Aug 01 2016

Finance in Flux: The Evolution of Communication Channels

From ATMs to smartphones, the emergence of digital communication channels has changed the relationship between financial institutions and their customers.

From the emergence of ATMs in the 1980s to the rise of online banking and mobile apps decades later, banking and retail finance have evolved by leaps and bounds. Customers today are more likely to log in to accounts from a web browser or conduct a transaction on their smartphones than they are to meet with a branch teller. The days of passbooks and deposit slips are long gone, and the relationships that customers have with their financial providers have changed dramatically.

The expectations of customers have shifted — especially those of millennials — based on how their interactions have changed with other service providers and retailers such as Amazon. Customers now interact over a diverse range of communication channels and media: ATM, telephone, web browser, mobile app, text message, web chat, video call — even Facebook and Twitter. Orchestrating these channels into a coherent whole poses both opportunity and risk for financial firms that are adjusting to a world where customer loyalty is no longer tethered to the nearest branch office.

Case in point: For the first time, the annual Accenture survey of North American banking habits in 2015 rated the quality of online banking services as the top reason to stay with a bank, ahead of both branch location and low fees.

The message is clear: Retail financial firms must think strategically about technology and its role in customer interaction and enablement, or risk losing customers to competitors who will. The following are the core channels that financial firms should focus on.

Customer Engagement Centers

Traditional call centers are maturing into multimodal customer engagement centers (CECs) that support phone, web chat, email and mobile text communications under a single roof. Enabled by customer relationship management (CRM) software and sophisticated tracking and analytics, CECs provide a host of benefits. Asynchronous, text-based chat and email engagements lift utilization rates by allowing agents to work with multiple customers at once, resulting in shorter upfront wait times, higher problem resolution rates and reduced cost per contact.

The physical makeup of CECs is changing too. Cloud and hybrid services-based customer engagement solutions, such as those from Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce, allow companies to mix and match permanent CEC staff with agents who work from remote locations. Strong encryption secures the virtualized, contact center client application environment, while Voice over IP telephony eliminates the need for dedicated phone lines at agent locations.

Mobile Apps

According to Juniper Research, the number of mobile banking users exceeded 1 billion in 2015, up from 800 million the year before. To tap this growing market, banks must:

  • Develop robust and intuitive mobile apps that minimize support calls and customer channel failover, which can damage user satisfaction
  • Budget for robust back-end integration to ensure that all channels leverage the same resources and processes, verifying consistent behavior across ATMs, web browsers, mobile devices and other channels
  • Make consistent user experience a core goal to heighten user satisfaction and build brand awareness
  • Emphasize security throughout the software design lifecycle to protect customer transactions and data

Video Conferencing

In an era when mobile, web and ATM transactions have drastically cut down on face-to-face interaction, financial firms look to video conferencing to connect with customers and deliver expert advice and guidance. A KPMG survey in 2015 found that 56 percent of North Americans were interested in video chat with bank representatives.

Video-enabled ATMs let customers initiate calls with remote agents to help navigate transactions. Branch offices can provide telepresence for financial experts to meet with customers. And video chat makes it possible for customers to meet face to face on their smartphones with remote tellers to streamline transactions. These activities can help stem a troubling trend, where customers increasingly view their banking relationships as transactional, rather than advice- or relationship-driven.

These scenarios are enabled by mature and flexible video conferencing platforms that run the gamut from room-based conference systems to smartphone apps. Cloud-savvy providers such as Blue Jeans Network have shifted the video infrastructure of multipoint control units and switches from internal networks to managed data centers, eliminating complexity and reducing the burden on IT staff.

Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media channels are useful tools that enable conversations between financial institutions and their customers. In 2014, according to a Gallup survey, 15 percent of users contacted their bank via Twitter, and 19 percent did so via Facebook. Company updates, special programs, community outreach and charitable activities are just a few of the things companies can promote using these low-cost services.

Social media has also emerged as a source of market intelligence. Through monitoring and analytics, organizations can sift through social media traffic to detect trends, assess the impact of marketing programs, spot nascent product complaints and perform a host of other tasks.

Learn more by downloading the white paper, "Channel Crossing: Competing in Finance in the Digital Age."