Customer experience at financial institutions could have been shattered by the coronavirus crisis. The pandemic forced major changes on both consumers and employees. Branch closures, surging calls and the massive demand for Paycheck Protection Program loans were more than enough to wreak havoc with financial institution CX scores. Despite some setbacks, many banks and credit unions responded rapidly and with innovation that has improved rather than crushed customer satisfaction.
What have institutions learned from the pandemic experience to date and how can they maintain that positive momentum as the crisis moves from lockdown to gradual recovery?
The New Fundamentals
We have seen forward-thinking institutions learn five critical CX lessons over the past few months, which we believe will serve as a strong foundation for the “new normal” of banking.
1. Digital banking now paramount. Financial institutions have been investing in online and mobile banking capabilities for years, but mainly have been offering them as a supplement to face-to-face service. With branch access significantly restricted, consumers had no option but to adopt digital service for many transactions, unless they wanted to wait in line at the drive-through. Marketing was placed at the forefront in communicating the availability of these services digitally. Institutions that invested in the technology and communication saw greatly increased usage. BankNewport’s Zelle P2P transactions, for example, rose by 48% in March.
Key lesson: The quality and user experience of your digital banking platform has become more important than ever.
2. Knowledgeable humans still a big plus. The economic impact of the virus was swift and heavy, especially on jobs. The myriad of government assistance programs in response was complex. Banks and credit unions were in a unique place to help consumers and business owners sort through all this information. Institutions who had invested in highly skilled universal bankers, for example, found they had an advantage in dealing with small business owners and their varied one-off inquiries. Likewise, financial institutions that had the ability to quickly create cross-functional collaborative teams, able to effectively work remotely, were ahead of the game.
3. Alternative advice options thrive. The closure of many branch lobbies created significant demand for appointment banking. Institutions that invested in appointment software like TimeTrade were ready for the sudden change. In addition, Personal Transaction Machines (using two-way video with live tellers), along with digital banking assistant software like Kony’s Go To Banker, made it much easier for institutions using such tools to meet consumer expectations during branch closures. Because these alternatives have been seamless and reliable, institutions saw a huge increase in usage. Most customers who tried them loved them.
For instance, BankNewport saw PTM-assisted transactions rise 400%. Additionally, because such alternatives allowed continued dialogue between customers and staff, new account opening and revenue growth was sustained or even increased. BankNewport saw online deposit account opening more than double in April.
4. Rapid regular communication. Financial institutions that redeployed their marketing teams to keep customers and colleagues informed as the situation rapidly evolved found that they were able to keep customers calm and provide colleagues with consistent message points to deliver.
Key lesson: The industry will see rapid-response communication become standard moving forward.
5. Eliminate pain points. There is nothing like a crisis and heavy demand to put stress on current processes and identify customer pain points. Whether it is call centers not being able to deal with high volume, mobile deposit limits being insufficient for many businesses, or paper-intensive application processes, the current crisis has shown a light on how these policies, procedures and technologies can get in the way of seamlessly serving customers. Many bankers rose to the challenge to quickly modify policies or staffing, or have identified the need to prioritize more automated processes that permit account opening or loan applications without wet signatures and human intervention.
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How to Keep the Momentum Going
The importance and visibility of customer experience has been elevated during the present crisis, as just described. How can financial institutions build on these positives to keep improving CX in coming years? We offer four suggestions:
Make CX a priority. Has customer experience been elevated to a senior level at your institution? Has a team been assigned to manage its progress? If not, that’s a great place to start. Also: Is CX recognized and discussed with colleagues on a regular basis? While senior management is dealing with many urgent issues at the moment, it’s still a great opportunity now to reinforce the point that customer impact and perspective are critical.
Listen to your customers. Sure, you’ve heard this before, but if you have not created “customer listening posts” and processes to support them, then chances are you are missing 90% of your customers’ valuable insight and feedback on how to make your experience better. The current crisis has reinforced how critical customer feedback is to improving what we do.
Continue to be agile. One beneficial effect of the pandemic is that institutions have been forced to do in days what normally took weeks or months. A key learning has been to gather the information you need to make a decision, without waiting for all the information you would like to have. Similarly, instead of scheduling a meeting six weeks out so you can have every relevant person attend, determine who the most critical people are and conduct the meeting in the next week — or tomorrow — to keep the project moving. This also applies to how institutions have responded to their local communities.
Choose the CX tasks that matter. If your financial institution is like most, your CX team will uncover at least 100 improvement opportunities. Be sure to gain insight from your customers and front-line staff on which of these pain points will make the most difference. Start working on the top five or ten and get them done before working on the others. This helps you build momentum quickly and truly make a difference for your customers and colleagues.
Keep Raising the Bar
Most bank and credit union employees live to serve their customers and communities. A silver lining of the current crisis is that it has allowed staffers to rise up and help consumers and businesses deal with a very challenging situation. Lessons have been learned and new skills adopted. Universal bankers have assisted small business owners. Back-office staff have processed PPP business loan applications. Call-center staff have walked customers through government assistance options. It has been gratifying to watch people rise to the challenge and make a difference in peoples’ lives.
The onus is on each of us to maintain this intense customer focus moving forward, and continue to raise the bar on making it easier to do business, delivering more value, and improving the financial lives of our customers and communities.