Going the Extra Mile: How Banks Can Serve Their Customers Better During the Pandemic

Legacy banks have now had plenty of time to adjust their business models. So why is it that customers feel that their service has become worse?

Tiffany Carpenter, Head of Customer Intelligence at SAS UK & Ireland, offers her thoughts on how established banks can offer customers a better remote service.

Businesses have faced numerous challenges as a result of COVID-19; perhaps the greatest they have ever had to contend with. However, from a customer experience point of view, there have also been some new opportunities. Across the private sector, SAS research shows that the number of digital users grew 10% during lockdown, with 58% of those intending to continue usage. This represents a whole new dataset of customers with a digital footprint, offering the chance for businesses to engage with them in a more personalised way.

It seems that many businesses have been taking advantage of this already. Across the board, a quarter of customers noted an improvement in customer experience over lockdown. Yet, in the banking and finance industries, 12% of customers claimed that their customer experience had diminished, which was more than the average for the private sector.

What makes this particularly concerning for banks is that, as an industry, they are one of the most digitally mature. Of all the industries, they had the highest number of pre-existing digital users, with 58% of customers using an app or digital service prior to lockdown. So, the question is: why did the most digitally mature industry struggle to support all its customers through digital channels during the pandemic?

A truncated digital experience

As demonstrated by the sheer number of customers using their digital services and apps, the banking industry hasn’t struggled to get its customers to go digital. However, it has clearly struggled to support all of its customers during the pandemic.

While more customers noted an improvement in the customer experience over lockdown (27%), 12% still felt that it had got worse. Branch closures and lengthy call waiting times to speak to an advisor by telephone won’t have helped. In this age of digital transformation, customers were unable to access immediate support or advice through digital channels and were forced to pick up the phone  or fill out paperwork to complete an action. Many businesses applying for bounce back loans found themselves in error-riddled, drawn-out processes, often waiting weeks with no status update, while customers wanting advice on payment holidays found their bank’s digital communication channels offered no support at all.

Going the extra mile

Since the scheme was introduced there have been over 1.9 million mortgage payment holidays granted in the UK and, with stricter lockdown measures reintroduced, this number could rise even further.

The problem for banks and customers alike is that much of the decision-making process is manual, such as determining a customer’s eligibility. Automating these decisions would enable banks to deliver support and decisions in real-time to customer applications across their websites and mobile apps, eliminating manual back-end processing tasks and reducing the need for phone calls, paperwork or in-branch communication.

What’s more, automated decisioning does not require a complete overhaul of legacy infrastructure. Cloud-based intelligent decisioning applications allow banks to rapidly deploy solutions that can analyse customer data and behaviours in real time, determine customer intent and needs and arbitrate next best actions across digital channels without the need to rip and replace the current architecture.

While the pandemic remains part of our everyday life, it’s likely that banks will have to contend with sporadic branch closures and/or customers unwilling to either come in-branch for appointments or spend a long time waiting to speak to someone over the phone. Customer feedback has demonstrated that banks have the correct building blocks in place to deal with this effectively. However, they’re still struggling to support their entire customer base. If banks are to compete and succeed both in the short and long term, it’s essential that they complete the ‘last mile’ of their digital transformation.

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