When it comes to financial services, customers’ expectations are far different today than they were even a decade ago. It’s not just about efficient service: In today’s digital world, positive customer interactions are more valuable than process efficiency.

Customers expect personalised experiences that put them at the centre — no matter how they interact with an organisation, whether via a mobile phone, web browser or in person at a branch office. To do this, financial services firms have to be agile, even as they have to ensure that operations are running smoothly, communications are seamless, regulatory compliances are in check, risks are mitigated, budgets are contained and that the business is growing.

Doing all this within their current operating models — which are print-based, cost- and compliance-focussed, and defined by multiple siloed providers — is challenging. Instead, firms need a new model that thrives on a digital-first approach: one that depends on data-driven applications and emerging technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, which can be used to anticipate what customers want and when they want it.

Start with the customer journey

Arguably, customer interactions and intimacy have often not been great in the financial services sector. It’s long been a bugbear for customers, and the February 2019 Report from the Banking Royal Commission has put pressure on organisations to lift their game.

By starting with the customer journey, the financial services industry can transform itself. And this business transformation to a more customer-centric business model isn’t just about positive results in customer satisfaction surveys. There’s a tangible benefit to the bottom line. Happier customers are easier to retain and will deliver greater returns as they seek to use more services. Positive customer interactions also create a positive feedback loop.

Start by having a detailed understanding of customer’s needs. The financial services industry is extremely data-rich, which gives it an advantage in gleaning what services its customers want.

Combining internal data with new information from websites, apps, phone systems, online chat and other channels can tell businesses what customers are interested in through how they interact and can help create highly tailored customer experiences.

The transition from customers visiting a branch office, to meeting the customers where they are and when they want to do business, is the biggest change. Customers want an always-on company that’s responsive to requests across multiple digital channels. An omnichannel approach ensures that customer interactions are consistent across any touch point, whether it’s a face-to-face interaction across a counter or desk, or via a chat using a mobile app.

The benefits of self-service services

An increasing number of people prefer self-service options. Research by Zendesk found that 67 per cent of people prefer self-service to alternatives such as email or phone support. Allowing customers to self-guide through their interactions is critical to a successful customer engagement experience.

A great example of how technology can service customers is through the use of chatbots. Typically, by the time a customer starts to interact with a chatbot, it’s possible to know what that person is interested in, based on search queries and clicked links on a bank or financial services company website. The chatbot can easily determine whether the person is an existing customer, and then start to tailor responses and product offerings specific to that customer.

The customer initiates the journey, is met by the technology and receives specific information to answer needs, rather than having to sift through a lot of generic information to find what’s important to him or her.

While the underlying technologies supporting this — such as mobile apps, machine learning and knowledge bases — already exist, the positive change is that customers are driving the interaction and being met on their own terms.

Follow the outcome

Thinking back to management consultant Peter Drucker’s maxim, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”, it’s time for a 21st century update: Rather than measuring the efficiency of the process, we can quantify the success of the outcome. Instead of focussing on the time taken to execute a transaction, change the focus to the success of the customer interaction.

The difference may be subtle, but it’s important. The customer outcome is the key metric.

The good news is that many of the building blocks for this revitalised customer experience already exist. Banks and financial services businesses already hold a vast repository of customer data, so knowing a customer intimately is possible using modern data analytics.

Businesses then need to adopt a sponsor to drive the customer-centric approach to service delivery. It’s no surprise that the most successful businesses have appointed an executive-level chief customer officer.

Ensuring that data can move seamlessly between systems is also critical. This requires the development of APIs to facilitate the movement of data between systems.

Finally, businesses need to create a road map of what they want to achieve. This should start with simple processes offering the fastest benefit to customers — start small. Look for a particular pain point in the customer experience and focus on this; use it as an opportunity to not only improve service, but to learn how to make this transformation successful. This will also deliver tangible results and help refine the transformation program as it progresses.

Today’s financial services customers are living in the era of fast online services and instant communication. They expect their banks, insurers and financial services providers to not only be available but also able to respond to their specific needs. That means giving customers the information they want, when they want it and wherever they are.

The financial services companies that thrive and grow will be those that take a digital-first approach to transforming so they can meet their customers’ current and ongoing needs.

Learn more in my paper, Customer interaction focus: The business case for transforming customer interaction processes and technologies.