financial services customer experience

In the year ahead — and well beyond — financial services organizations will be shifting their strategic focus to the “customer experience,” or CX. Not to worry, though, there won’t be any less concern about operational efficiency or profitability, but changing customer expectations and competitive pressures will require a new approach to pretty much everything involving today’s tech savvy consumer. And, as we’ll explain, this new commitment to CX will impact nearly every organizational nook and cranny while inspiring game-changing innovation like never before.

Closer to the Customer

But before we dive into the emerging CX trends we’re seeing across the industry, let’s take a closer look at the customer experience and what it actually means. Forrester defines it simply as “how customers perceive their interactions with your company,” going on to say that good customer experiences are:

  • Useful: they deliver value
  • Usable: they make it easy to find and engage with the value
  • Enjoyable: they are emotionally engaging so that people want to use them

It’s easy to see why rising to the CX “challenge” requires a strong understanding of customers and their goals and preferences at every stage of the journey — whether they’re opening a new small business checking account, filing a supplementary health insurance claim, paying off a home equity loan, or cashing out ESPP shares. It also requires delivering the experience with a predominantly digital focus. In both regards, financial institutions are still behind most organizations in other industries (think Starbucks or Target) — but they’re moving forward in their own right.

In fact, Digital Banking Reports’ 2017 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions survey found that the number one trend — and top strategic priority — among global banking leaders was improving the customer journey and providing a positive customer experience. But it’s clear that most financial institutions are not prepared to meet customers’ expectations, at least not yet: only 37% of organizations have a formal CX plan, according to the Improving the Customer Experience in Banking report. On a more positive note, the report reveals that investment in CX is on the rise, with more investment committed over the next 3 years.

So with this in mind, let’s take a look at the top customer experience trends to watch this year:

1. From Multi-Channel to Omnichannel Customer Service

Over the past several years, financial institutions have made it easier for customers to engage with them when and where they want. Most banks, for example, take a multi-channel service approach by enabling customers to conduct business with them online, over the phone, in a branch location, or using a mobile app.

What’s becoming more important, however, is providing an omnichannel service experience. That means there’s fluid, streamlined, integrated, seamless and personalized consistency for the customer at all touch points, whether they’re visiting their bank’s local branch office, standing in front of an ATM, or checking account details from their smartphone.

Salesforce consumer surveys reveal that 75% of consumers expect a consistent experience wherever they engage — and they’re almost certainly finding it with their favorite retail brands. For example, a person can open her Starbucks app to reload her balance, place a mobile order, and pay…all before setting foot in the coffee shop. Financial services organizations’ offerings are not as simple as coffee and muffins, but they’re aiming to delight customers with the same convenient and loyalty-building omnichannel experiences they’re getting elsewhere. (Just without a dollop of whipped cream!)

2. More, More, More Functionality Across the Digital Channels

By most accounts, half of the world’s population will be digital natives by 2020. That means a significant (and rising) proportion of financial services customers around the globe will have grown up with a computer on their desks or a mobile device in their hands. Needless to say, they’ve never lived in a non-digital world — so their financial services experiences shouldn’t force them to relive their parents’ earliest memories of pneumatic tubes and paper checkbook registers.

What will financial services organizations be doing to serve these digitally savvy consumers (some of whom may only engage with financial services organization via digital channels) with relevant, satisfying, and even enjoyable experiences — experiences that also serve the bottom line?

  • Raise awareness of and interest in making mobile payments, making it easier to adopt the payment method.
  • Enhance and promote chatbots and robo advisory services, extending online capabilities in new directions.
  • Use gamification to engage customers, leveraging new technology that makes financial service activities more fun.
  • Leverage personalization technology, providing a more relevant, engaging and effective digital experiences.

3. Enhanced Self-Service Options

Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be automated (i.e. not involve a human). That makes sense, considering Forrester’s findings that 1) people prefer web or mobile self-service over speaking with an agent by phone, and 2) there has been a rise in adoption of all self-service communication channels, including online forums/communities.

Take a moment to consider what this means for financial services. Customers will rely on digital tools for most of their service needs. Technology, of course, is making this possible, but consumers are at the helm of the transformation — clearly, they want to manage transactions and solve problems on their own, in one fell swoop. They want to get online and do what they need to do; they don’t want to get online, click around, and end up calling an 800 number that routes them through a labyrinth of service reps. That does not make for an effective customer experience!

With help from mobile tools and personalization technology, financial services companies will continue to enhance their digital self-service channels. This might mean, depending on their industry segment and product and service offerings, that:

  • ATMs will become “concierges,” helping people do more at the machine.
  • More video will be used in place of traditional written content, improving customers’ understanding of their products and services.
  • Websites will use live agent chat features to assist customers at their exact point of need with whatever they’re trying to accomplish.

4. Better Customer Service Experiences via Relationships

There’s no question that the CX initiatives we’ve been talking about have been digitally driven. But there’s a very real and meaningful need to keep the human being in the discussion. People — from the consumers themselves to the financial services organizations’ employees — are at the center of everything. While consumers may want to do more on their own, for the sake of convenience, there remains a need for a helpful hand (a real, live one) at the other end of the transaction.

And the interactions customers have with these humans is a critical piece of their overall CX — and it better meet their expectations, promote seamless movement through their journey, and boost their perception of the company’s brand. So, in 2018, more companies will work on creating customer-centric cultures, training employees to:

  • Work more effectively with customers across generations
  • Solicit customer feedback
  • Identify potential issues and proactively solve problems
  • Perform new (non-phone) forms of personal service like social media and live chat

5. More Educated and Empowered Customers

Compared to those of other industries (think back to the coffee shop), financial services offerings are complex — at the very least, they’re perceived to be. To help address this issue, not to mention meet today’s consumer’s desire to build financial literacy, financial services organizations are emphasizing education. And they’re providing it so people will feel more comfortable and prepared to manage their assets, make investment decisions, select insurance products, and more, especially when they’re doing so much of their product exploration and research online.

Financial services firms should be providing education that is relevant to the customer at a certain time and place in their journey. Engage end-to-end throughout the customer journey, from shopping to account opening, to onboarding and through relationship expansion.

6. Customer Data Will Help Facilitate a Highly Personalized Experience

Collecting and crunching the right data, including contextual insights, will help financial services companies deliver relevant experiences to customers at the individual level across channels — and in real time. In other words, data-driven personalization will help deliver the caliber of online experience customers have come to expect, and it will boost engagement and sales in the process.

As discussed in The Importance of Personalization for Digital-Only Financial Services Customers, marketers must master the digital experience. That takes more than identifying key target market segments — it requires an individualized approach. By using advanced analytics and machine learning in concert with their other website marketing efforts, financial services companies will be able to meet customers where they are, offering digital content experiences that are not only relevant, but welcomed!

Wrap Up

Shifting the approach to compete in an increasingly consumer-led and digitally driven marketplace impacts everything from IT to marketing. The top six trends outlined are all reflective of this shift. Financial services organizations must pursue customer experience initiatives to make doing business with them easier and more enjoyable, to build consumer trust, and to increase efficiency. Effective CX is necessary to keep customers loyal, respond to their rapidly evolving needs and preferred modes of communication, provide for competitive differentiation, and take financial services companies to the next level.