With most businesses having to shut up shop almost overnight as a result of COVID-19, thousands of people have either been furloughed or lost their jobs and are struggling to make ends meet.
Understandably, their cashflow issues are leading to a deluge of enquiries to their banks, relating to loan concessions and restructuring, short-term cash disbursements, fee waivers, payment disputes and bereavement requests. The sudden increase in volumes
and a shift in customer need is putting pressure on banks to help their customers as quickly as possible.
The challenge of resolving so many customer requests at the same time is only harder when branches are closed or contact centres unable to work given social distancing, leaving customers relying primarily on online or facing long waits for understaffed contact
In addition, a majority of banks’ customer service personnel are still working from home on older IT systems that run slowly, preventing them from providing the standard of service that customers are used to. But a change in attitude towards flexible working
and new working patterns means banks are going to need to ensure their employees are set up for work outside the office more permanently in the future.
Furthermore, banks are constantly having to change and update policies about how to handle different types of exceptions around loans, payment deferrals etc. – a consequence of each country’s emerging government and regulatory COVID-19 guidance, as well
as the risk appetite of the individual banks.
Banks have needed to provide a personalised and empathetic response to customers to both inform them of offers and actions, as well as educate them on how to manage their money during a crisis. They have also been required to set up helplines for those more
vulnerable, such as elderly people. For example, Nationwide has been offering advice around COVID-19 related fraud on their banking app, and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) launched a coronavirus communication campaign through multiple online channels
to help customers access support, information, and make changes. But not all organisations have been able to react so quickly.
The last two months have highlighted gaps in banks’ digital servicing capabilities. To fill them, many banks have been able to implement short term tactics to cope, but are now faced with problems to fix in the medium and long term so they can permanently
improve the digital customer experience and reduce operational costs in the future. This requires more than just quick fix solutions, it needs a clear prioritised execution plan of how to accelerate digital transformation.
Where they should focus is clearly tackling any gaps in digital servicing and self-service capabilities across functions, as well as provide consistent capabilities across channels. By using intelligent automation, banks can rapidly deliver more banking
activities and services via digital channels, as well as enable consistent interaction through different channels so that customers can easily access the services they require. This needs a ‘centre-out’ approach, so that systems being used by customer service
teams connect across channels and all back-end systems. As a result, banks will be able to better manage costs by reducing handle times, delivering service and self-service across all digital channels, and be able to more easily proactively and pre-emptively
avoid service calls.
What the pandemic also revealed is the need for banks to deliver their services precisely at the time when their customers truly need it most, with empathy. Even when we aren’t in a crisis, not enough banks (or for that matter companies in many industries!)
show empathy towards their customers’ individual situations. By combining machine learning to help predict customer behaviour with an ethical and transparent framework, organisations can determine what the next best action should be for customers to ensure
appropriate communication. Whether it’s offering customers a mortgage payment freeze, listening to them (and remembering their intent and requirements), thanking them for being a valued customer or leaving them alone when that’s the right thing to do, banks
will be able to use technology to better engage with their customers.
Automation will play an even greater role in the future of banking as banks aim to reduce reliance on human personnel in both front and back office operations whilst simultaneously slashing costs and streamlining service experiences. By using this technology,
banks can reduce the time spent by employees on data entry and triage, including efforts to access or update information across multiple systems and applications. Automation can also enable auto-generation of cases from emails and, by using bots, automate
capture and routing of requests. What’s more, financial organisations will be able to identify opportunities to automate systems interaction. By this, I mean eliminating those ‘cut and paste moments’ so customer service representatives won’t need to get involved
in repetitive mundane tasks that currently take up so much of their time.
Finally, as flexible working really takes hold, banks will need to utilise tools that can dynamically re-allocate work across distributed teams and support remote workers so they can support the customers who need help most at any given time, on the channel
of their choice. And, where new banking policies are implemented, banks must provide their staff with technology that instantly guides them through the correct process in order to reduce operational risk.
COVID-19 will cause huge long-term implications for the entire banking sector. The pandemic has shown that when customers are vulnerable and need help fast, customer service is most important. The quality of an interaction – fantastic or abysmal – will be
etched on their memory, so it is important that it is the former, so customers aren’t inclined to switch providers. Banks must engage their customers empathetically now and in the future, in their preferred channel, at the right time to maintain brand trust
and loyalty in the long term. If banks understand customers’ real needs and adapt their service offering fast accordingly, banks can become the trusted safety net that people want.