Does your bank care about you?

Are banks' digital offerings effectively filling the void left on the highstreet?

Does your bank care about you?

According to the National Federation of Small Businesses, the number of high-street bank branches in the UK has halved to just over 8,000 in the past 25 years and is set to halve again in the next decade. Whilst banks are of course busy investing more in their digital services and providing customers with remote support over the phone or online, the critical question is whether this is effectively filling the void left on the high street?

Getting customer service right really does matter as a part of any omni-channel banking strategy. According to a study by Gartner, 89 per cent of companies will compete mainly on the customer experience they provide. For banks, the introduction of a scheme designed to help customers switch current account providers by removing penalty charges in the wake of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has upped the ante further. Consumers can now switch more easily and they are doing exactly that – current account switching increased by 19 per cent one year after this new scheme was introduced, with over a million customers moving.

So, the motivation for your bank to offer the best possible service is clear. Consulting firm Protiviti recently published their 2016 Consumer Banking Survey, which reveals that the majority of banking customers – 93 per cent – believe their banks are at least meeting expectations. However, just one in three consumers (36 per cent) collectively rates all of the financial institutions they deal with as exceeding their expectations, and that figure remains less than half (47 per cent) for a customer’s everyday bank. In addition, the higher a customer’s income level, the greater the likelihood that the customer has been disappointed or frustrated by a financial services company.

The challenge for banks when dealing with customer service issues is that the strongest opinions are generally formed when things go wrong. So the ability to effectively address consumer complaints and challenges is where a bank’s reputation amongst their customers can be built or, just as quickly, destroyed.

One of the biggest challenges facing banks at present is protecting their customer’s data from hackers and data leaks, and dealing effectively with the fallout when these situations do arise. In an age of 24/7 information flow, consumers expect that, if and when things go wrong, their bank will be available to remedy the situation immediately. The days of manual phone management and scripted responses have, for the most part, been disbanded, replaced by cutting edge technology and bespoke information tailored for each customer.

But, while the explosion in chatbots, real-time management tools, and social media monitoring has all but turned the industry on its head, consumers still want to know that their money is safe and secure and that the specific problem has been resolved.

Over the past decade, self-service online and mobile options have enhanced the customer experience by making it easier for consumers to interact with their everyday bank. However, it is often the human touch as a key part of omni-channel banking that helps a bank stand out from the crowd. For example First Direct, the internet and telephone banking offshoot of HSBC, regularly comes top of customer service rankings. Their customer-centric approach was highlighted when the bank spontaneously sent one of their customers a bouquet of flowers following a bereavement in their family.

As the industry adopts new technologies, which can in their own way support an excellent customer experience, we all need to remember we are dealing with real people, with real emotions. Sometimes, nothing beats the personal touch and feeling like someone is looking after us. As high street branches disappear, banks must work out how to replicate that personalised customer service experience in a technology-dominated world.