Shouldn’t these be the goals of customer service?

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