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From an industry that’s seeing some of its most satisfying service statistics ever, as well as some of the least, making an investment in consistently satisfying service and information delivery will be key to the banking industry, and a differentiator for leading institutions, going into 2015.

In 2014, customer satisfaction with banks was all over the place, from being called out by Money magazine as “one of three industries that desperately need customer service makeovers” to showing record-high satisfaction scores in a J.D. Power survey.

There is obviously a growing divide between the leaders and the laggards in this industry (with three major institutions making the top 10 of the 24/7 Wall Street Customer Service Hall of Shame), but one thing is clear: customers want consistency, convenience and cross-channel communication when it comes to answers and information. And if they don’t get it, they may take their money elsewhere.

The Customers’ Two Cents

In a J.D. Power U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction study which polled 80,000+ consumers, the top reason for switching banks in 2014 was poor customer service. This was mirrored on a global scale in the  2014 Ernst & Young (EY) Global Consumer Banking Survey which polled more than 32,000 retail banking customers across 43 countries.

The J.D. Power study showed that many banks, particularly mid-size institutions, are missing the mark with certain segments of customers, including millennials, who want online and mobile problem resolution, as well as their most affluent customers who are looking for more personalized service and information based on their specific needs.

Said Jim Miller, director of banking services at J.D. Power in a recent press release, “If midsize banks don’t change their focus to adjust to demographic shifts, they are extremely vulnerable and risk losing market share to competitors and becoming irrelevant.”

On the Money Best Practices

Particularly with millennials, banks must adjust and adapt to customers who are increasingly empowered by personal and more personalized technology, much as the industry did with automated technology such as ATMs in the 80s, online banking in the 90s and 2000s, and now mobile, social and an evolving array of new channels and devices.

No matter what size the institution, the customer’s account, or their level of tech-savviness, a basic investment five best service practices you can increase across-the-board customer satisfaction:

  1. Empower Employees with Knowledge: Whether a customer calls, emails or tweets, according to the American Express 2014 Global Customer Service Barometer, 86% of surveyed consumers say excellent customer service is provided when the customer service representative (CSR) provides the right answer to the customer’s question. CSRs who deliver first contact resolution are heroes for both their organizations and the customer, and this is powered by having access to the right knowledge to deliver to the customer at the time, and on the channel, of their convenience.
  2. Make Self-Service Useful and Convenient: According to the global EY consumer banking survey above, the most important information source used by customers and potential ones is a bank’s website. An investment in self-service knowledge management, and knowledge organization and searchability, is key. In addition, the same self-service information found on a bank’s website should extend to additional channels including mobile and social media. And while self-service should always be an online cornerstone, it should never be the only option for connected customers. Pair your self-service offering with an assisted service option such as live chat, support ticketing or email.
  3. Know Thy Customer: Customer service representatives should be empowered with a view of key customer data, as well as recent feedback and support histories. This is not just so customers don’t have to repeat their information or their support issue (which is a key frustration), but to better and more personally connect with individual customers regarding their products and services, as well as their brand sentiment and brand loyalty. For instance, I recently opened an individual account with a credit union that I’ve also held a joint account with for a very long time. Yet each time I interact with them, they introduce me to the bank and explain new customer options, until I let them know that I’ve actually been their customer for more than 20 years.
  4. Offer Multichannel Support: Customer service channels aren’t changing; there are just a whole lot more of them these days. Customers want to be able to engage with brands on the channel of their choice, or the one that’s convenience at that time, whether that’s phone, email, support ticket, live chat or social media. Yet, increasingly important is the mobile service offering. Think about every major service or communication channel your customer uses. They’re all now in your customers’ hands 24 hours, seven days a week via smartphone. Make sure at very least your website or customer support portal is mobile responsive.
  5. Listen and Learn: While it is each institution’s role to give help to its customers, banks can also get help from customers in the form of feedback and engagement via tools and channels such as surveys and social media. From improvements to self-service knowledge to product enhancements, listen to your customers, learn what they want, or need, and then act on this advice to improve.”

As banks and credit unions compete for customers’ accounts and the additional products and services that go with including credit cards, home loans, car loans and more, they’ll increasingly be courting customers who have access to more channels and information than the average customer service agent.  To build interest and brand loyalty, banks will need to invest in a customer service experience that reduces effort, while making the customer feel uniquely valued through personalization and attention to feedback. Start with the basics, then branch out from there.

 For more information on what customers want and expect in terms of service, download the 2014 State of Multichannel Customer Service Report.

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