Businesses have faced a challenge unlike any other in the last year and, only on rare or limited occasions, they have been handed some kind of respite. As a result, the new roadmap for the easing of lockdown restrictions will be most welcome. However, this must not lull businesses into a false feeling of security. They must still serve their clients in difficult circumstances for a while yet.
One rare area of opportunity that has arisen for businesses during the pandemic is in the customer experience. Across the private sector, SAS research discovered that the number of digital users has grown by 10 per cent since the pandemic begun, with 58 per cent of those intending to continue usage continuing to move forward. For businesses, this represents another clientele of digital converts with whom they are able to engage and offer a more personalised customer experience. The possibility benefits of this are clear. The research found that almost three-fifths (59 percent) of customers would pay more to purchase and/or use products and services from companies that had provided them with a great customer experience during COVID-19.
Many businesses have been taking advantage of this opportunity already. Actually, across the private sector, a quarter of customers noted an improvement in customer experience over lockdown. But of concern for the financial services industry, 12 percent of customers claimed their customer experience had diminished during the same period. This is more than the average for the private sector in general. So, the question must be: Why comes with an industry seemingly well-prepared to weather the economic crisis, struggled to serve its customers during the pandemic?
An imperfect digital experience
As demonstrated by the sheer number of customers using their digital services and apps, the banking industry hasn't struggled to obtain its customers to go digital. However, it's clearly struggled to support all its customers during the pandemic.
While more customers noted a noticable difference in the customer experience over lockdown (27 percent), 12 per cent still felt it had got worse. Branch closures and lengthy call waiting times to speak to an advisor by telephone won't have helped. Within this age of digital transformation, customers were unable to access immediate support or advice through digital channels and were forced to pick up the phone or fill out paperwork to complete an action. Many businesses trying to get bounce back loans found themselves in error-riddled, drawn-out processes, often waiting weeks with no status update. Whilst customers wanting suggestions about payment holidays found their bank's digital communication channels offered no support at all.
Taking the extra step
Since the scheme was introduced there has been over 1.9 million mortgage payment holidays granted in the UK and, with strict lockdown measures still in place , this number could rise even further.
The problem for banks and customers alike is the fact that much of the middle and back-office decision-making process is manual, for example determining a customer's eligibility. Automating these decisions would enable banks to provide support and decisions in real-time to customer applications across their websites and mobile apps, eliminating manual back-end processing tasks and lowering the need for phone calls, paperwork or in-branch communication.
What's more, automated decisioning does not require a complete overhaul of legacy infrastructure. Cloud-based intelligent decisioning applications allow banks to rapidly deploy solutions that may analyse customer data and behaviours 'in the moment', so they can determine customer intent and requires and arbitrate next best actions across digital channels with no need to rip and replace the current architecture.
While there is light at the end of the tunnel regarding lockdown restrictions, there are some things which will not change. There will, of course, be customers who flock to banks to do their business in-branch. However, as illustrated through the number of new digital users and those planning to remain online, many purchasers will have found a new level of convenience in online banking that they're not willing to give up.
It will therefore be key for banks to support their customers online for the long-term, rather than just the next few months. While the building blocks are already in place for banks to supply these seamless experiences, they're still struggling to support their entire customer base. Banks must therefore undertake the 'last mile' of digital transformation – automating repetitive processes and taking advantage of advanced analytics to support the entire customer journey – if they are to supply the online experiences which warrant repeated business along with a customer's loyalty.