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What do customers really want?

Banks continue to grapple with customer experience dilemma

Bank tech trends can make your head spin. So regularly longtime Tech Exchange Editor John Ginovsky does his best to “make sense of it all.” Bank tech trends can make your head spin. So regularly longtime Tech Exchange Editor John Ginovsky does his best to “make sense of it all.”

“Customer experience” has become the buzzword for “Give the customers what they want.”

But what do the customers really want?

It’s not an easy question. Many banks and businesses in general are finding this out. And it seems that what customers really want is changing faster than providers can adapt.

A global study by Oracle claims to have uncovered a disparity between consumer and retailer expectations.

“Retailers put significant focus on transactional activity metrics and less focus on emerging behavioral expressions of loyalty,” says Mike Webster, senior vice-president and general manager, Oracle Retail and Hospitality. “We found that retailers are overly confident in their ability to deliver relevant incentives and consumers are demanding more personalized engagement.”

So what does he recommend?

“Retailers need to take a critical eye at the culture of shoppers that only engage based on convenience and price,” says Webster. “Social influence brings an additional dynamic for retailers to navigate the loyalty paradigm as they reward brand advocacy and feed enthusiasts content to affirm their purchases.”

Granted, this study concerned retailers, hotels, and restaurants, not banks. But it looked at 13,000 consumers and 500 business operators—enough to invite extrapolation into retail financial services.

Efficiency versus happy customers

A separate study by Oracle concludes that “consumers are fed up with poor customer engagement experiences and outdated approaches to customer service.”

“Customers are a company’s most critical asset, but in a quest for efficiency, customer engagement has become less aware and overly impersonal,” says Doug Suriano, senior vice-president, general manager, Oracle Communications.

All companies want efficiency. At the same time, all companies want to satisfy their customers. Suriano proceeds to spell out exactly how technology can start to do both:

“Modern engagement technologies that proactively engage customers at the right time across web and mobile using contextual voice, video, and screen sharing, or that can transition a chatbot conversation to live assistance coupled with machine learning and [artificial intelligence], have the ability to transform how customers interact with their brands—delivering meaningful resolutions with the personal touch that customers desire.”

Quite a mouthful, for sure.

Failure to live “la vida digital”

But it leads directly to a third Oracle study, this one specifically looking at consumer expectations for digital banking. Its main conclusion:

“Banking today needs to be better integrated into customers’ digital lifestyle, providing service that is instant, integrated with social platforms, and most importantly, driven by data.”

“Consumers have already made the switch to digital banking for its ease and convenience,” says Sonny Singh, senior vice-president and general manager of Oracle’s Financial Services Global Business Unit. “While customers are generally satisfied with basic banking services, their satisfaction drops when attempting more complex transactions such as securing a loan. Banks today must provide a more seamless customer experience or run the risk of losing out to nonbanking alternatives.”

Just a couple of this particular study’s findings:

• 81% of consumers are using digital channels to engage with their bank.

• 69% of respondents want their entire financial lifecycle on digital channels.

Regarding this last item—it includes opening a bank account, payments and transfers, personal loans and mortgages, and personal finance management and investment services. Pretty much says it all.

It’s not just Oracle saying all this. Fiserv, in one of its own surveys, finds that digital experiences are influencing how people manage and make decisions about borrowing and investing.

“For most people, borrowing and investing money are careful decisions that require research, advice, and trust in the provider,” says Byron Vielehr, president, Depository Institution Services, at Fiserv. “Digital experiences are now an integral, and maturing, part of their consideration and management process. Importantly, these results underscore the need for providers to continually evolve and develop engaging experiences that help people make informed decisions to reach their goals, whether it’s borrowing for the perfect home or investing for retirement.”

In other words, digital banking means much more now than just checking balances or transferring funds between accounts. According to this survey, many consumers expressed willingness to try new ways of interacting with their lender, if there’s a benefit.

“For instance, if it makes the loan process faster, more than half of consumers would be willing to use a mobile device to e-sign loan documents (56%), take and upload photos of loan documents (54%), and verify their identity with a photo (51%),” Fiserv says.

Growing realization of attitudinal changes

It is interesting here to bring in other industry observers that may provide specific insights about improving the experiences customers seem to be warming up to.

For example, Avoka, in its annual report on the state of digital sales in banking, focuses on the first stage of anyone’s relationship with a bank.

“Account opening and onboarding have emerged as a hot spot in the digital transformation of the customer experience,” says Phil Copeland, Avoka CEO. “Banks have acknowledged that no matter how well their digital marketing works, if their digital sales efforts don’t match up, customers simply won’t convert. They have accepted that digital account opening capabilities are a must-have, not a nice-to-have.”

In other words, high-tech and glitzy advertising may be all well and good, but if the customer finds it hard to navigate through the sign-up process—poof, he or she is gone.

Or take another example—the use of chatbots. A survey by Inbenta (which specializes in natural language processing) predictably advocates the use of chatbots to ease the customer experience. However, it finds that businesses in general have not yet realized their full potential.

“Consumers are demanding that chatbots do a better job at understanding the meaning behind their words,” Inbenta says. Seventy-two percent of respondents to its survey say chatbots hold the answer to frustration-free customer service.

One last example, concerning marketing. A survey from The Manifest, a business news and how-to website, finds that “content marketing” is part of many businesses’ strategies.

Content marketing, it explains, is the use of multiple types of digital offerings to customers designed to inform or otherwise pique interest, such as videos, blog posts, and infographics—all refreshed frequently.

“Even ten years ago, content marketing was seen as a new buzzword,” says Lauren Fairbanks, partner and CEO of S&G Content Marketing. “But over the last few years, it’s really moved into the marketing mainstream. Marketers know that content marketing is essential for reaching consumers organically.”

Summing up the new consumer

So, based on all this, what do today’s consumers really want, as far as experience goes?

Going back to that second Oracle study mentioned above: “The efficiency and simplicity that can come from automated digital engagement channels did not mitigate consumers’ desire for—and the perceived value of—human intuition. Customers instead indicated that blending automated technologies with emerging mechanisms for in-app brand interactions that personalized interactions, including video, screen sharing, chat, and other contextual voice communications, will deliver the degree of personal contact they are seeking.”

All of which means amping up the new technologies, making them smarter, more intuitive, more helpful, and more personable.

John Ginovsky

John Ginovsky is a contributing editor of Banking Exchange and editor of the publication’s Tech Exchange e-newsletter. For more than two decades he’s written about the commercial banking industry, specializing in its technological side and how it relates to the actual business of banking. In addition to his weekly blogs—"Making Sense of It All"—he contributes fresh, original stories to each Tech Exchange issue based on personal interviews or exclusive contributed pieces. He previously was senior editor for Community Banker magazine (which merged into ABA Banking Journal) and for ABA Banking Journal and was managing editor and staff reporter for ABA’s Bankers News. Email him at [email protected].

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