Patrick Sanders
Patrick Sanders May 18, 2018

Five ways to deliver on customer service like Amazon, no matter the regulatory roadblocks

Is Amazon ruining the customer service experience for everyone else? Or is it simply making it better? One thing’s for sure: The regulations and compliance that impede banks from giving customers instantaneous gratification 24/7 simply don’t apply to this e-commerce giant as it conquers the retail landscape like a laughing, high-tech colossus.

Think about it. Do your customers’ eyes glaze when you start reviewing your fee structure or hand them a disclosure? Do they shake their heads when you ask them to provide an ID or swipe their bank card for every … single … transaction? That’s not fun: Not when you can click on Amazon and order a new waffle maker almost as fast as you can say “waffle maker.”

But what if—despite the regulatory ball and chain—your bank can take the lead in providing Amazon-type customer experiences? Imagine anticipating their needs and making transactions as smooth as ordering a streamed video. And doing it faster than you can say “waffle maker.”

Banks today have a lot to deal with as they try to meet customers evolving expectations while keeping up with today's (and tomorrow’s) technology—and all the way following the regulations that their compliance departments demand. Some measures such as CECL and the U.S. Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule loom just over the horizon. Are you scared yet?

Don’t be. While there will always be new regulatory curveballs to look out for, banks can take concrete steps to give their customers an experience that even Amazon boss Jeff Bezos would appreciate, as the world’s richest man ($130 billion and counting) must do his banking somewhere. Here are five tips for providing better customer service:

Figure out who your customers really are

Customers come in all shapes and sizes, but not all customers are created equal. And to make things harder, not all can be reached the same way. You need to craft your message to target the specific type of customer you want, based on demographics, income and life goals.

“We’ve actually had some conversations with clients in this vein in the last year or so, around this much talked-about Amazon entry into financial services,” says Craig Stanley, national managing principal of Grant Thornton’s financial services practice. “I think historically banks have gotten their business model somewhat backwards compared to the successes that we’ve seen with Amazon.”

Here’s why: “The historical bank model is that the bank goes and manufactures a product, the bank then hands that product to the distribution organization and the distribution organization figures out how to distribute the product to the customer base—which is exactly opposite of how Amazon and others have gone about the market,” Stanley says.

Instead, Amazon and its charismatic leader, make it a point to delight their clientele by understanding precisely who their customers are, Stanley says. Thus while a particular regulation forces banks to treat everyone the same, in essence, customer delight as a value offers a chance to bring things back to the individual.

“I think leading companies right now are taking the time to figure out what customer demographics they want to go after, understand that customer demographic and understand the needs of that customer, whether it’s 18 to 25, 25 to 40, or whatever,” Stanley says. “But I think a lot of the successful endeavors right now start with the customer as a result.”

Keep it seamless, stupid

The old saying “keep it simple, stupid,” which harkens to the U.S. Navy in the 1960s, is a mantra that bankers should sing like a sea shanty—with one small revision for 2018.

That is: simple means seamless.

Part of the Amazon’s allure is that it’s devilishly easy to use, whether you’re on a desktop computer, your laptop, a phone or tablet or speaking to Alexa. If there’s a monstrous web of packaging, delivery scheduling, inventory management and contracts that make it possible, consumers don’t care. Nor do they want to see it or hear about it. They just want that waffle maker. Fast. So, best to keep all that blabbity-blah behind the scenes, invisible to the customer.

For banks, seamless experience means managing regulatory friction far from the eyes of an expectant consumer.

“Customers expect an Amazon one-click, simple, easy experience that often banks struggle to deliver,” says Aaron Kline, vice president of product development at ID Analytics.

Go mobile. More.

Think you’re mobile enough? Next time you ride a subway or public bus, count the number of passengers glued to their smartphones. The best banks will create more versatile mobile platforms that will be even easier for customers to use.

“I tell my clients, ‘Look at a smartphone,’” says Gina Primeaux, principal at Deloitte. “’How often have you wanted to click on an app, whether it’s for booking a hotel room and flight—or getting a bank loan? Think about it from that perspective.’”

The trick, says David Vazquez, a customer care and experience executive at Ally Bank, is to give customers an effortless transition from mobile to desktop to call center to in-person meetings.

“However a customer wants to interact with us, whatever channel, we want to enable that and show the appropriate information that allows us to transact with them in each of those channels,” Vazquez says. “So at the end of the day it’s the real basic things: it’s “know me, listen to me.”

Beyond regulation, don’t forget automation

Banks can use automation such as interactive voice response and chatbots to wow their customers, says Brendan Dykes, director of product marketing at Genesys.

“Compliance does force banks and many other businesses to be mindful about security,” Dykes acknowledges, “but offering compliant solutions does not have to mean sacrificing delivery of a great customer experience that seems to magically know what banking services someone can use.”

Thus, it’s all about personalization and privacy. “Both play significant roles in helping banks provide a consistent customer experience across all channels—including voice, text, web chat, social and any combination thereof. The key is to give customers the opportunity to connect with the bank when and how they need to.”

Make compliance part of the process

Alexa doesn’t have a lot of fine print to read when you use her to order a sack of granola bars at Whole Foods. Meanwhile, banks must follow very strict regulatory requirements designed to make sure transactions are free from discrimination and fully transparent.

“The thing that banks have struggled with around compliance is that they have such a complicated product set,” Stanley says. “Most large banks have a fairly sophisticated compliance function and at times fairly simple products are jammed onto fairly complicated compliance platforms.”

It can’t be stressed enough: Banks have to think about the compliance angle early in the process when they create new, customer-friendly processes in line with an Amazon experience.

Or, in a not-so-implausible future, the banks will be bested by Mr. Bezos and company.

“Our compliance partners are in the boat with us,” Vazquez says. “They are in our scrum team … it is so embedded in what we do, you never have to go outside to get the information—they’re right there with us.”

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Based in Maryland, Patrick Sanders is an assistant managing editor for U.S. News & World Report and formerly worked as an editor for The Associated Press and at newspapers in West Virginia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

For more articles like this, check out our recent Executive Report: Compliance: Beyond regulations

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