Retail banks need to be more customer-centric to survive

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My colleague Helen recently blogged about the changing nature of the financial services industry and how customers interact with their banks. I think that changes in the banking industry are taking place extremely fast, but they go deeper than just how customers are interacting with the customer service team.

Most customers now prefer mobile and internet banking, leading many big retail brands to consider rationalising their branch network. HSBC plans to close over 100 branches in the UK this year because their customers are just not using them.

This report featured in Finextra shows that customers are increasingly intolerant of friction in bank services. If services are slow, difficult to access, or feature long delays, customers will move to competitors. Given that most traditional banking services were all slow and difficult to access, this is quite a challenge for the industry.

The fintech revolution is really turning banks upside down by introducing a startup culture into banking where customer problems can be solved or improved through the use of technology. There are now entrepreneurs ready to test out a new service. With the cost of entry for companies designing apps extremely low, the challenge for the traditional banks is how to compete with services that are designed entirely around needs of the customer.

To my mind, there are four distinct areas emerging in retail banking today and each has its own advantages and challenges:

  • Single Service:companies building specific individual services around customer needs and usually launching them as apps. Applying for a loan or transferring money from one country to another are examples of individual services that banks used to hold a monopoly on, but are now increasing being delivered by single-service specialists.
  • App only:Atom Bank, Hello Bank, Simple Bank, Go Bank. They might not be familiar High Street brands, but that’s because they are not on the high street. New banks are constantly springing up, offering a completely mobile app-based experience.
  • Challenger:brands like Virgin Money and Metro Bank are great examples of new brands that are still building a traditional branch network, but are tearing up the traditional banking rulebook. Late opening, weekend opening, and biscuits for dogs are all on offer at these challengers.
  • Traditional:the giants we all know. Their branch network may be gradually shrinking, but they are still on most high streets and most are now offering their customers digital access too.

The traditional banks have an enormous advantage with their history and customer base in the millions. It’s hard for the new single service players to build up their customer base and requires a mix of great prices and marketing – nobody will use a service if they have never heard of it.

But the big picture is changing and all the traditional banking executives acknowledge the need to be more customer-centric. Gone are the days when applying for a car loan meant a visit to the branch and completing a 17-page form. They can remain relevant, but only if they explore what the new players are doing. Designing services around the need of the customer is essential for survival in this much more complex retail banking environment. This white paper explores how technology and regulation are impacting the UK retail banking industry.

What changes do you think retail banks need to make to be more customer-centric? Leave a comment below, or get in touch on LinkedIn and let me know.


Webhelp Nordic to Open New Office in Sweden

Leading global business process outsourcing and customer experience expert Webhelp, is to create 60 jobs with the opening of a new office in Norrköping, Sweden.
Webhelp Nordic examined several regions before choosing Norrköping as the location for its new office. The city was chosen primarily because of the development opportunities offered by the proximity of local universities as well as the central location of the city, which ensures Webhelp’s customers have easy transportation links to the business.
Terje Andreassen, CEO of Webhelp Nordic, said: "I'm excited to open a new office for Webhelp Nordic here in Norrköping. Our choice was Norrköping because of its central location, good communication opportunities and proximity to universities and colleges for cooperation on technology development.

“I look forward to welcoming new people to our refurbished office in Norrköping and to the Webhelp family, which already has approximately 1,800 people across the Nordic and Baltic countries.”
Pontus Lindblom, Business Director, Norrköping Municipality, said: "It is with great pride that we welcome Webhelp Nordic to Norrköping.We at the Business Office at Norrköping Municipality have had a contact with Webhelp Nordic for some time now and we are very pleased that this has become a reality. Webhelp Nordic is a new player spreading business and development opportunities in our city and region."
Recruitment has already begun and the office, which is located in centre of the city, will open in June once the renovation of the premises has been completed.

Webhelp Nordic is looking for people who are social, service oriented and who enjoy contact with customers. Other skills are an understanding of customer needs and a drive for new knowledge.

 


Could Social Media Have Prevented the 2008 Financial Crisis?

In 2017 the vast majority of people use social media in one form or another. Companies are increasingly using what we post and who were are connected to in order to make a whole host of decisions about us. For many this seems like a scary thought, but could it actually be something that could have more far reaching benefits than at first sight? David Turner, UK CEO of leading global customer experience expert, Webhelp, explores this issue.

“We are all familiar with stories of people off work ‘sick’ or claiming benefits who have been caught out by pictures on their social media profiles. And while the debate about how private this sort of information should be will rage on, many hard working, law abiding people feel a certain amount of satisfaction when the cheats are caught out in this way.

“What if we were to take that a few steps further? What if our social media profiles were used to back up our applications for mortgages or loans?

“Traditionally, banks have relied on the data captured by credit reference agencies to determine whether someone should be granted a loan or not. The problems with this system are numerous and well documented. Firstly, it ensures that loan and mortgage applications tend to be a very lengthy process – and one in which customer service appears to be held in very low priority. This can be incredibly frustrating if the applicant needs a quick decision. Would a check of our social media activity be enough to suggest whether or not we would be likely to pay the loan back and make it possible to give lending decisions more quickly?

“Secondly, and arguably more crucially, if an applicant has no credit history they will be refused a loan. There are a few reasons why someone might have no credit history. They could be the type of person who saves up for things rather than buying them on credit. They could have been living in another country where they had an impeccable credit rating, but that rating wouldn’t count to an agency in the UK. I’ve even heard of people being told they would be more likely to get credit if they had a negative rating than no rating because at least they would have a credit history.

“Does this encourage lending to people with the worst attitudes to credit and penalise those who don’t take out loans or buy goods on credit?

“How would that change if lending institutions based decisions on people’s social media activity?

“I suppose that may depend on how truthful people are on their social media profiles. While posting Ibiza holiday pics when off work sick may not be the smartest move, it is more honest than that person has been with their employer.

“Indeed many people are inclined to show off on social media and therefore may be more likely to exaggerate their spending habits in order to impress their contacts. The picture painted by that same person to a financial institution when they are applying for a loan may be very different. Perhaps that potentially exaggerated social media picture would be a better basis on which to base financial lending decisions.

“If that was the basis used by institutions pre the 2008 financial crash, would it have prevented the collapse caused by lending to so many people who couldn’t afford to repay their loans? Would such an approach prevent a similar collapse in the future?

“Perhaps it would and perhaps it wouldn’t, but I strongly suspect there will never be the appetite for important lending decisions to be based solely on our social media activity.

“However, while not being the only answer, it is certain that social media provides a wealth of very useful information on individuals and the more complete a picture a financial institution can have of an individual the better the lending decisions it can make.

“How many family members a person is connected to could indicate a support network that could help to protect an individual during a time of hardship, for example. It also indicates a certain stability that financial institutions find appealing.

“I am confident that information gleaned from social media will continue to be used in more and more ways. For now I think we have just glimpsed the tip of the iceberg as far as this is concerned and it will be fascinating to see how far it goes.

“New types of financial institutions are entering the marketplace and using this type of data to make quicker, and they would argue, more accurate, lending decisions.

“How far back would activity be taken into account? Surely our social media activity as a seventeen year old couldn’t prevent us getting a mortgage at 45?

“One thing is for sure. If these challenger fintechs can offer customers lending decisions in a more forward thinking and pleasant customer experience environment, people will be queuing up to borrow from them. We are in a world where people are borrowing more and more money. This same world is one where customer experience counts for more than loyalty to the traditional lending establishments, who forfeited much of the trust of their customers during the financial crisis.

“Could the combination of a customer focused loan service with a new system of credit checks provide the pathway to a new future for lending and borrowing?”


Does your bank still answer the telephone?

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The Bank of Ireland (BoI) is cutting down on the types of questions customers are allowed to ask on the phone. Asking for a balance or asking to check the last three transactions on your current account was recently banned (Feb 2017) for telephone callers. All calls to local branches and the central contact centre for everyday enquiries will now be refused as the bank follows a strategy of forcing customers to automated and other digital channels.

To some, this sounds like a sensible strategy. BoI has over 250 branches around the country and over 70% of all customer interactions are now automated. In fact, the number of counter transactions inside a branch has been just 4% of all customer interactions so it looks like their approach is justified.

But there are always customers who depend on some of the older channels and struggle with automation or digital channels. Clearly, it makes sense for banks to make it easier to use the digital channels, but this is the first example I have heard of from a major retail bank where a customer on the phone asking for service will be turned away.

However, it’s only a matter of time before we see exactly the same scenario at every major retail bank. The past decade has seen an explosion in digital channels and most customers are demanding to be served at anytime from anywhere using whatever digital tools they can access on their smartphone. The days of the branch closing up for the day at 3pm really should be numbered.

The real question for executives here though is which customer channels should be prioritised. Which should receive investment and which should be dropped?

It’s too simple to presume that traditional banks with large branch networks should focus on personal in-branch service and answering the phone while new financial startups scoop up the digitally aware customers. The new banks want to offer the best possible service across all channels and the traditional banks are actively exploring new channels.

We are at the beginning of an enormous change in how retail banking services are delivered and customer service is right at the centre of this debate, defining exactly how customers will interact with their bank in future. What changes do you think retail banks need to make to be more customer-centric? Leave a comment below, or get in touch on LinkedIn, and let me know.

Banks will need to transform their digital capabilities. Download Webhelp’s whitepaper which explores the future of customer experience in retail banking.

 


Webhelp and honeybee Join Forces to Revolutionise Contact Centre Sales Operations

 

honeybee, a pioneer set to transform the way people buy and sell, has today announced a partnership with Webhelp, one of the world’s leading customer experience and business process outsourcers. The collaboration will see Webhelp introducing the honeybee solution into contact centres across the globe, improving the customer journey for organisations in a wide range of regions and industries.

Serving more than 500 customers across 25 countries, Webhelp is committed to helping businesses provide the best possible level of customer service and believes honeybee can create a step change in this experience and the overall performance of phone-to-phone sales.

The partnership will kick-off with a roll out in a major European mobile network operator, following a successful trial which delivered some significant benefits;

  • 57% improvement in sales conversions
  • 11% lift in transaction value
  • 70% reduction in time to competency for new employees

Whilst there has been substantial investment in call centre technology over the years, the focus has tended to be on dialler optimisation and campaign management rather than on the actual sales conversation. honeybee aims to revolutionise phone sales by delivering an end-to-end sales journey that has been built with the customer and sales colleague in mind, empowering the sales colleague to co-create a solution for a customer that is specific to that customer’s needs.

honeybee combines the benefits of technology with the power of human interaction to improve customer experiences and ultimately drive sales conversion and efficiency.

This digital approach to phone-to-phone selling also brings all the data and analytics benefits of online sales to the offline space for the first time, whilst honeybee’s ‘no-code’ platform transforms the speed and cost of reacting to market and consumer demands, by allowing Webhelp to update and test new journeys in real-time.

David Turner, CEO of Webhelp UK, said:

“Webhelp is very proud of its role as a technology enabler. Using technology to transform and simplify the customer journey has always been at the heart of Webhelp’s strategy. honeybee represents the opportunity for Webhelp to unlock even greater cost savings and efficiencies for its clients. As a multi-industry platform, the benefits of honeybee are immediately clear and Webhelp is excited to offer these advances to its diverse global client base.”

Graham Stapleton, Executive Chairman, honeybee commented:

“We are hugely excited about our partnership with Webhelp. They share our vision that the call centre experience can be transformed by our unique approach of creating technology that empowers sales colleagues to help find the right solution for their customers. An approach that has already delivered some significant results for Webhelp and promises to unlock a new era of customer satisfaction with call centre interactions.”

The honeybee Platform

Solving the problems of person-to-person selling, honeybee brings together three critical elements to offer clients an end-to-end solution: digital offline customer journeys; ‘no-code’ platform agility; and expert services.

  • Digital Offline Customer Journey

honeybee is an intuitive platform that can be rapidly configured to meet the needs of customers, staff, and the wider brand. The solution covers every single step of the end-to-end customer journey, analysing customer needs to help sales team co-create a product package or tariff that best suits their specific needs.

With honeybee, Webhelp will be able to digitally-empower sales teams, allowing them to collect and analyse customer interaction data that can then be used to refine and automate processes for a slicker, more compelling customer experience.

  • ‘No Code’ Platform Agility

honeybee’s revolutionary ‘no code’ approach eliminates the complexity of traditional IT solutions, allowing operational staff – rather than developers – to reconfigure sales journeys in real-time. Most importantly, the platform is the first to offer actionable data on all points within the customer’s contact centre journey.

  • Expert Services

Having the right technology in place is only half the issue solved. Introducing digital journeys to sales staff requires business transformation. With significant expertise in designing, delivering and optimising digital transformation strategies, honeybee brings a rapid return-on-investment, helping organisations take the solution to market in a fraction of the time it would take an in-house team. In the longer term, honeybee can also create sustainable change by allowing businesses to continually refine their business processes as the market, and customers, evolve.

 

 

 


Agent wellbeing: making sure the team is ready to perform

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Have you ever noticed how the more helpful and conscientious you are at work, the more work you are handed? It can cause anguish for helpful team players because they find that overloading them with tasks is the reward for helpfulness. The misery is compounded when those who say no to extra tasks breeze off home right on time.

I’m aware that in a customer service environment this is even more of a problem because our agents are on the frontline representing our clients. The clients depend on our people to be ambassadors for their brand. It is a big problem if we have agents that are not performing well because of the way their work is organised, or other general work problems – often summarised as office politics.

I read a research report from King’s College London and the University of Bath recently that focused on contact centre agents and found that conscientious workers do often face problems, but it’s not just problems at work. The burnout faced by those who take on more work than they need to, affects their family life and left the workers featured in the research emotionally exhausted.

We take agent wellbeing seriously at Webhelp, not just because it is important to look after the team, but also because it makes good business sense. Agents who feel better at work perform better and that leads to a better customer experience pleasing our clients. To find out more about working for Webhelp, click here.

We focus attention on both physical and mental health, with newsletters, health fairs, blood pressure checks, and advice on healthy eating.  The aim of all these initiatives is to reinforce a culture from top to bottom of the workforce, showing that the best performers are those who think carefully about their health options.

It’s only really by creating this culture of workplace wellbeing that the issue can be addressed. Any company can publish a newsletter featuring healthy recipes, but when wellbeing becomes ingrained in the way people behave at work, from diet to allocation of tasks, real change can be achieved.

We know that our agents can only do a great job if wellbeing is taken seriously in our business, so our leadership team constantly reinforces the message by establishing a corporate culture that supports wellbeing. It’s great for the business and it’s great for the agents.

What do you think about the agent wellbeing? Leave a comment below, or get in touch on LinkedIn, and let me know.


Would you prefer human or AI customer service?

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Artificial intelligence or a human; which would you prefer to answer the phone when you call a company and need help? The answer is far from clear because a human may be friendly and real, but may not have all the answers. The AI system might feel artificial, but is likely to have the answer to every possible customer query. So is the best solution a blend of the two?

First, let’s consider where an AI system could help to improve the customer experience. If you can capture details of every single customer query that comes into your contact centre, on every channel, with the solution to the problem, then that intelligence is far more powerful than any frequently asked question list.

Just imagine if every single customer interaction is tracked, so that the more customers interact with your team, the smarter the AI system becomes. Eventually there will be a body of knowledge so vast that almost every possible question will have an answer based on knowledge of previous customer enquiries.

This is exactly what the app-based financial services company Atom Bank has been doing for months in the UK. They believe that the AI system knows the answer to almost every customer question now, although they are still using human advisors. Building that body of knowledge gives them the opportunity of automating some of the service interactions in future.

Sometimes though, human interaction is what we really want. If you are calling a customer service number, then you usually need help with a specific problem. It’s okay to email or tweet a question, but when you call the agent, they help to resolve it immediately while you are actually having a conversation.

In my view, this is still the weakest point in the AI systems I have seen – natural interaction with the customer. After all, how useful is your Apple Siri function? You can ask an iPhone to tell you where the nearest pharmacy is located, but try asking a more complex question and the technology struggles to keep up.

This research in Computer Weekly suggests that contact centres are dramatically changing because companies are using bots and deploying AI in a bid to use data in new ways.  However, until voice interactions with computers improve dramatically, so very natural queries and understood correctly, I think the ideal blend is still an AI system that supports human agents. Capturing every customer interaction and creating a continuously learning system can provide agents with a very powerful tool – it can prompt and guideadvisors and it keeps learning with every new interaction.

Google Home and Amazon Echo are starting to normalise how we use our voice to control computers, but until questions can be asked entirely naturally, I think there is still a strong need for humans to be supported by AI, not replaced.

What do you think of the potential of bots and AI in customer service? Leave a comment below and let me know, or get in touch on LinkedIn.


Webhelp Netherlands announces the acquisition of Telecats

Webhelp Netherlands, a leading player in the transformation of customer experiences, is pleased to announce the acquisition of Telecats, a company specialised in the deployment of voice and speech technology.
Customer experiences and business processes are changing rapidly due to the increasing use of technology. This acquisition confirms Webhelp’s growing reputation as a technology enabler and strengthens its position as the best partner for innovative customer contact solutions.

Speech technology increases quality and efficiency in customer contact
Telecats is the Dutch market leader for speech recognition in customer contact solutions. These solutions include customer identification, call steering, self service and analytics. The use of speech technology in contact centres has been proven to increase NPS and employee satisfaction, whilst reducing average handling time and repeat traffic. The Telecats systems are used by a large number of clients, including leading blue chip Dutch and European companies, and handle millions of calls each month.

Gert-Jan Morsink, CEO Webhelp Netherlands and member of the Board of Directors at Webhelp said: "We are very pleased with this acquisition and the new opportunities this presents to our clients. Our clients can expect to see us drive a new technical agenda for smart solutions with best in class technology paired with our unrivalled human touch. This allows us to further improve the customer experience whilst reducing the total cost of ownership through smart solutions.”

Wim Luimes, CCO of Telecats about the deal: “I am very enthusiastic about the possibilities for our company. The international portfolio and Webhelp’s ambitions will undoubtedly help us meet our growth ambitions. As experience innovators we could not have found a better partner and look forward to making use of our combined expertise to create a sustainable improvement in customer experience.”

Telecats’ headquarters will remain in Enschede and will facilitate the anticipated growth over the coming years. The current management and staff have maintained a significant interest in the company. The day to day operations will continue to be led by the current management; Jan Willem Mulder, Martin Spitholt and Wim Luimes.

Earlier acquisitions and partnerships
Webhelp is a leading global business process outsourcer with a portfolio focusing on service provision, solution design and technology enablement. In 2016 Webhelp acquired several companies focusing on social media strategy (Netino) and digital strategy (MyStudioFactory) showing its continued commitment to being a business process partner for its clients.


Research: More CX interactions, but they are changing

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My colleague Helen recently blogged about the release of Dimension Data’s Global CX Benchmarking Report. I’d like to add a few further thoughts on the research and as it features feedback from 1,351 companies in over 80 countries; this is one of the most thorough explorations of customer experience around at present.

Helen mentioned the disconnect between CX being a strategic priority for most executives and their failure (so far) to actually deliver a really great experience. However, the research also features some other interesting highlights:

  • CX was voted by 77% of European participants as a competitive differentiator and is the most important strategic indicator of performance
  • 77% of European research participants forecast increases in assisted-service volumes; 69% rise in fully automated digital contacts; and 59% anticipate overall interactions to grow.
  • Customers have a choice of nine channels with which to engage with organisations - now the norm in organisations. This number will rise to 10 by 2018.
  • Connected customer journey via omni-channel solutions is the top technology trend for 2017 Omni-channel solution, alongside customer analytics, was listed as the top factors to reshape CX capability in the next five years.

These are important points and worth emphasising. In particular, I would stress these observations:

  • Omni-channel: most executives know they need to get better at omni-channel service, but they are not there yet. Just look at how the research says most customers are now choosing from nine different channels - this is right now. By next year, ten will be normal. I have been saying to people for the past couple of years that customers are already familiar with half a dozen - or more channels. This is one area where executives really need to take control.
  • Increase in contact: almost two-thirds (59%) say that there are more interactions with customers now. I believe this is not because of more problems, rather there is more of a relationship developing between brands and customers - not just post-purchase calls.
  • Change in type of contact: 69% of executives say that they expect to see the more automated contact, pointing to the growth of IOT and tools such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa. As more devices are connected to the Internet, they can automatically make service calls without the involvement of the device owner. All your electronic devices, including your car, will soon be self-diagnosing and fixing problems automatically.

What is really fascinating to observe is how various technologies, such as IoT and social networks, are having a profound effect on customer experience. With the fast development of other important technologies like Virtual Reality, I’m sure this list of priorities will need to be updated soon.

What do you think about the Dimension Data research findings? Leave a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.


Just 13% of execs believe they offer a great CX

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Is your customer experience (CX) a mess? New research from Dimension Data suggests that nine out of 10 organisations are not implementing an effective digital customer experience. If this data is correct then the numbers are shocking. The importance of CX has been appreciated for many years - how come it is still so disorganised?

It’s not as if executives do not understand the problem. The research indicates that 71% of companies see CX as their primary strategic objective - even higher at 76% in the USA. But although everyone says it’s their top priority, what is really happening? Just 13% of organisations rate their CX at nine out of 10 or better and 36% of organisations don’t have a manager assigned to manage CX.

It sounds like most companies today are facing a situation where they all talk a good game, but there is little action. However, there is a clear business case for change - CX needs to be taken seriously by any company that wants to survive the current turbulent business environment.

Eighty one percent of companies believe that it is CX that differentiates them from their competition. Most digital transformation programmes are now being driven by a need to improve CX and often these transformation programmes are launched as a result of customer demand for better services.

Companies report that there are many direct business benefits from focusing on an improved CX, including:

  • Increased customer loyalty (92%)
  • An uplift in revenue (84%)
  • Cost savings (79%)

The top technology trend for CX in 2017 was reported as omni-channel projects, with improved customer analytics coming second. However, just 8% of companies reported that they have all channels connected so there is still a long way to go for most on their omni-channel journey.

It’s clear that executives are prioritising an improvement to CX, but they are mostly quite far from the service customers are demanding. The coming few years will be busy as all these CX programmes are implemented in a rush to maintain loyalty.

What do you think of these research findings? Leave a comment here or get in touch directly via LinkedIn.