Secret to Online Banking Customer Support? Ditch the Scripts

Allowing contact center staff to indulge their inner comedian in responding to unusual customer chat questions, and letting them make on-the-spot small-dollar decisions has drawn rave reviews for one bank's digital banking unit. But how large can this approach scale?

“How can I make the monster under my bed chip in for the rent?” You might expect to hear a question like this from a friend or maybe a comedian, but this actually was asked in a chat with customer support at InSync, the mobile banking brand of Alfa-Bank Belarus, part of ABH Holdings.

Even more surprising is the answer the support team member actually gave: “Throw the rent bill under the bed and threaten to set your cat on the monster!” Far from drawing a rebuke, we loved that response!

As a result, the chat support team of InSync is quite unique, we believe. These 12 people — six men and six women — are available 24/7, have no call center-style scripts, and can solve a much wider range of problems than would usually be delegated to the first line of support. In more than three years since the team was formed, not a single person has left.

Few Formal Requirements Beyond ‘The Right Attitude’

InSync was launched in late 2016 as a semi-autonomous part of Alfa-Bank. A product for digital consumers, the InSync brand has always been positioned as “a bank that speaks to the customers in their language.” This positioning requires a different approach to online customer service than the usual contact center, with an emphasis on access through messenger apps and social networks and on creativity.

Finding the right people was key. There were few formal requirements, as we realized that the candidates would have to learn everything from scratch; no school would teach you to be a creative bank representative. The idea was to find bright, open-minded people with the right attitude. After a few months of interviews, the first three support team members logged into their ZenDesk dashboards and started talking to customers.

Unlike call-center operators, the InSync support staff — nicknamed “Alfachs” — were given no scripts to use in their work in order to encourage creativity and spontaneity. At the same time, however, they were instructed to tread very carefully at the start, and were given a very limited range of problems they could solve themselves. As time went by, the list grew longer and longer and their leeway increased.

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At 3 a.m., the Questions Are Not Really That Crazy

The InSync support team service customers through the chat service on the mobile banking app and on the website, as well as in the Viber and Telegram messaging platforms, in Facebook, Twitter and (Russian social media), and by email. They can block and unblock customers’ cards, order cash, reset the number of unsuccessful attempts to enter a PIN, and much more. And, of course, sometimes they have to answer questions that have little to do with banking, from where to buy flowers to what to write in a student paper on finance.

After two years, the team switched from standard working-hours to a 24/7 schedule. Surprisingly, this didn’t bring more “crazy” questions during the wee hours. It turns out that a large number of the bank’s customers prefer to chat with support staff late at night.

“The challenge is striking a balance between being creative and fun, and still acting as a representative of a bank.”

The main challenge that the team has to face on a daily basis is striking the balance between being creative and fun, and still acting as a representative of a bank that is entrusted with consumers’ funds. With the high degree of freedom and a wide range of powers that the support staff has, mistakes are inevitable. To address them, the team gets together weekly to go through anything that went wrong, find the root cause, and discuss how to be sure it doesn’t happen again.

How Do You Measure Love?

Measuring the business value that the Alfachs add for InSync and Alfa-Bank Belarus as a whole is both easy and difficult at the same time. On one hand, it’s already impossible to imagine the InSync brand without its fun and creative support team. An integral part of the mobile banking offering, the team certainly has generated an enormous amount of love and affection from the customers.

On the other hand, there’s no universal benchmark to assess how good an online customer support team is doing. While traditional call centers have clear service-level agreements (SLAs), the Alfachs don’t have such a framework. All that can be said is that the number of contacts has grown to about 35,000 a month. The main channel is the InSync mobile app, which accounts for more and more requests.

The decision to delegate more decision-making power to the first line of chat support is easier to measure. Team members are empowered to make decisions to the advantage of the customer when the amount in question is lower than $5. According to the data we have, this freedom to resolve most customer issues on the spot costs the bank an extra $500 a month. This is a modest price to pay to keep customers happy and to stand out from most other banks that can take weeks to deal with some of these issues.

This quick-resolution capability often generates significant positive buzz for InSync on social media.

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Next Question: Does Creativity Scale?

The main question regarding the InSync support team that management is facing now is how to scale this new culture of customer interaction efficiently across the entire organization. From the call center to physical branches, all customer-facing departments need to find a way to embrace creativity and speak the clients’ language rather than sticking with the “suit speak,” our term for banker talk.

In addition, the increasing willingness of consumers to use online chat instead of talking on the phone creates a scaling challenge for the support team itself. Although the bank plans to hire several fresh Alfachs in the near future, it doesn’t want to increase the total team count beyond about 20.

The way to go, in the bank management’s opinion, is to help customers find answers to the most popular “non-creative” questions themselves by utilizing a bank-wide knowledge base and, possibly, chatbots, as discussed in an earlier article on The Financial Brand. Thanks to the vast database of chat logs and social media interactions collected over the past three years, Alfa-Bank Belarus believes it can structure the most-requested answers in a convenient and accessible way.

If this modified approach is successful, customers would get the answers they need, while the Alfachs would get more time for creative work — from solving non-trivial issues to posting an occasional joke on Facebook. Different as they are, both activities fit perfectly in the overall strategy of speaking the language of the customer.

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