Customer experience is a key — if not the key — competitive differentiator not only for the financial services industry, but across all industries. The numbers prove it:

In today’s technology-driven world, there is no shortage of opportunities for banks and credit unions to innovate and improve the customer experience, starting with customer service. You see, customer service is a vital component of a quality customer experience because it directly impacts how your customers engage with your organization. Customer service failures, such as an unpleasant interaction with a live service representative or a failure to address a customer’s pressing need, can easily become a black mark on a customer’s impression of your bank, and sour the entire customer experience. To that end, it’s imperative that you not only look for ways to improve customer service in banks, but to completely exceed customer service expectations.

Let’s get started.

1. Promote Financial Literacy Through Customer Education

According to a recent study from the Raddon Research Institute, financially literate customers are more profitable because “they are credit-driven and have a higher usage of depository products.” That said, most Americans overestimate their financial literacy and are aware of surprisingly few financial literary resources, which means banks are perfectly positioned to step in and educate customers on financial literacy and profit from increased patronage in the process.

There are any number of ways to structure your financial literacy program, from online educational materials made available through your mobile banking application (more on the subject of mobile banking apps later) to in-house financial advisors who can walk customers through different scenarios, such as buying their first home or saving for retirement, at branch locations. Community banks and credit unions have found great success hosting educational workshops and fairs, getting involved in community outreach, and partnering with local schools and colleges to develop financial literacy curriculum for classrooms. This last item not only empowers younger generations to make smarter financial decisions but also comes with the added benefit of enabling banks to engage with prospective future customers. Even in our technology-driven society, customers still value face-to-face interaction, so it’s imperative to capitalize on every opportunity to engage with customers through human channels.

Developing a financial literacy program is an excellent way to improve customer service in banks; the American Bankers Association and the National Financial Educators Council provide excellent primers to help you get started. If developing your own program seems too tall an order, there are plenty of pre-existing programs you can recommend to customers.

2. Become a Trusted Advisor to Small Business Customers

The 2008 economic recession has, perhaps, made some small business customers more wary of banks — after all, small businesses felt the effects of the recession more severely than large firms, with as many as 170,000 small businesses shuttering between 2008 and 2010, alone.

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Over 10 years later, those small businesses that were able to survive the financial crisis are still reeling from employee layoffs, slashed spending, and stalled plans for expansion. According to figures from the U.S. Small Business Administration, “The amount of small business loan originations plummeted by more than half during the crisis and has seen only a very limited recovery post-crisis, leaving small business loan originations down 40 percent from pre-crisis levels.”

We mention all of this to acknowledge that the way small businesses interact with banks has changed substantially. Gone are the days when a small business owner would confidently walk into their local bank in search of a loan; the small business owner of today is savvier, knows that they must be discerning, and expects to be courted by banks rather than the other way around.

In order to earn small business owners’ trust and loyalty, your bank must transition from lender to financial advisor by offering holistic services designed to help small businesses grow. For example, you could:

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The goal is to partner with small businesses in such a way that you’re not just a lender, but a trusted advisor that plays a key role in their long-term growth. It’s also imperative that you continue to deepen existing small business relationships to protect this segment from moving to fintech and other digital competitors, such as Amazon or Facebook. In order to do so, you’ll need to consider how small business banking interactions need to change in order to fully leverage the possibilities of new technology.

3. Make Contextual Data a Core Component of Your Customer Service Strategy

With fintech firms such as Stripe, SoFi, and Avant edging in on their market share, legacy financial institutions must evolve or die — and that means embracing the strategies that made these startups successful in the first place. One thing that fintech firms do exceptionally well — which should prompt traditional banks and credit unions to take notice — is leverage contextual data. Contextual data refers to any information that provides valuable context to a person or event.

Contextual data can be used to identify behavioral patterns and causal relationships, which banks can then use to inform and enrich the customer experience. In fact, contextual data can be used to improve customer service in the banking industry by enabling financial institutions to develop custom products and services tailored to the needs of each individual customer. For example, when faced with the challenge of collecting money from clients, Finnish-based small business digital banking startup Holvi responded by developing an electronic invoicing system that enables customers to “create professional-looking digital invoices that fill out payment details automatically and sends alerts to your phone when it gets paid, keeping you in the know at all times.”

Your most valuable source of contextual data is your customer base. You can use customer relationship management (CRM) technology to collection information on just about anything and everything customer-related, including:

  • Geographic location
  • Major milestones (e.g. graduating from college, getting married)
  • Purchasing preferences
  • Spending habits
  • Customer service history
  • Social media activity
  • And more

 

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Each piece of information you gather can be used to create a detailed profile that provides a 360-degree view of the customer. These profiles can them be stored within a central repository in your CRM, so employees can easily access them to make more informed decisions when fielding customer service requests, developing targeted marketing campaigns, upselling and cross-selling products, and so on (more on this later).

4. Develop a Truly Omnichannel Customer Experience

Although it would be easy to assume that, given how attached people are to their mobile devices, banking is on a trajectory to becoming entirely digital — but the numbers say otherwise. According to Reuters, 60% of Americans would still prefer to open a new checking account at a bank branch rather than through digital channels; perhaps even more encouraging is that Accenture reports that 86% of consumers intend to visit physical branch locations in the future, and desire face-to-face human interaction.

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That isn’t to say, of course, that banks should prioritize improving branch locations over developing a digital strategy, but rather that it’s vital to blend traditional and digital components in order to create an omnichannel customer experience. To get an idea of the touchpoints involved in this type of experience, and how it improves customer service in banking, here’s how it works:

  • Meet Alexis
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    Alexis is a 33-year-old accountant who lives with her husband in Chicago. Alexis and her husband are expecting their first child and have decided to move out of their cramped apartment and into a home in the suburbs. One day, Alexis notices an ad on LinkedIn for home mortgages with America One Bank; she visits America One’s website and sees that they offer more competitive mortgage rates than her current bank. To learn more, Alexis and her husband schedule an appointment through America One’s mobile banking app to meet with a home mortgage specialist at their local branch.

    The morning of the appointment, Alexis checks in with her smartphone. When they arrive at their local branch, their designated specialist greets them and asks Alexis to fill out a brief electronic form on his tablet with some personal information; this information is immediately sent to America One’s CRM system, which starts to build a basic customer profile for Alexis. The specialist then walks Alexis and her husband through the mortgage application process, showing them different home loan options on that same tablet. The next day, Alexis receives a follow-up email from their home mortgage specialist asking how the appointment went and whether she has any questions.

    Alexis and her husband decide that they want to move forward with America One, so she calls the bank’s customer service line to find out what the next steps are for application. She then fills out an online application for prequalification on America One’s website so that she and her husband have a clear idea of how much money they’re qualified to spend on their new home.

    Six weeks later, they find the perfect home and schedule another appointment at their local branch to complete an official home mortgage application; the day before, Alexis receives an email reminding her which paperwork she and her husband need to bring for the appointment. When they arrive, the application is already partially filled out based on the information pulled from Alexis’ pre-existing customer profile, making the process quick and easy. Alexis and her husband are approved for a home loan and immediately begin packing up their apartment to move. One month after they’ve settled into their home, their new baby is born, and both the home purchase and the birth are entered into America One’s CRM as major customer milestones.

As you can see, Alexis engaged with at least a dozen different touchpoints — some traditional, some digital — over the course of her customer journey. And although her story is fictional, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility: A survey of nearly 5,000 retail banking customers revealed 22 unique touchpoints. It’s imperative not only that you capitalize on as many of these touchpoints as possible to create a truly omnichannel experience, but also that you deliver exceptional customer experience every step of the way.

5. Provide Customers With Self-Service Opportunities

Customers: They’re doing it for themselves. Consumer self-service has become a booming trend across all industries, with 74% of customers reporting that they’ve used a self-service support portal in the past; another 81% reported that they’ve attempted to resolve issues on their own before contacting a live service representative.

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Despite it being a clear competitive differentiator, the financial services industry has been slower than others to implement self-service capabilities and best practices. As a result, many institutions are missing out on valuable opportunities to reduce call center volume, provide 24/7 support, and improve overall customer service in banking. How, then, can your organization take advantage of this growing trend?

The answer to that question lies in your mobile banking app. In a world in which everyone seems practically glued to their smartphone, the benefits of mobile banking aren’t lost on banks and credit unions. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find an institution that hasn’t developed its own branded mobile functionality. But just because mobile banking has become ubiquitous doesn’t mean that all banks are leveraging their applications as effectively as possible.

There are a few things you can do to take your mobile banking experience to the next level and turn your app into a one-stop self-service shop:

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6. Set Your Employees up for Success

As prevalent as self-service has become, there will always be a place for live service representatives and a value to human interaction. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to ensure that each interaction is as positive as possible and contributes to an exceptional customer experience by equipping your frontline staff with the tools they need to succeed.

First and foremost, it’s imperative that you invest in comprehensive training. If that seems like an obvious piece of advice, that’s because it is — but it’s still worth mentioning because banking industry training techniques are rapidly evolving. From virtual simulations to gamification, technology sits at the forefront of employee training and ongoing education.

From there, the next step is to build an internal knowledge base that employees can refer to when they encounter questions they don’t know the answers to. This knowledge base should serve as a centralized repository for everything from policies and procedures to relevant industry regulations and should be well-organized and easy-to-navigate to prevent customers from waiting on answers any longer than is necessary. Be sure to regularly update your knowledge base so that it includes only the most accurate and relevant material.

The final key to empowering your employees (and one of the most valuable ways to improve customer service in banks) is to invest in the latest front-end and back-office banking technology. From a CRM solution that uses data-driven insights to provide a 360-degree view of the customer to security systems that leverage predictive analytics for fraud prevention and protection, a strong solutions ecosystem can be real asset to your staff. Most importantly, be sure to integrate these systems so they have access to the same data, and so your service representatives don’t have to jump from one system to another when they field customer requests.

7. Solicit Customer Feedback Whenever Possible

No one knows your customers better than your customers, themselves. After all, the information stored inside your bank’s CRM can tell you all about who a customer is, and predictive analytics can make an educated guess about what they might do — but technology, no matter how innovative, can’t tell you what’s going on inside a customer’s head. It only makes sense, then, to tap into the invaluable resource that is your customer base by asking them for regular feedback; in doing so, you can gain insight into whether their needs are being sufficiently met, what products or services they’re interested in, what their goals for the future are, how their experience can be improved, and more.

There are any number of ways to solicit customer feedback, but the most practical approach is to establish check-ins across all touchpoints. For example, if a customer were to contact your bank’s call center with a service request, the representative responsible for processing that request might close out the call by asking whether the customer had any additional questions, and whether they were satisfied with the service they received. Or, you might program a pop-up featuring a brief (think two to three questions) customer service survey to appear on your website after a customer has completed a transaction. Each piece of data you’re able to collect adds to the rich tapestry that is your customer base and can help your organization make more informed decisions that enhance the customer experience.

8. Be Flexible and Open to Change

The financial services landscape is in a constant state of flux, with new trends emerging every day. In order to ensure that your organization delivers the best customer experience possible, you need to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry and remain flexible to change — that means constantly looking for ways to improve, keeping your solution ecosystem integrated and current, and embracing digital transformation. By listening to your customers, keeping an open mind, and making smart investments, you can guarantee exceptional customer service at your bank.

Speaking of smart investments, partnering with Hitachi Solutions is one of the smartest you can make. In addition to providing intelligent solutions built on the Microsoft platform and data science expertise, we have the acumen to help you empower employees, optimize operations, transform your products, and reimagine the customer experience. And with decades of experience working with organizations in the financial services industry, we’re well-equipped to help you rise to any challenge.

For more information on how to improve customer service in banks or about what Hitachi Solutions has to offer, contact us today.