Blog: Are today’s banking experiences ‘human’ enough?

March 16, 2020  |  JOHN ENNIS

Getting the right balance between operational efficiency and delivering a meaningful customer experience requires a delicate approach. Often the two can effectively co-exist comfortably, and even help to accelerate one another, but have the scales tipped too far towards a blinkered view on costs alone?

As the industry continues to transform and we see new market entrants and financial service offerings from non-traditional players such as Uber, the landscape continues to become more and more competitive. Customer service is a key differentiator, and when done well, can help banks to drive positive customer acquisition and retention rates over and above the competition.

The ability to deliver a seamless experience in order to stay one step ahead is crucial, but technology alone does not make a great connected experience. What lies at the heart of effective connected journeys is — humanity. A recent reporti showed that regardless of how advanced technology gets, 81% of consumers still want to speak to a human or visit a bank branch.

With an open culture, the right internal communications and a willingness to learn from mistakes, harnessing the power of human interaction is a hugely useful way to incrementally improve and refine the customer journey at every touchpoint.

Where do you start when putting a plan in place? There are some key areas to consider when deciding how to offer services based on a human experience.

The realms of possibility

The fundamental truth is that our world is changing, taking our expectations with it. With emerging technologies and the dissolving of boundaries between industries, consumers are demanding better customer experiences – and are prepared to vote with their feet if they don’t get it.

Today, technology is shaping the way we transact – think Oyster cards, Apple Pay and contactless charity donations. And tomorrow, the Internet of Things (IoT) will be a playground of opportunity for financial services. For some forward thinking organisations, embracing these technological advancements is helping to deliver new levels of services that would not have seemed even remotely possible ten years ago.

For example, for those who have implemented Artificial Intelligence (AI) it can sometimes be difficult to tell where the AI ends and the humans begin - with some applications extending to even mimicking emotional human interactions and shared activities. Cobots – the concept of collaborative robots - are already being used to achieve the latter.

However new technology is only one ingredient in the recipe for success and there must be a line drawn between new technology used for the sake of it (which can damage reputations and customer satisfaction) and those that can clearly add value to the consumer.

New customer journeys and digital offerings should be influenced by more than just technology. They should be impacted by the human experience too. This means thinking about social factors, a psychological understanding of consumers and clients and an appreciation of customer and staff adoption of new technology. After all, customer journeys are always essentially human.

Know your customer

What values are rooted into the purpose of your organisation and how you want to deliver to your customers? Although many claim to adopt a customer first approach, in reality how many organisations unwaveringly champion the customer at every level of their business? It seems however there has never been a more important time to really put the customer at the heart of your strategy, in order to deliver what consumers want and how they want it.

Most financial service providers have huge amounts of data available to facilitate getting to know customers better, and indeed the challenge often lies in making sense of where to begin rationalising vast quantities of information. But ultimately data only plays one part of the story. AI, robots and analytics are hugely valuable tools but they lack one thing; the ability to be human, and therefore understand customer experience at a meaningful level across every channel.

For example, customer service personnel and branch staff can help financial service providers to develop a genuine perception of how well their commerce strategies are working (or not) and identify areas for improvement.

Investing in technology alone is simply not enough. Effectively embracing innovation is only possible when it is underpinned by investing in people, and therefore the ability to deliver the ‘so what’ factor for your brand.

Pinpoint personalization

Some financial service providers might feel that true personalization is a far off reality but it doesn’t have to be and it is important for today’s customers. With personalization driving loyalty in 18 out of 20 international markets according to a recent surveyii, can you really afford not to tailor customer journeys and experiences?

A recent study showed that 90% of consumers are attracted by the appeal of a personalized serviceiii which demonstrates the value a tailored approach could potentially add to CX and net promotor scores. Another report found that 67% of respondents cited personalization as the most important or a very important factor when deepening their relationship with their bankiv.

When combining the power of data with a personalized human interaction, the opportunity to capture new revenue and business opportunities is extremely powerful. For example, an in-branch customer service representative armed with AI-driven customer data on a tablet advice can deliver the ultimate end-user experience; a personal interaction powered by the efficiency and insights delivered by new technologies.

Banking on a human touch

With the rise of branchless banking and digital first options, there’s no doubt that the role of people within the banking sector is changing. But this doesn’t always mean losing the personal touch, with successful banks such as First Direct demonstrating that when delivered correctly, direct banking can deliver high levels of customer service and satisfaction.

Many of us however still value a face-to-face conversation, particularly when considering more significant financial transactions, with in-branch channels remaining the most popular choice when considering and purchasing new productsv.

The rate of branch transformation varies by financial service providers, but there appears to be a general recognition of the importance of redefining the branch experience to meet the shift in how consumers want to engage with their banks. From work cafés to pop-up branches in high footfall locations such as shopping centres, branches are becoming ‘experience hubs’ where consumers can embrace the power of digital and personal interactions in convenient and future-focused formats.

The danger of a commodity industry

There is one significant danger of not delivering a personalised service in banking and that is financial service offerings could simply become a commodity. Delivering quick and convenient services to consumers is essential in order to remain competitive, but standardising services too much could really dissolve that added value the industry can offer.

Financial service providers need to avoid become faceless providers of services and deliver humanised experiences which offer differentiated journeys. By offering these more meaningful connections to customers, not only will brand loyalty and customer satisfaction be likely to improve, but one key element of banking can be retained – trust.

Technology is clearly changing how, where and when customers interact with banks. To keep up with rising expectations, financial service providers must focus on re-evaluating end-to-end distribution capabilities to deliver the right product, through the right channel at the right time – seamlessly and consistently through the right mixture of technology, and crucially, people.


First appeared in Financial IT – Innovations in Fintech

i A Bank to the Future 2019, CYBG
ii Global Customer Experience Excellence Report 2019, KPMG 2019
iii Epsilon, 2018
iv BCG, 2018
v The Banking Human Experience, Accenture 2018

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