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Why banks need to build empathy into every part of their business

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some banks have made it into the press for the wrong reasons – for their poor customer service.

In one case, a bank’s customer had passed away after a long period of illness. Her daughter, who had power of attorney, informed the bank of her death and followed up five times to have the funds transferred and old bank account closed. It wasn’t until a national newspaper got involved that the bank achieved the outcome she asked.

In another case involving a different bank, a customer had a joint account with his wife who had died, and asked for their retirement savings to be transferred to his personal account. The bank wrongfully cashed in the pot in mid-March when the market was at its lowest point, losing him money.

Bereavement is obviously a highly emotive time, one where some checks and balances are needed, but most importantly where a fully personalised, empathetic and process with minimal effort process is required. When there is modern technology available to enable banks to update their legacy systems and vastly improve data management and customer service, it is baffling and really inexcusable that some banks do not handle bereavement cases in the right way.

Solutions that enable companies to have a channel-less approach and fully orchestrate the customer needs can ensure that intake and triaging is approached with the customer journey at the centre and the right outcome being the primary measure. It helps banks properly manage bereavement cases in the most efficient and sensitive way possible. Cases can be dealt with empathy from the moment the bank is informed of a customer’s passing, by capturing the information from whichever channel has been used to make contact, to orchestrating all the work that needs to be done to help the family member/trustee settle the case.

Bereavement cases are possibly the most important time for customers to be interacted with compassion, as it can be a highly emotional time for the customer, particularly if the person’s passing was a shock. When a customer is grieving the loss of a family member, the last thing they want is to have to spend hours and hours on unnecessary admin and explaining the situation to their bank, and nor should they have to. No matter the action needed, whether it be to close a bank account, transfer funds or close off a policy, it is vital the case is dealt with in the most efficient and considerate way possible.

So how should technology help? Say the relative gets in touch by email or a website chat function. A bot can intelligently analyse customer requests using natural language processing to spot what type of case it is dealing with. Regardless of the channel used to contact the bank, all requests can be prioritised, routed and processed automatically by business rules or managed by a human. Upon recognising a case of bereavement, banks need to apply technology with common sense and by careful applying automation. Even if a bank does not have the technology needed to automate the re-routing of queries from that customer, the case can be easily routed to a specialist team depending on the profile of the customer and the products they hold.

To be as empathetic and efficient as possible, the bot can halt any automated marketing communications going to them or their family members. This would avoid messaging going out that might unnecessarily cause offence or upset. The specialist team would be able to pick up the case, respond with an appropriate message, let them know they have started resolving the query and give them an expected timeline for action. They need to stick to what they agree to do and communicate more regularly than other processes to ensure the customer does not need to follow up with the bank.

Having such technology helps manage employees work to avoid any confusion over the process of resolving the query and minimise avoidable delays. It can also track each step of the work with a clear auditable record of activity visible to every team involved. This makes sure everyone is on the same page about the status of a customer request and guarantees the bank has taken the proper measures to treating the customer with empathy and being as helpful as possible throughout.

This applies just as much to bereavement as it does to customers who are in financial difficulty due to changes in income or illness. A similar triage approach with the right balance of automation and person to person interaction is needed to effectively apply the right approach to each customer’s situation. The flexibility and adaptability of both the systems and teams supporting customers directly correlates to the ability to get the optimum outcome. For example, in the case of a regional lockdown, being able to direct customers from those locations into certain teams to spend more time going through the customer’s temporary cash and lending needs.

If banks do not take the proper steps to ensure they are treating individuals well, they risk dissatisfaction, reputational and regulatory issues and ultimately the loss of customers. However, deploy technology that helps get the right balance between people and automation, put an effective organisational structure around it, and banks can support each and every customer as best they can, boosting their reputation and maximising loyalty.



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Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan

Banking Industry Market Lead


Member since

04 Sep 2019



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Customer Service 2015-2019-2025

In the industry of customer service how it will grow nowadays. How was it in past and how it will become in future. Sharing innovative ideas about customer services like call centres, phone answering, business process outsourcing, lead generation, verification service, chat support etc.

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