Holy matri-money: How connections to banks can last longer than the average marriage

I do, indeed: Your relationship with your bank will likely last longer than your marriage. That’s according to a recent study out of the U.K. by the marketing research firm Mintel. Customers will stick with their bank an average of 17 years, compared to the average marriage, which ends in divorce after slightly more than 11 years.

Customers have  traditionally enjoyed long-term relationships with their banks  and today expect a level of personalization and interactivity through their channel of choice.  This is even more pronounced among younger adults, who’ve only known a world of digital technology and want  a self-service, mobile experience: one that doesn’t include visiting a local branch or calling customer service. 

Millennials are even willing to switch banks to get their preferred digital experience, according to a banking survey by Accenture. And a BAI Banking Outlook report shows that 51 percent would switch banks for a better mobile app experience.

It hasn’t helped that many financial services organizations have been slow adopters of digital technology. When many banks digitize, they simply transfer paper and analog processes to digital channels, rather than embrace the new realities and requirements for ease of use, convenience and  connectivity.

But more compelling reasons drive digitization. Banks that focus on digital-first journeys designed for every interaction have higher customer satisfaction scores, according to a survey by McKinsey.

Beyond the high Net Promoter Scores—an index that measures customer willingness to recommend a company’s products or services to others—cost savings also matter. Digital channel investment allows banks to tackle more routine transactions and move them out of expensive branches and call centers. According to a study on customer behavior in U.S. banks by Bain and Company, digital experiences create a virtuous cycle of higher adoption of digital-first habits, contributing to greater loyalty.

Where to begin? Start from the ground up

Using  technology  to improve customer experience requires banks to fundamentally rethink how they deliver support. That can be painful but it’s necessary. 

This embrace of a digital customer experience has made a major impact in other industries. Epicor, a large enterprise software company, worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers to scrap 50 legacy systems—cobbled together through years of acquisitions—and built an entirely new customer-first system. It conducted extensive customer interviews, knocked down internal silos and created a new engine that  Forrester estimates brought the company $11.4 million in gains.

Put people first

Adopting design thinking is key to success for banks that want to engage customers. This process starts with the people being served and then works backwards to design the process.

Here are the four pillars of design thinking: 

  • Be customer focused, not process focused. Start with the customer to understand their preferred journey.
  • Don’t be afraid to start over. Getting rid of old processes and starting over gives fresh perspective to the solution.
  • Ideate, iterate and be agile. Try something with a customer and prepare to change quickly if it doesn’t work or fix it to make it better. Incorporate flexibility into your strategy—with people, processes, and technology.
  • Assemble a diverse team. Delivering holistic customer service requires engagement and action from every department or partner. Remove the activity from silos and create customer service with different perspectives. People who design the new experience should hail from all parts of the organization. 

Use technology to get it right

Once a bank starts the journey, it must consider what technology can yield a great customer experience. Focus on making it as easy as buying things on Amazon. 

For example, technology can help when onboarding new customers.  Prospective customers tend to abandon this part of the process when faced with repetitive steps, lack access to relevant information or frustration when navigating a complex banking process.

Additionally, supporting omnichannel processes means customers have options to call or stop by a branch without starting over. 

Self-service also goes a long way to meet customers’ needs.  When customers are online, make sure they can serve themselves through a comprehensive knowledge base, online community, virtual agents and  chat. For example, an intuitive self-service portal at a retail bank can alleviate the frustration customers typically experience when they just want answers to common questions around e-transfers, adding beneficiaries, changing passwords or ordering checks. 

Embrace intelligent automation

Automation isn’t just great for customers; it’s also great for customer service agents. Many banks find that offering chatbots and other automated interaction handles a large percentage of common queries—thus allowing agents to spend time on problems that really matter.  Wells Fargo piloted an AI-driven solution on Facebook Messenger as a channel to address customer queries.

Another tech principle involves implementing end-to-end workflows that connect customer service with other departments, processes and systems. Silos topple; everyone in the organization unites to deliver a seamless experience. By combining machine learning power with process automation, inquiries or complaints—for credit card transactions, service fees or mortgage renewals—can be swiftly categorized, prioritized, and routed to the right agents for resolution.

For the short-term struggle, implementing these changes can transform how you do business. Even a relatively small customer experience improvement—measured by how consumers rate their interactions with an institution—can lead to a large increase in revenues, studies show. It also leads to mutual growth—the goal of any meaningful union—and many happy anniversaries to follow.

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Holly Simmons is senior director, product marketing, customer service management at ServiceNow.

If you enjoyed, this article, check out our recent Executive Report: Raising the customer experience bar.