Financial institutions need a cohesive, integrated strategy to manage their customer communications.
What you say to your customers, when you say it, and how/where you say it are the cornerstones of any marketing strategy. A well-oiled and fine-tuned communications strategy can represent one of the most valuable pieces of intellectual property a banking organization can possess. Your approach to customer communications shapes your brand image, sets the tone for important business transactions, influences renewal and referral decisions, and differentiates you from your competitors.
However, many banks and credit unions don’t take a strategic, integrated approach, and instead manage their customer communications through a series of isolated business systems — usually handled by departmental teams that often only create mission-critical documents and send the messages that are absolutely necessary. This chaotic mix of uncoordinated efforts often results in fragmented communications that leave customers feeling confused or frustrated.
According to a study by Forrester Research, many financial institutions are striving to achieve a better customer experience by improving technology systems, providing seamless customer onboarding and ensuring accuracy of customer data. However, the study found that many customer experience initiatives do not apply best practices to the entire experience; instead they focus in on sexier digital initiatives.
Meanwhile, legacy systems continue to hold institutions back. Almost half of respondents in the study said that their technology platforms don’t let them integrate documents — particularly those for new customers — into multichannel communications. Furthermore, 61% of the survey’s respondents said they face hurdles when it comes to creating a consistent look and feel for documents, while also struggling to ensure they adhere to necessary regulatory requirements. It’s hard enough for most of them just trying to incorporate and enforce compliant language long before visual consistency becomes part of the equation.
As a result of all these challenges, the new customer experience remains sidelined. Some financial institutions have overcome this chaos with a more cohesive approach in which all departments — marketing, operations, customer service, IT, lending, compliance — are part of a wider organizational communications strategy. They view communications holistically, where all the organization’s messages are components in an integrated customer experience.
In order to design the ideal customer communications strategy for your organization, it is necessary to think about communications from three different perspectives: your prospects, your customers and your employees.
1. Your prospects’ expectations
You engage prospects with several types of communications, some that you control and some that you, personally, may only influence. Direct marketing, referral programs and social media campaigns, for example, each attempt to increase the number of active and interested prospects in their own way. These communications are often the first personalized customer experiences you provide.
Many prospects will engage across a variety of communications before they become a customer. So your communications must be able to be managed effectively across multiple channels, paying attention to the limitations and opportunities offered by each channel. The goal is to ensure consistency from the point of view of the prospect.
Effective coordination of communications can maximize conversion rates and boost the top line of your bank or credit union. But what happens when the prospect turns into an actual customer?
2. Your customers’ experience
As soon as prospects become customers, your communications portfolio will experience its most important trials. Onboarding communications are critical, setting the tone for the entire customer relationship. Unfortunately, this is the moment when the typical organization transfers the communication from an ROI-based metric for customer acquisition to a cost minimizing metric for post-sale customer retention.
This switch is a common mistake that often results in a significant change in voice and a noticeable quality drop from the customer perspective. For example, full color communications are often replaced with black and white print on thin paper. This switch often triggers buyer’s remorse, when it could be creating a referral opportunity if executed strategically. At this point, organizations that measure customer sentiment often see a drop in the customer’s perception. This is causing Chief Experience Officers to look at the impact of every communication-related customer experience.
How a communication portfolio reflects the voice of the company on the regular business communications customers receive will either support or undermine the efforts of the sales and marketing teams as they try to maintain and grow relationships over time.
3. Your employees’ needs
From inside your organization, communications need to be handled effectively too. Many banks have a mix of multiple systems that generate communications, several of which are incompatible islands of technology. Employees in the call center may still be communicating using manual Word-based or other thick-client communication systems that force staff members to respond to customer needs with form letters that are not relevant.
Today’s thin-client interactive solutions can deliver correspondence, quotes and proposals quickly and more efficiently. This allows your expert frontline staff to bring context and intelligent content to smart templates that automatically access data from multiple systems to reduce call times and improve the communication outcome for the customer. In turn, it delivers a positive outcome to the business and the customer.
Analyze existing systems and workflows
Implementing a portfolio approach to your communications will require a careful review of all three perspectives to see whether the systems and workflows in place are cohesive. Comprehensive analysis of the journey of each individual customer is at the root of recent trends in customer experience thinking in major enterprises.
This requires taking inventory of your communications technology as a critical aspect of your bank’s larger customer experience strategy. Carefully examine your communications workflow to determine if it allows for consistent design and quality across touchpoints. You may discover that systems need to be upgraded or replaced to improve the workflow processes. The best approach is to look for ways to assess and maximize the value of existing communication investments while allowing innovation to support customers using new channels.
Scott Draeger is vice president at GMC Software Technology. He has been in the customer experience realm for nearly 20 years. He has helped household-name companies in 20 countries to strengthen customer relationships by improving communications and he is a respected speaker, published author and well-known authority on the topic. You can send Scott an email or connect with him on Twitter @scottdraeger.