Why the finance industry is failing at customer service

OpenMarket's Paul Murphy considers why, under all the 'disruption' and shiny new apps, Australia's big banks still can't get customer service right.

The term ‘disruption’ is now so commonplace that you probably just rolled your eyes. But buzzword or not, the success of challenger brands and start-ups in upsetting the status quo has forced companies to take a long, hard look at themselves.

We all want to be the next Uber or Airbnb. But these new players didn’t change the game out of nowhere – poor customer service and unhappy consumers created a landscape ripe for disruption.  

Research from Bain and Company shows that 80 percent of companies believe they deliver a ‘superior experience’ for their customers. But only eight percent of customers agree. Clearly, someone’s deluding themselves. (Hint: the customer is always right.)

To fill this gap, many companies turn to new technology in the hope of transforming their customer service. They buy state-of-the-art CRM systems, hire data scientists and automate their messaging, but customers are still dissatisfied. The missing ingredient? Empathy.

The customer service gap

Nowhere is this more of a problem than the finance industry. For a market that depends on trust and security, the customer experience doesn’t inspire much confidence. The big four banks are loud champions of innovation, and there’s no doubt they’ve made leaps and bounds when it comes to tech-driven advancements like mobile banking, cardless cash and smartphone payments. But the basic channels of customer service haven’t been disrupted at all. There’s no better way to get customers to love you than making them wait on hold for hours or line up in queues for advice.   

At the other end of the spectrum are the challenger banks. These digital-first institutions rely on mobile messaging, online chat and apps to make everyday banking a friendlier experience. And they pose a real risk – the big banks are trailing far behind the likes of ME Bank and ING when it comes to very happy customers.

This isn’t to say the traditional banks have lost entirely. Digital banks offer a frictionless experience when it comes to engaging with a brand on-the-go, but getting help from a real person can be impossible. Likewise, the old-school banks make it hard to communicate during busy everyday life, but they provide clear cut channels when you want to speak to someone about a mortgage or open an account.

The reality is, customers want both.

A more empathetic approach

Providing stand-out customer experience isn’t about bells and whistles. It’s about empathising with customer frustrations and going out of your way to remove those barriers. Sometimes people just need peace of mind. Maybe they want to know that an important transaction, like a weekly rent payment, went through. With a short confirmation text, you can let them know and then let them get on with their day. But when they want to make a big financial decision, talking to a person beats an online chat bot or automated message any day.

The key is choice. Consider a message that says something like, “Hi, we noticed you made an unusually large transaction at 3pm today. If this was you, carry on with your day. If you’re not sure, give us a call on 1300BANK to discuss further.” You’ve given the customer the information they need, a next step they can action without any hassle, and an option to talk to someone further if they want to. Simple, useful and empathetic.

Let them talk back

In the last few years, we’ve seen more and more people take to social media to air their frustration with businesses. Most of the time, this isn’t because Facebook and Twitter were their first port of call for a complaint. Customers tweet in annoyance when they can’t get through to anyone, or they’re forced to jump through hoops just to get some basic information. It’s worrying when publicly shaming a brand online is the only way to get a response.

Improving customer service means letting people communicate with you the way they want to. If they’re banking on mobile, don’t make them go into a branch when they run into a problem. Sending you a quick SMS means they don’t need to switch screens or even lose their place in the morning coffee shop queue. This could be as simple as including Yes/No response options on your alerts, or allowing people to text ‘Support’ and have the next available customer service rep call them.

Transforming the experience

The finance industry continues to pour money into new technology to enhance the customer experience, from payment apps to AI-powered customer service and investment in big data. If businesses want to use all this insight to better communicate with their customers, a more empathetic approach is essential. Otherwise the technology is just a new tool to perpetuate an age-old problem.

Banking still has room for disruption. It might be initiated by the smaller challenger brands, or it could be time for the big players to make the next move. Either way, it’s clear that you don’t need a huge budget or dramatic transformation to improve the customer experience. Just being there for your customers at exactly the right moments is hugely powerful and not that difficult to do. And if you don’t do it, someone else will.

Paul Murphy is vice president APAC at OpenMarket.


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