Anne Patton_resized
Anne Patton Dec 13, 2016

Dealing in digital, connecting with customers: Are banks’ priorities aligned with consumer preference?

The rush to mobile platforms and apps might be transforming the banking industry—especially when it comes to attracting and retaining Millennial customers. But new research cautions banks and other businesses to pay attention to the human touch when it comes to customer service.

In fact, a global study of more than 24,000 consumers and 1,000 businesses makes it clear that customers of all ages value the human element of customer service. This research—commissioned by Verint and conducted in association with Opinium Research, and research and advisory firm IDC—involved consumers from a dozen countries. The list includes Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.K. and the U.S.

The study sought to answer how businesses can strike the right balance between digital and human customer service. The results are summarized in a report titled “The Digital Tipping Point: How Do Organizations Balance the Demands for Digital and Human Customer Service?” The report serves as a guide for banks and other businesses working to find the optimum blend.

Traction through interaction: The human touch excels

This survey reflects customer experiences in a wide range of industries, from banks to insurance companies, and travel companies to online and brick-and-mortar retailers. Key findings for all market segments pointed to the following:

  • Four out of five consumers want human customer service interactions to remain part of customer service.
  • The phone emerged as the most popular way to contact organizations and service providers, according to nearly one-quarter of consumers in the study. Visiting the store front was next most popular at 23 percent.
  • Those with increased human or assisted service interactions tend to display more positive behaviors toward brands.
  • The more complex the service request, the more likely consumers are to prefer human interaction to digital channels.
  • Two-thirds of consumers and 91 percent of businesses feel customer service online and via mobile devices needs to be faster and more intuitive to serve end users.

The tell-all digital tipping point

These results, however, suggest misaligned priorities in terms of both which channels businesses plan to focus on in the future and how customers prefer to engage. Those organizations that tip the balance in favor of digital at the expense of traditional service may risk customer dissatisfaction in the long run.

Consider this: Alongside the consumer research, the study ran comparative research with 1,000 businesses and asked about the digital and traditional customer service channels they’re prioritizing. Overall, when it comes to investment plans, the businesses noted live chat in the top position (32 percent), followed by mobile apps (27 percent). The businesses also reported they invest least in traditional channels, such as the branch and telephone. This may suggest that as a group, they plan to guide customers to engage digitally—but at what cost?

When exploring consumer attitudes toward service channels, the research showed that nearly seven in 10 consumers (68 percent) believe they are more likely to negotiate a better deal in person than online. Counter to that, only 47 percent of surveyed businesses offer the option of speaking to someone in-store, relying instead on other methods of communication.

When online veers off course: Banking-specific results

Not surprisingly, 42 percent of banking consumers said they prefer to access their accounts online, but more personal options were favored as well. In fact 40 percent of respondents also chose speaking with someone in person as a preferred method, and 25 percent reported that they like to speak with someone on the phone. Millennials were slightly stronger in selecting email communication, but far outdistanced other age demographics in their preference for mobile apps.

While nearly two-thirds of consumers polled (64 percent) say they believe it is more convenient and get better service engaging with organizations on the phone or in a store, it’s clear that not everyone is ready to embrace digital.

Nor must banks overlook the commanding role that the complexity of a customer issue plays in service requests. While 64 percent of consumers said they would use digital channels for fairly simple customer service activities—such as changing account details or investigating new products and services—the reliance on human interaction grows as requests become more complicated. Examples include closing an account, registering a complaint or needing urgent service.

As we look around today, digital transformation is everywhere—disrupting industries and changing the way people live, work and engage. Yet as these research findings show, consumers continue to support using all channels in their banking experience. In a high-tech world of ones and zeroes, the way to balance the customer service equation is becoming increasingly obvious.

Anne Patton is a vice president of marketing for Verint Systems, a customer engagement optimization solutions company headquartered in Melville, N.Y.

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