We’re living in a data rich world. IBM estimates that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years aloneThis means it’s crucial that businesses keep control of their sensitive customer data. Tanmaya Varma,  Global Head of Industry Solutions at SugarCRM, illustrates to Finance Monthly the true potential of data use in the financial services sector.

For banks in particular, the safe and efficient storage of data is not just a ‘nice to have’ but a requirement governed by legislation and industry standards. I believe that whether on-premise or in the cloud, banks should strive to capture all their customers’ data together in one place. Why? Because it will empower employees with the right information to give customers the best experience possible.

Bringing together data streams

Perhaps more than any other industry, financial services firm have a huge number of channels to collect customer data from; in-branch, over the phone, via social media platforms. This means they need to have the right data systems in place which can bind together all of their data to build a complete picture of a customer.

The right system needs to bring together front-office data – calls, meetings, leads, opportunities – and back-office data – accounts, transactions, delivery schedules, fulfilment and so on. There is also a need, particularly for capital markets, to have external data integrated, for example LinkedIn data (where did this prospect use to work?) and trading figures.

In terms of where the data is stored, in my experience banks generally choose to keep their customer data in the cloud. No modern business – bank or otherwise – should keep their customer data in siloes, as this immediately breaks a 360-degree view of the customer.

Meeting customer expectations

Today’s customers expect the best experience possible. The instantaneous pace we now live at doesn’t leave much time for patience – so consumers expect an instant response to their demands.  This means customer-facing employees need to have easy access to their customers’ background as soon as the interaction begins, if they are to stand a chance of delivering the best possible experience.

Customers need to know that, regardless of the channel, they’ll receive the same level of service and understanding of their needs and expectations. This all amounts to the overall customer experience, which is crucial when customers are faced with so much choice. The threat of losing customers because of bad service is very real. According to Accenture’s UK research, 34% of customers who switched financial providers in 2014 did so because of a poor customer service.

All customer-facing teams (sales, marketing, customer service and so on) therefore need to have the right tools in place. Technology should empower employees in their interactions with customers; giving them all the information they need, when they need it. For example, providing clear information on the customers’ previous interactions (when did they last contact us? What other products do they hold with us?) – to enable a seamless experience which proves to the customer they are valued and understood.

Turning to technology

Looking ahead, AI will become increasingly important for banks when it comes to the customer journey. Many banks are already open to the possibilities of machine learning – and it has to be said, the capabilities of chatbots is becoming very impressive. Swedbank’s web assistant Nina, for example, now has an average of 30,000 conversations per month and can handle more than 350 different customer questions.

But the customer experience depends on both the quality of the data, and how well employees can use it to then bring insight to their interactions. In my opinion, customer-facing employees and technology should work side by side to enrich the customer experience. The role of chatbots, virtual reality, NLP and so on should be to bring efficiencies to business operations, particularly when it comes to automating tasks and processes where humans don’t add value. In fact, a recent report by Accenture found 79% of banking professionals agree that AI will revolutionise the way they gain information from and interact with customers.

If banks rise to the challenge to store and manage all their data together, and their employees are supported with the right training and technology to quickly access customer data and understand – and even pre-empt – their needs, they’ll be on the path to success.