Martin Brown, CCO at customer service outsourcer and consultancy, FM Outsource, explores how strong customer service can support brand during economic downturns.
In the face of high inflation and interest rates, customer relationships with financial services providers are evolving. Sadly, people are increasingly grappling with money worries and are looking for advice, relief options, and reassurance. Customer service must be handled sensitively and efficiently, and it has become a critical business function to ensure customers feel adequately supported. After all, customer loyalty and business reputation are almost entirely underpinned by customer satisfaction.
Now more than ever, customers are seeking easy avenues of communication with their financial service providers. Banks, lenders, and investment providers have a responsibility to provide quick, solutions-focused customer service. And research suggests the stakes are high; Salesforce found that a quarter (25%) of customers have switched banks, 35% changed insurance providers, and 34% have moved wealth managers in the last year alone.
Building customer confidence
A customer’s confidence in their financial services provider is always paramount, but even more so during a period of economic instability. Easy and convenient methods of contact are non-negotiable. Long wait times, scripted interactions, and a lack of proactive support can lead to customer frustration and potentially drive them to switch providers.
However, retaining customers during the cost-of-living crisis doesn’t rely solely on speed and efficiency. Compassion is also a critical component of effective crisis customer support. The financial institutions that stand out are those that keep the customer at the heart of everything they do, from offering personalised guidance and flexible payment structures depending on the finances of the customer, to fostering transparent, trusting relationships. These considerations are fundamental in earning and maintaining customer loyalty for the long term.
For financial service providers, the path ahead should involve a strategic approach to customer service. Beyond the immediate response to crises, companies must invest in building a customer-centric framework that ensures consistent, high-quality support. The following steps offer a roadmap for financial services providers seeking to enhance their service strategies.
Invest in the right technology and infrastructure
In an age where convenience is critical, financial service providers must invest in the technology and infrastructure that facilitate easy and efficient customer interactions. For some communications, the use of automated chatbots may be appropriate, providing swift and effective resolutions to problems or queries. For simple questions, chatbots can help to cut down call queues and free up the customer service team to focus on more sensitive issues.
However, it is important to consider both the implementation strategy and the technology itself carefully, before embedding it into the business’ operations. It can be helpful to work with an outsourced team which can assist by providing a chatbot or helping businesses to create their own. Having technology tailored to the company and sector means it can be catered to customer needs.
Additionally, maintaining a human touch is vital. There are some aspects of care that technology simply cannot yet provide, including handling sensitive questions about personal finances which require respect and empathy. Companies should maintain a balance between bots and human operatives to ensure they provide the right service to the right customer.
Financial services require versatility when it comes to customer contact. Customers have unique financial circumstances and needs, meaning customer service should adapt to resolve individual enquiries. Leveraging feedback and data, such as insight into customers’ budget management capabilities, is a helpful way for businesses to better understand the requirements of their client base. When equipped with this intel, customer service representatives can customise their approach, guidance, and products to ensure they match the individual’s requirements.
Ensure accessibility is maximised
Clarity and transparency are imperative to creating customer trust in communications. All contact channels should explain policies in simple, accessible language to avoid any additional customer frustration or the risk of misinterpretation.
Multi-lingual services are also key to promoting inclusion; failing to offer this basic yet critical service can isolate a significant proportion of their customer base. In fact, almost 10% of the population in England and Wales don’t speak English as their main language, cannot speak English well, or cannot speak it at all.
Catering for people with accessibility needs is equally as important. All online self-service portals and websites must align with regulatory standards and undergo regular user testing to ensure full compliance. Essential accessibility features include adjustable fonts, transcripts, captions, braille functionality, and video interpretation.
Invest in employee training
Customer service representatives are on the frontline of delivering these services. Investing in comprehensive training programmes ensures agents feel equipped with the skills to engage in empathetic dialogue and active listening, as well as provide customer assistance that is tailored to individual needs.
Implementing mechanisms for continuous feedback, such as call monitoring, enables team leaders to gather insight and refine their training strategies. Role-playing exercises can be helpful when tackling sensitive issues, too. ‘Experiencing’ real-life situations enables representatives to rehearse how to handle sensitive questions in a controlled environment. Also, representatives need to prepare for challenging conversations with customers about their financial circumstances, understanding the protocols for escalating urgent matters and the resources available to help customers.
Committing to providing high-quality customer service
In times of economic uncertainty, exceptional customer service becomes a strategic differentiator for financial service providers. By prioritising personalisation, efficiency, and accessibility, companies can build trust, foster customer loyalty, and navigate the period with resilience. These tactics can not only support a crisis solution but as a long-term commitment to build enduring relationships with customers.