Martin Brown, chief commercial officer at FM Outsource, a customer service outsourcer and consultancy
As inflation remains high and interest rates continue to put pressure on household budgets, customers are changing how they interact with financial services providers. People increasingly need access to advice, relief options and reassurance, which all need to be handled sensitively and efficiently.
In the current economic climate, a company’s customer service can prove a silver bullet for customer loyalty. People have high expectations, and they need to be met.
Long wait times, scripted conversations, and a lack of transparency can leave customers frustrated and considering abandoning the service. According to research from Salesforce, 25% of customers have switched banks in the past year, 35% changed insurance providers, and 34% changed wealth managers.
Easy, convenient access
To reduce call queues and demand on the customer service team, introducing self-service options enables customers to help themselves. This includes making FAQ pages and regularly updated affordability guidance easily available.
Chatbots should also be used, to some extent. Personal finances are a private and often sensitive subject for many people. This makes using chatbots for all aspects of customer support inappropriate.
For basic support queries, including billing questions, automated chats can provide the necessary guidance, particularly outside of working hours. However, the option to speak to a customer service representative is always needed if the chatbot can’t provide the level of detail required.
Being transparent and flexible
With finances, it is not one size fits all, so customer service should be no different. Companies should be using customer data and feedback to better understand their individual needs.
In the case of banks, this could include understanding their debt management or budgeting abilities. Once the team has established the support a customer may need, they can share the most appropriate guidance. That might be helping them to find the right financial products, sharing information booklets, or even signposting them to charities or not-for-profits that could help with their circumstances.
Transparency is also important in any communication with financial services providers. Providing simple, jargon-free communications can prevent additional stress and frustration for customers.
Offering multi-lingual service is another aspect of this. Given that almost 10% of the population in England and Wales don’t speak English as their main language, cannot speak English well, or cannot speak English at all, failing to offer the service instantly isolates a significant proportion of the population.
Similarly, all websites, customer portals and self-service customer service options should be fully compliant with regulatory standards and user-tested regularly to ensure they are appropriate for people with accessibility needs. Ensuring features like captions, transcripts, adjustable font sizes, braille where possible, and video interpretive services are available means all customers can access the same high-quality support.
The role of the customer service representative
Customer service representatives play a key role in offering a more personalised and transparent approach. Training them to engage with customers better, gauge their circumstances and make tailored recommendations, is important to build up their confidence in complex situations.
The lasting benefits of customer-centric service
While excellent customer service has always mattered, in today’s economic climate, it has become increasingly critical to client retention and long-term customer satisfaction. Companies that offer compassionate support and flexibility through the crisis will reap the future benefits of loyal and profitable customer relationships.
Strengthening capabilities for self-service access, personalising guidance, and advancing team training is an investment for businesses. However, gaining customer trust is what sets financial firms apart.
In difficult times, people remember which companies support them, and perhaps more importantly, those that failed them. By approaching every interaction with empathy, offering helpful information and being flexible to the customer’s needs, financial services companies can feel confident that they are adequately supporting their customers through a challenging period.
Image: FM Outsource