Mike Sloman, SVP of business development at Teleperformance
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the financial services sector, forcing traditional and online banks to recalibrate their business models and make the unprecedented transition to remote working overnight. At the very time financial organisations had to close all offices and call-centres, they witnessed a surge in call volumes from anxious businesses and members of the public.
Call centre agents, serving in critical business verticals such as Banking and Financial Services, have been dealing first hand with the fear of COVID-19, providing a vital voice to speak to and raise concerns around a range of topics, including whether callers qualify for stimulus payments, new loans or mortgage holidays.
As more banks and fintechs pivot their operating models to adapt to the new normal and keep up with the unprecedented line in enquiries, greater emphasis will be placed on providing a faster, more convenient, and compassionate customer service.
Below, are three important areas all banks should examine within their existing customer service strategy to weather future disruption.
Embracing a hybrid work model
Restrictions across the globe have created a long line of logistical challenges for contact centres, and other back-office operations. Some organisations have witnessed 80 per cent of their customer service operations disrupted. Lockdown restrictions or lack of technology infrastructure has left some struggling to ensure business continuity.
Those financial organisations who previously relied on offshore contact centres, are now seeing the benefits of a hybrid model – which leverages both geographically-dispersed home-based and office-based agents, to reduce risk, support customer expectations and minimise costs.
By bringing some of the team closer to the customer, splitting the service team across more than one location, and handling some customers with work-from-home agents, companies can provide a robust and consistent customer service. The current health crisis has highlighted the need for companies to leverage a combination of solutions, to build a resilient and agile business model for the future.
Ramping up technology
With younger generations helping parents and grandparents to navigate the digital space, all of Europe has seen an accelerated adoption of digital banking. Many older generations are now feeling more confident about interacting with their banks via online or mobile channels.
The use of emerging digital channels like chatbots, messengers (e.g., Facebook Messenger, LINE, and Telegram), and video to interact with customer service agents is also a growing common practice for customers. On average, automated chat solutions were used by 6 per cent of customers looking for support last year, achieving the third-highest growth.
Adoption was particularly boosted by millennials, but in these extraordinary circumstances, virtual assistance may become the fastest and most available service solution for all generations alike.
Chatbots are becoming an integral part of business operations, as it provides fast responses to customer inquiries, with less wait time, and eliminates the need for labour during online interactions. Unlike humans, a chatbot can handle queries at any time of day, with very little risk and a very low error rate. Thus, customers do not have to wait till the following morning to get a reply. This is highly valued by customers during times of crises, where customers are feeling much more vulnerable.
Chatbots have the ability, if integrated with back and front office systems correctly, to diagnose and solve a problem. A bot should be able to action refunds or changes without the need for a human to step in, and hand over the customer journey to agents so they can continue – in context – from where the chatbot left off. To deliver frictionless omnichannel customer experiences, businesses should monitor the overall customer journey, rather than individual communications for each channel, and ensure the bot is effortlessly connected.
A High-Tech, High-Touch approach
While chatbots and other digital channels are essential in delivering instant responses, it is important to note that customers still value, and often favour, human interaction – particularly when speaking about sensitive topics, such as debt. Recent surveys have highlighted the growing reluctance of consumers to chat solely with chatbots – 71 percent of consumers said they would be less likely to use a brand if it didn’t have human customer service representatives available.
The advanced technologies of today will never be able to replace the warmth and trust of a human agent, which is essential during unprecedented times of great human vulnerability. Businesses must therefore invest in people to use technology to innovate, and provide valued and empathetic experiences. Technology, combined with human connection, has the ability to bridge a significant gap in understanding the needs and behaviours of customers, allowing businesses to provide a much more personalised customer service.
Advanced artificial intelligence (AI), for instance, has the ability to recognise when more empathy is required, as it can track and detect the mood of a customer. It can monitor the tone and cadence of language used in conversations, to gauge the seriousness of the query – if the customer was to type a query in capital letters, this could suggest that they are unhappy with the service and require urgent attention. It will then flag up the request in real-time to a human agent, who is likely to be more capable of identifying the right solutions to the problem.
By leveraging a hybrid model of home-based and office-based agents, businesses can become increasingly agile, keeping their employees satisfied while providing exceptional and consistent customer experiences.
Most importantly, businesses should preserve humanness and compassion to ensure customers get the right care during difficult times, and see that agents work together with technology to provide a more personal and empathetic customer experience.