The Help Desk is officially open for business—your business. And picture if you will, planted at said desk, the modern-day equivalent of banking superhero George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” ready to listen and look for a solution to your minor annoyance or major problem.
That image captures the attitude and strategy for many financial services leaders aiming to change the public perception of traditional banks. But intentions are one thing; actions and results another. So can the George Bailey mindset prevail? Or will some roadblock, more obstinate than Bailey’s Scrooge-like nemesis Potter, block the path to better banking service?
One thing’s for certain: While the industry clearly has work to do, it’s starting from a positive place in 2018.
According to a recent Gallup poll, the banking industry’s image has climbed to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown, with 43 percent viewing it positively and 30 percent negatively. But Americans still view banks less positively than they did in the years leading up to the crisis, when it ranked above the average for other industries Gallup measures. Oil/gas, airlines, auto and real estate industries have all improved their images since 2008.
“In the early days of the Recession, banks took big trust hits,” says Patricia Hewitt, a payments and financial services industries advisor who runs the PaymentGal blog. “I don’t think that was true for smaller banks.”
From high-tech analytics to old-fashioned customer care in real time, banks should take a 360-degree, 24/7 view of their services and platforms to recapture customer loyalty and trust, industry experts say. Data from the August 2017 BAI Consumer Outlook survey breaks this down even further; in every size category from Community to Large, “improving digital capabilities” finished as the top way to improve customer experience. “Using data to make more relevant offers” finished second in every group except the smallest, Community Banks.
“I believe banks need to elevate the customer experience,” says David Wallace, global financial manager at the SAS Institute. “They need to look at digital retailers … that always knows what we need. Banks? not so much.”
Fortunately, technology can make that happen.
Analytics can not only address complaints but also predict them, according to Gurjeet Singh, co-founder of Ayasdia, an AI data company who has worked with Citi and HSBC to prevent fraud.
This is key for the present and future, considering the all-important millennial generation, which continues to drive changes in the banking industry by opting for Venmo and PayPal instead of traditional banks.
A recent Kasasa study revealed that roughly four out of five millennials don’t mind changing banks and would choose competitors who offer more favorable conditions (such as interest rates or cash back). And BAI Consumer Outlook data shows that slightly more than half of millennials (51 percent) would switch banks simply for a better banking app.
Because unhappy consumers can easily switch to another bank, banks have become “super motivated to keep customers happy,” Singh says. Financial institutions need to get ahead of problems as well. He anticipates a scenario that includes a customer receiving a very proactive text: “‘We know you’re having a problem. We fixed it. Good night.’”
Banks can also capitalize on opportunities for real-time communication via mobile banking.
The concept centers on a digital hub to analyze data in real time, Wallace explains. For example, an anonymous visitor enters a site and an AI machine could then follow the visitor’s path. It would next analyze and deliver an improved experience, mimicking the in-person experience in a local branch with the manager.
It’s like interpreting body language in an office, but online, Wallace explains. “The customer would receive the message that this bank cares about what you need.”
Tracking social media offers another way to increase customer satisfaction and trust, according to Wallace. Analytics can measure customer sentiment.
If a Facebook conversation is going negative, analytics can create alerts. Notes with call centers, linked together, communicate with the customer via phone and address the issue in minutes: a preemptive strike in keeping customer complaints from escalating and loyalty from evaporating.
Investing in technology and “keeping up with the times” is essential, Hewitt says—but transparency in business can get overlooked in building trust. For starters, “Banks need to be transparent with fee structures. It can be lacking. Something you think is intuitive may not be.”
Archiving complaints and other issues through a database can also help banks avoid these problems in the future, Singh explains. If there’s high call volume, for example, and 80 percent of customers have bounced checks before the first of the month, eventually it’s possible to predict who might have that issue and possibly alert the customer to prevent an overdraft fee.
Insights through data can help communicate that “this banks cares about what you need,” Wallace contends.
Cash still holds power, too. Wallace suggests banks send a thank-you gift via snail mail when a customer downloads the bank’s mobile app. Along with a checklist to help navigate the app, deposit $10 to the customer’s account.
Now there’s a move to make George Bailey smile. Not that Old Man Potter would not approve.
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