Bank Customer Satisfaction Improves – But You Can’t Afford to Shift Focus Yet

“I’m not dead yet,” cries the old man in the classic movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” as the undertakers try to throw the protesting pauper on their cart of cadavers.

Similarly, it is tempting to stop focusing on fundamental customer service practices as recent reports highlight improvements in customer satisfaction in the financial sector. After all, the data show that consumers are generally more satisfied with their banks; and customer service perceptions have improved. But dig deeper and you’ll soon see that fundamental customer service is still relevant. The need to focus on customer service is not dead yet.

Let’s start with the good news: Capgemini’s 2016 World Retail Banking Report found that retail banks improved their position 2.9 points on their Customer Experience Index. The finding represents an improvement over last year’s report, which indicated customer experience had stalled.

More positive news: The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures public faith in traditional institutions like business, government and media, found that the financial services industry is trending up in public trust, reaching 51% this year, an 8-point increase over the last five years and the biggest increase in the verticals tracked. The improvement is not insignificant – trust matters. Nearly 60% of the public, according to Edelman, will recommend a business to a friend if trust is established.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2016 Retail Banking Satisfaction Study also has good news, particularly for big banks, with satisfaction with the larger financial institutions registering their 6th consecutive year of improvement.

Welcome developments all. But here comes the devil, hiding in the details.

The picture is not quite so rosy when looking at younger consumers and the non-big banks.

The 2016 World Retail Banking Report shows that younger customers register lower levels of customer experience: “Gen Y (millennials) customers score lower on the Customer Experience Index than Gen X customers, who in turn scored lower than other age groups.”

And while big banks get positive marks in the JD Power 2016 report, the findings don’t give the rest of the industry much to smile about: “Midsized banks have declined, and regional banks have plateaued.” The decline for midsize banks is the first drop since 2010.

And that increase in trust that Edelman reported? It’s good news – but the financial service industry – -at 51% in public trust — still lags behind many other sectors, including technology (74%), food and beverage (64%), consumer packaged goods (62%) and others. Is it really time to celebrate if barely only half the public say they trust you?

What’s to be done?

There’s a hint for the entire financial sector in looking at why the big banks are doing better. According to JD Power, the rise in satisfaction scores for the 6th consecutive year for big banks was “driven by a combination of improved digital offerings and more engaged personal interactions” (Emphasis added).

This is where contact centers (voice, digital and email) offer a unique opportunity to create better engaged personal interactions and thus improve both satisfaction and trust levels for banks.

Call centers have two primary advantages in this mission: First, nearly everyone uses them. The contact center is the most accessed service channel, by baby boomers (76%) and millennials (56%). Secondly, they provide real human interaction that can’t be replaced (unless the customer walks into a branch). According to a 2015 Consumer Reports study, the single biggest driver of dissatisfaction with customer service is the difficulty callers have getting to talk to a human being when they want to (75% of consumers reporting this was their number one issue). While self-service solutions are clearly part of the customer service suite of solutions, people still want to talk to people, particularly when they are experiencing a problem.

This puts the contact center in the unique position of being able to drive customer satisfaction and a seamless experience. The first step into a better world of customer satisfaction is solving problems. And that could be an opportunity being lost. According to the Consumer Reports study, nearly 90% of Americans have contacted customer service in the past year; many of those became so angry that they hung up the phone while talking to a customer service representative. The most annoyed were those under age 45, consistent with Capgemini’s finding that younger cohorts are the least satisfied.

Problems aren’t getting resolved. Contact centers can fix this, by focusing on fundamental aspects of service. Here are the top three:

  • Empower customer service representatives to find solutions instead of focusing on policy limitations.
  • Empathize, instead of lecture – no one wants to hear what they should have done, or should have known, about a problem they are experiencing. Empathy and caring (along with action, see above) can defuse the situation.
  • Focus on being helpful not on being “right.” Call center agents hear it all and get a lot of emotion hurled at them. It’s human nature to want to push back and “prove” that they (or the institution they represent) are “right.” Agents have to be able to overcome these impulses. Hiring the right personalities and giving them the right training and support can help manage around this trap.

Being able to resolve problems quickly and with empathy are the first steps. The next one is to make the customer experience easy, resulting in dividends of goodwill for the bank that can achieve it. Oracle published a case study in 2015 reporting that “effortlessness” is a key component of the customer experience. “The combination of first contact resolution with low effort creates a superior customer experience that increases customer loyalty by 36%!”

Contact centers can play a crucial role in helping understand and define what a truly seamless experience means to customers. Every interaction a customer service agent has with a customer can provide some level of input to this understanding. The task for the contact center is to identify what information is needed and how to holistically capture it during the call, email exchange or chat encounter.

Contact center agents are in a prime position to take action on Voice of Customer and can be armed with customer insights, guiding principles and brand affinity that help them ensure that the customer feels valued and cared for.

One advantage that voice customer service reps have over other forms of customer contact in the age of the omnichannel is the ability to connect and empathize with customers. Such a rapport can help banks communicate that -the customer’s well-being is a priority.

As noted earlier, younger consumers are more likely than their older counterparts to feel dissatisfied. One driver of that dissatisfaction may be lack of quality customer service and rapport. Gallup’s research into millennial banking customers found that they report the most problems of any age group and they are the generation least likely to have their problems resolved. No surprise, then, that millennials are the age group most likely to feel that the bank does not have their best interests at heart.

In an age of rapid change and the transition of baby boomer centered marketing to millennial, it’s important to remember – even as overall customer satisfaction scores have improved — that the role of fundamentally sound customer service and experience are not “dead.” They are still very much alive and without them, no financial institution can hope to find the holy grail of the satisfied, loyal customer.