“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”

This proverb sums up the challenges facing traditional banks in the digital economy. As digitally native customers change their expectations of what their bank should provide, banks need to respond across the breadth of their business model. A narrow but very interesting aspect of that transformation is how banks should adjust their contact center strategies to protect and enhance customer relationships in a digital world.

According to Accenture research, 20 percent of bank customers are digital-only users and nearly 60 percent of monthly transactions are now online or through a mobile device. This pivot to digital could be seen as relegating contact centers to a channel of last resort (and Accenture clients have seen a spike in contact center calls related to digital problems like password resets). But rather than letting contact centers run aground and become a low-investment legacy channel, banks need to trim the sails, tack into the digital wind and rethink how to maximize the value of contact centers in their sales and service mix.

As more transactions move to digital channels, the option of having a live human available to either resolve issues, or provide advice, increases in value. While we are seeing rapid advances in the ability of digital channels to handle complex requests, there are still many interactions (both sales and service) that are complex enough or unusual enough to require a customized solution. When we think of contact centers we think of live phone conversations, but in the digital world these live interactions could also be on social media, video chat or messaging apps.

What is distinctive in a reimagined contact center is not the communication channel, but that the interaction is with a real person, not a machine. That means the interaction can have distinctly human characteristics like humor and empathy. In a world of primarily digital relationships, there will be far fewer live interactions with customers. But when they happen, the stakes will be higher on both sides and any live interaction for banks is an opportunity to bring their brand to life and truly differentiate their service offering.

This type of multi-channel remote relationship-management model with highly skilled, empathetic brand ambassadors is a long way from where most contact centers are at the moment.

Customers have gotten accustomed to difficult-to-navigate menus that actively keep them away from a human and often poor interactions when they eventually navigate to the right menu (or when they just keep stabbing * or # until the IVR surrenders). But most banks have the people, base infrastructure and enabling technologies to make this transition work. Smart technology can bring up the right information and manage the process flows to give advisors a comprehensive view of the customer. Intelligent machines can also give advisors personalized insights that will help them deliver relevant, tailored services. But ultimately the differentiation in this new contact center world will come from the skills, knowledge and attitude of the people who staff them. They will need to be analytical problem solvers who also have the exemplary soft skills required for sales and problem resolution.

Many banks are focused on how to reduce the size of their branch networks to reflect the migration of transactions to digital channels. But as they close physical locations, they also need to recognize that contact centers provide a cost-effective alternative that isn’t purely digital and allows their brand to come alive in fun and surprising ways. By adjusting the sails of contact centers to become multi-channel relationship hubs, banks have an opportunity to both protect and enhance customer relationships while also providing the efficiency and revenue boost that many of them so desperately need.
I invite you to read more in our latest report on the digital banking relationship center of the future: Yesterday’s customer service agent…tomorrow’s empathetic advisor.

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