Digital Services and CX Give Megabanks The COVID Edge

The pandemic period demonstrated that financial institutions can meet unusual challenges with online and mobile ingenuity. But the promise is only partially met if website and apps offer poor communication and inferior navigation. When the consumer switches to the contact center, it often means 'Digital' dropped the ball.

COVID-19 appears to have caused the beginnings of a shakeout in customer experience and satisfaction among major banks. Institutions that do business significantly or solely on digital channels led the group in CX through the first part of the long “shelter-in-place” period that America is only beginning to emerge from.

Verint was in the final stages of its quarterly banking survey, fielded between Feb. 7-March 17, when the coronavirus crisis began to look like a much greater challenge than originally foreseen. The company took the unusual step of going back into the field from April 9-15 to query its sample again. It wanted to build a sense of before and after to see how the unprecedented shutdowns would impact relations between large banks and their consumers.

Winners Advance During Key COVID Quarantine Period

While bankers will always debate the significance of various measures of customer satisfaction, Verint’s consumer survey used both customer satisfaction ratings, based on answers to three key service questions, as well as Net Promoter Scores, to weigh performance in this strange time. So the survey’s findings are indicative of what’s working and where more work is needed.

Three institutions ranked in the top three positions by both measures in both the first wave and the second wave of Verint’s study. They were Ally Bank, Capital One and American Express.

“This could reveal a growing divide between traditional and digital institutions,” the report states. These three institutions were offering a remote and accessible form of financial services at a time when America wanted them. But even before COVID-19 arrived, in the first wave, they were surpassing many traditional large banks.

From before and after waves Verint researchers saw major improvement for several banks in customer satisfaction numbers and NPS. They were Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo.

Eric Head, Vice President in the Verint Experience Management business unit, points out that Wells Fargo jumped 12 percentage points in Net Promoter Score. Clearly, he says, “they are really engendering the [NPS] ‘likelihood to recommend’ intent during this time of distress.”

Verint’s research also incorporated its own Experience Index, which evaluates banks according to consumer ratings in five areas: branches, confidence, products, representatives, and services. The top institution in each category:

  • Branch: TD Bank
  • Confidence: Regions
  • Products: Ally
  • Representatives: Citizens Bank
  • Services: Regions

In delving further into the Index part of the consumer survey, Verint pointed out in its report that banks often try to improve their overall satisfaction ratings by concentrating on the specific categories where they score the lowest. However, the firm over time has found that concentrating harder on what consumers consider most important has a greater payoff.

Among the top U.S. banks, that factor was products offered — meeting consumers’ needs, offering flexibility and with clear terms. It ranked most highly in importance in every banks’ rating, according to Head, as shown in the chart below, a portion of the whole.

How factors influencing customer satisfaction rank with consumers

Head adds that in the two decades that the company has been doing its survey this was the first time that one aspect of the consumer evaluation has so consistently stood out as the top driver. He says this underscores the need for financial institutions to build a better understanding of consumers’ pain points so they can devise products that address them.

But beyond that, Head says, sometimes institutions may actually already offer what people are looking for but communication is lacking. As a result people don’t enroll for the product because they can’t find it on the institution’s website or don’t know what to ask for when dealing with human representatives in branch or via call centers.

“So the problem may be awareness,” says Head.

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Growing Portion of Consumers Need Financial Wellness Help

Significantly, the second wave of Verint’s research found that 14% of consumers surveyed said that they needed help managing expenses and cutting costs. That represented a 40% rise from the level of need reported in the first wave of research.

It’s conceivable that this increase might have been even higher if federal stimulus checks, the Paycheck Protection Program, and other financial responses to the shutdowns hadn’t been going into place around the same time. At the time of the study, plans for using stimulus payments were split this way: 44% savings; 42% purchase of essential goods; and 35% paying down debt.

Head notes that the most-mentioned reason that respondents cite for loving their current banks concerns fees — having low fees, or at least transparency in how fees are charged.

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Improving Digital Channel Usage Hinges on Consumer Success

A key reason why digital-only and digital-strong institutions like Ally, Capital One and American Express rank so well is dependability. Given their nature, these institutions sink or swim in normal times on their consumers’ success in getting their banking business done.

The survey found that in the second wave study period digital usage increased by 5%, with branch usage dropping by 33%. Much of the difference between those figures can be accounted for by the rise at the same time in contact center usage by 31%. (This is for all purposes, not just for transactions.)

While many have spoken of the increased use of digital during the pandemic, Head says it would have been higher still, overall, if consumers had been more successful using those channels. Players like Ally, Amex and Capital One had a leg up.

“People requiring support tried to go online during shelter-in-place,” says Head, “but often they couldn’t get the help they needed and so they called their bank’s contact center.”

For many consumers today the initial instinct is to try digital channels first.

In the first wave of research, however, 43% of those attempting to use digital channels could not accomplish what they set out to do. Instead, they defaulted to bank contact centers, typically, given that branches were frequently closed.

And in the second wave, 55% of those trying to use digital channels couldn’t find their way and switched over to the contact center. 28% of the total sample that went to the call center did so because they ran into technical issues or received error messages, and 27% either found the institution’s website difficult to navigate or couldn’t find the information they were looking for.

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The good news is that both issues are fixable. Verint found that improved communication about digital capabilities would increase the number of inquiries that start and finish in digital channels. In a section of the study concerning applying for a loan, a hefty portion of consumers started off researching credit offerings digitally, but wound up asking to continue the process at a branch. Head says that key reasons for this shift included not thinking the bank offered an online account-opening process — even when it did — and being worried about online security, scams and information quality issues. Head suggests that better educational content on institutions’ site and on their apps could help with the second challenge.

However, in the event, those deficiencies pushed more traffic toward contact centers, even though sites did offer self-service options. While consumers have had more interest in digital channels during the COVID crisis, delivering on the promise of them to consumers is what produces convenience and assurance for them and cost savings and consistency for the bank.

Based on the estimate that a contact center interaction costs $9, if one out of four consumers who wind up there could successfully serve themselves digitally a bank could save close to $1 million — $967,500 — over the course of handling 1 million consumer requests, Head notes.

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