Are you listening to the voice of your customers?

Banks and credit unions can improve their efforts to acknowledge and address customer frustrations with voice-based conversational AI.

Largely as a result of the pandemic, digital-first is a new normal for customers of financial institutions. Forty-five percent of respondents to a May 2020 survey said they changed the way they interact with their banks by using digital technology, while 31% said they would continue to use online and mobile banking in the future.

While there are many ways for banks to deliver best-in-class customer service, it starts with listening to the voice of the customer (VOC). That means hearing, paying attention to, acknowledging, empathizing and trying to overcome customers’ frustrations, confusion or general dissatisfaction.

These frustrations can include long wait times online that force customers to come into the branch, questions about why they have been charged various fees, complaints about not enough self-service options for them to manage their basic banking activities, or why there is no streamlined online mortgage application process. In all of these scenarios and more, customers need to know bankers are on their side.

Sign up for the free BAI Banking Strategies newsletter and get industry insights delivered to your inbox.

Voice-based conversational AI can serve as the foundation of a customer-centric approach to addressing such issues. The transition to voice-based conversational AI requires banks to offer more self-service, mobile and online banking options. This includes voice bots to manage the rise in call center volumes, as well as to perform the smart routing that allows call center employees to handle more than one call at a time via the use of chatbots.

Top executives are often focused on four main areas: operations, optimization, production efficiency and increased revenue. Consequently, the voice of the customer tends to take a back seat. The irony, however, is that listening to the voice of the customer can easily feed into these four guiding principles if done correctly.

There are three essentials for banks that want to take the voice of the customer to heart.

Create the right culture

Putting the customer front and center starts at the top. It incorporates values of caring, consideration, respect, responsibility, courtesy and professionalism. Lead by example and reward positive behaviors.

Collect and analyze data

While numbers can identify trends and trouble spots, banks need not only a strong quantitative process, but a qualitative one as well. Once data has been analyzed, it requires the banks to clearly categorize which area of the business the issues are related to, be it fees, loans, online banking or something else. After a complaint has been categorized, it can be sent to the appropriate line of business within the bank and solutions can be addressed. Simply logging complaints via periodic online customer surveys, complaints portal or feedback on social media pages is not sufficient. Our 24/7 world makes customer concerns and complaints instantaneous, and the responses and solutions should be, too. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, expect and demand a fully functional online digital experience.

Allocate the necessary resources

It takes time, money and personnel. Not only do banks need experienced data engineers, data scientists, data architects and data analysts, but they need employees with good people skills who can apply data insights to improve the customer experience. It also requires making a financial investment in the requisite analytical tools, including BI, and NLP and AI to deliver on customers’ needs and expectations.

Call center feedback requires in-depth understanding of written and voice recorded calls. What is the tone of the customer? Frustrated? Angry? And what of the employees themselves? Is the customer threatening to take their business elsewhere because of the specific banking issues or is it because the employee was rude to them? Analyzing the tone and the vocabulary of employees in customer interactions is just as crucial as knowing what the customer is upset about.

Financial institution executives can learn from Amazon—the company that represents the gold-standard of listening to the voice of the customer. They have demonstrated what it takes to attract customers, retain them and keep them happy for the long haul. What better ROI is there for banks that seek to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment?

Nareshkumar Jayavelu is an assistant vice president and a senior data scientist at Regions Bank.