How digital customer support can help banks during COVID-19 and beyond

Terry Cordeiro
5min read

Months after the UK entered a coronavirus-induced lockdown and financial services firms are struggling to service their customers. Building a digital first approach now can alleviate immediate issues and set firms up for sustained customer success.

Industry body the Customer Contact Association (CCA Global) reports it has received “a significant surge in enquiries” from companies seeking to implement better home working and alternative operating solutions.

The banking sector is no exception. As individual institutions slowly attempt to distribute small business loans, customer support efforts are facing similar pressures, albeit from different sources.

Even as banks limit support activities, they’re facing down extraordinary call volumes. Many customers need the kind of direct, intuitive help that FAQs can’t provide, which makes calling the path of least resistance. Hence the influx in calls. With fewer staff to service calls, longer waiting times are already leading to increased customer frustration.

Throughout all of this, I keep thinking of something Simon Taylor said a few weeks ago: “Digital has moved from a nice-to-have cost reducer or growth engine to the only way to do business”.

The fact is, digital customer support has gone from an advantage to a necessity during the coronavirus pandemic. It will only become more important once we finally emerge from the crisis.

And what of the impact that social distancing and ‘back to work’ measures will have on workers?

Is it possible for the future of the contact centre to be remote?

While plenty of incumbent banks are using intelligent voice routing...this is mainly a triaging service to reduce the number of hand-offs from agent to agent

For those using cloud based services it should be easier for agents to work from home. But many incumbent banks and insurance companies have not yet made this transition and are amongst those hardest hit. Opening up remote access to ‘internal systems’ is also central to enabling agents to work remotely.

How digital can drive support efforts

There are a number of options to handle the volume of customer contact while still offering high levels of customer service.

While plenty of incumbent banks are using intelligent voice routing to direct customers’ calls based on specific prompts, this is mainly a triaging service to reduce the number of hand-offs from agent to agent. However, it can result in longer wait times if customers are waiting to speak with a fraud or mortgage specialist for example.

Voice to Chat is one way of offering customers the option to move to a mobile chat interface, where they can interact with a live agent asynchronously instead of waiting on the phone. Customers can call in as normal and then choose an option to be diverted to chat instead. This helps balance out voice and chat queues and also introduces customers to a chat service that they may well use again in the future.

As previously discussed here messaging from inside a mobile app or website is well suited to supporting customers during the pandemic. Messaging enables agents to be more efficient, handling multiple queries at a time.

Chatbots can be put in front of messaging systems and will help to chip away at any queries that are standard, repetitive or non-personal allowing optimal use of live agents.

digital customer support has gone from an advantage to a necessity during the coronavirus pandemic.

TSB has recently launched Smart Agent which has already answered thousands of customer requests using a combination of a chatbot and messaging with agents, many of whom work from home.

Topics covered include how to apply for a repayment holiday on mortgages, personal loans and business loans. Before introducing the chat function, these requests would typically have led to a call being made to the Bank’s contact centres or a visit to the branch.

Nationwide recently announced it trained its virtual assistant Arti to handle common COVID-19 mortgage holiday queries, getting the new service live in four days. It is currently responding to approximately 350 queries per day.

It also offers new opportunities for customer services agents.

HSBC has openly discussed the new opportunities for its more than 19k agents as part of its Conversational Banking initiative with new roles including Conversation Designer and Chatbot Manager in both onshore and offshore contact centre teams. The bank expects messaging to account for more than 50% of contact centre interactions by the end of 2023.

Continual process improvement

Over time these services can be continuously improved. Implementing chatbots requires a big investment in people but the potential rewards are also big. Whilst the technology is proven, retraining staff to be able to analyse and re-design conversation requires a very different operating model.

Queries requiring customer authentication can be handled via existing security protocols such as OAuth2. Machine Learning can be used to analyse customer sentiment and improve the scope of queries that the chabot can handle. Furthermore, integration with API services means chatbots can also resolve basic ‘transactional’ queries without the direct involvement of an agent.

Now is the time to change.