Among many things, last year taught us that change is the only constant. Banks and financial institutions have had to reimagine customer engagement, building processes to support small-business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, re-evaluating branch operations, working with clients undergoing hardship, and much more. As unpredictable as 2020 and early 2021 were, the second half of 2021 will also be a year of change and evolution in terms of the way people live and work. If 2021 is indeed the Year of the Customer, the key to success will be having smarter, more personalized, two-way conversations to improve the customer experience during the second half of the year. With that in mind, here are three trends relating to customer conversations that will be front and center for the financial services industry in the coming year.
Customers Will Have More Control Than Ever
It is no secret that customer expectations have been increasing for quite some time. However, COVID-19 dramatically changed the way customers interact with companies. Now, the ways people shop, dine, gather, celebrate and more are often contactless and digital. And these same expectations are carrying over into the financial services industry. Stay-at-home measures have led to branch closures and traditional face-to-face interactions are no longer possible. With call centers at a tipping point, consumers desire simplified processes and increased personalization. Now more than ever, customers prefer self-service options to complete transactions such as paying balances, requesting to skip a payment, or finding answers to their questions in real-time and on any device.
As a result, organizations must deliver a strong customer experience from acquisition to onboarding and servicing — and this starts with how data is collected. A cumbersome loan application — whether paper-based or a static PDF — leaves much to be desired. One way to enhance the customer experience is through data-driven, guided, mobile-friendly interviews. Investing in forms transformation allows businesses to tailor questions to each individual customer with the hopes of keeping them engaged. Data collected in one interaction should be used to inform subsequent engagements. And customers should be able to switch between devices while maintaining the consistent experience they expect. The only way to achieve this is to invest in a digital-first approach.
Failure to Automate Business Processes Will Pose Significant Risks
Today’s customers expect their interactions with businesses to be relevant, timely and convey the right sentiment. This is nearly impossible to achieve at scale without automating certain processes. In the coming year and beyond, automation will be essential for success. For many businesses, the shift to remote work environments exposed inefficiencies in existing processes – and created an opportunity to rectify those key challenges via automation.
Getting started here requires a “crawl, walk, run” mindset. Financial services organizations should identify a few key processes or functions that would benefit from automation, especially areas that rely heavily on manual steps or that are still paper-based, such as commercial loan origination and servicing. Once these processes are digitally re-engineered to reflect the demands of both employees and customers, companies will not only see efficiencies that impact their bottom line but also improve the customer experience and boost brand loyalty. Increasingly, customers are preferring self-service options, two-way messaging, and push notifications. With the proper communication strategy, automating these processes can also reduce call center volume. Taking these incremental steps will ultimately enhance both the customer and employee experience.
Employee Experience and Agility will be Top Priorities
For several years now, when business leaders have discussed the employee experience, they have often referenced complimentary meals, standing desks and in-office game rooms. In a post-pandemic world, these perks simply are not as relevant. In 2H 2021 and beyond, business leaders, including those in financial services, must make the remote work experience as seamless and efficient as possible, and employees must continue to collaborate across systems and teams while ensuring security and compliance standards.
This means implementing processes that set employees up to succeed from home and investing in technology to support a digital-first approach to shorten process cycle times and increase accuracy. Investing in the right technology also removes silos within organizations. Providing employees with the right resources will result in happier, more productive employees, and have a lasting, positive impact on the customer experience.
There is no question that COVID-19 has changed the way the world lives, works, and communicates. This, coupled with increasing customer expectations, has forced financial services companies to go beyond traditional customer communications and start engaging in two-way conversations. By embracing the trends above, financial services companies will be able to take a much more strategic approach focused on better engaging with consumers through their preferred channels.
The author, James Brown, is CEO of Smart Communications