We’re only human: why building remote relationships is the next challenge for retail banking

It’s something of a paradox that in this digital age, consumers now have more contact with their bank than ever before.

We’re only human: why building remote relationships is the next challenge for retail banking

According to the BBA, customers are using mobile banking apps more than 7,610 times a minute, or four billion times a year.

However, while very willing to use telephone, online and mobile services, customers increasingly expect their digital interactions to be underwritten by human contact. Nationwide’s recent marketing campaign (“technology is great but sometimes face to face is better”) reflects this need for a more real world relationship. People like to talk to other people and switch smoothly from digital channels to human interaction.

For the bank, this raises an important question. How to provide the right balance between automation and human intervention? What’s the formula for a successful remote relationship with customers in the digital age? The 2016 Youbiquity Finance research carried out by BT and Avaya suggests some answers.

Self service shortcomings

Consumers today have more choice than ever about where to buy financial services and the government is going to make it even easier for them to change their providers. So banks should be concerned that when it comes to buying banking products using self-service channels, nearly three in four consumers say they experience problems and need support to complete these transactions successfully.

The Youbiquity Finance research confirms that customers are now ready to use self service to carry out more complicated transactions, such as applying for a loan or registering a complaint. But too often they hit problems: the self service process fails and the customer has no choice but to start again, using other channels to achieve his or her objective. This does little to build customer confidence and hurts the bank financially as the customer transitions to a more costly channel (or a competitor).

Blurring the boundaries

Giving customers an experience that marries the ease of online with the warmth and support of human contact must lie in a blend of technologies including the phone, webchat and video – plus a reboot of the traditional branch.

Although volumes of contact by branch and phone are declining, customers still choose these channels when faced with complex and difficult matters. What customers would like in the branch is a more modern and welcoming experience. Indeed, 63 per cent of consumers now want bank branch employees to be equipped with mobile devices so they can provide research and guidance on the spot.

Many UK banks now offer free wi-fi for customers led by Barclays, who are showing how to blur the boundaries between offline and online. Branch staff equipped with iPads can help customers with difficult issues or show them how to use the bank’s mobile app and digital services.  And in an example from retailing, the introduction of mobile digital sales tools for store associates has brought about a 40 per cent increase in sales conversions and a 30 per cent increase in customer satisfaction for Dixons Carphone.

The phone – both fixed line and mobile – remains popular. By applying new technologies such as voice biometrics for identification and verification banks can make using the phone easier and faster for their customers, and reduce call centre costs.

Consumers are becoming much more comfortable with webchat and demand for it has doubled in the last four years. Customers say that being able to see things on the screen makes webchat more valuable than a phone call and they also appreciate having a record of the conversation. However, there is a mismatch in between expectation and experience, with 21 per cent of webchat users saying they were cut off too quickly and 30 per cent waiting too long for a response.

Video bridges the gap       

Video is definitely on the up. Watching the news, learning how to fix things, talking to friends, or just for entertainment, video continues to grow in popularity. In many cases, it’s replacing the written word. Bank customers are open to video communications – 59 per cent say a video call would be a good way to resolve disputes or complaints and 55 per cent agree that a video conversation would help them understand the advice being given.

Video can also reinforce relationships with, for example, a personalised welcome message for someone who has just opened a new account or to prevent fraudulent use of an account.  For banks, video (both real time and in message format) can help bridge the gap between the purely digital and the wholly human.

 Magnifying the bank’s human resources

UK banks are already under pressure from the Competition & Markets Authority to accelerate the delivery of digital services. In the fast approaching digital age, it will be essential for banks to build and maintain successful remote relationships with their customers. What the Youbiquity Finance research tells us is that customers are already open to a remote relationship that combines self service with easy access to a real person.

Telephone, webchat and video can all amplify the rich knowledge and hands on expertise of the bank’s employees, and allow them to share that in a personal conversation with customers wherever they may be. In this way, the bank uses lower cost channels to make the most of its high cost human resources.

Consumers clearly want to use self service for more than everyday banking. Using technologies that add real people back into the mix will give them the confidence to go online for more complex transactions, knowing that human assistance is always available. In what is set to be a highly competitive market for digital banking services, access to a real person could turn out to be a major advantage.