As I touched on in previous posts, banks operating in today’s financial ecosystem are being forced to reconcile traditional models of customer service with customers’ expectations of digitized experiences. It is no longer enough to simply have products and services to offer—banks today understand the need to perceive and respond to both the emotional and financial requirements of customers at an individual level. This is the foundation of empathetic banking, a much more human-centric model that knows what customers require throughout their banking journey.  

At Accenture, we’ve helped many leading banks leverage intelligent technologies and platforms to gain behavioral insights—and through this work, we’ve identified key factors that support empathetic banking. This can help transform how a bank understands, interacts with, and serves its customers.  

Additionally, the 2021 edition of our regular Global Banking Consumer Study examined how consumers’ behavior and preferences changed during the pandemic. It showed a significant shift to digital channels, with 50% of consumers now interacting with their bank through mobile apps or websites at least once a week, up from 32% two years ago. However, while this rush toward digital is a great opportunity for banks, it’s also depriving customers of the traditional human touch.  

So what can banks do to leverage the opportunities presented by digital while also meeting customer expectations through a more empathetic lens? We’ve identified four steps:  

  1. Anticipate your customer’s intent: 
  2. Make empathy part of your digital skillset; 
  3. Transform contact centers into care hubs; and 
  4. Reinvent branches as empathetic experience centers. 

In this post, I’ll discuss the first two: 

Empathetic banking at the zero moment of truth

Empathetic banks are differentiated by their ability to gather data and use the subsequent insights to engage more meaningfully with their customers.

It all starts at the zero moment of truth—when customers might be researching the services, products or advice they need to cope with a financial crisis or opportunity. Our survey showed that banks that can anticipate the customer’s needs at this moment, and infuse humanity and personalization into their digital interactions, can forge stronger customer connections that build trust and drive growth.  

Fundamental to this is the ability to adjust the journey to the customer’s need for support and empathy. This, in turn, hinges on a bank’s ability to integrate data from different sources in real time. Yet only 20% of banks reported being able to update and evaluate sales and service interactions on an ongoing basis. And even though more than 90% of banks say that they use both internal and external data to at least a moderate extent in their sales and service practices, only 12% of consumers believe their bank’s customized experiences truly reflect their needs.  

In order to remedy this disconnect and bring the opportunity of empathetic banking into alignment with customer needs and expectations, it is critical that financial institutions make empathetic banking a part of their digital skillset.  

USE CASE: Zero Moment of Truth in Action

US Bank collaborated with a fintech, Personetics, to automatically help customers save or invest funds based on their cashflow patterns. This offering has an automated micro-savings product to help customers build emergency or initial savings. The program analyzes customers capacity to save at each pay period, and automatically moves an appropriate amount into related accounts based on expected cashflows.

Making empathy part of your digital skillset 

Customers who feel neglected are more likely to switch banks. When a bank has the ability to analyze it, data can uncover unmet customer needs, enabling the bank to provide the empathetic experiences consumers want. But to do this, banks need to embed empathy into their digital skillsets, moving away from assessing digital channels in terms of efficiency only. This includes using technologies such as voice recognition and speech and text analytics to better understand customers’ emotions. With more interactions taking place digitally, these technologies can help interpret a customer’s sentiment in the moment, in much the same way as a skilled human employee would. This improves the bank’s sensitivity to the customer’s situation, allowing it to demonstrate empathy across channels by matching service responses to their emotional state as well as their economic profile.  

“As consumers’ distress increases, so does their need for empathy.”

A single, real-time view of the customer enables contextualized and personalized conversations that can drive satisfaction even in the absence of human intervention. This core functionality allows a bank’s digital services to reflect its in-person interactions in a much more meaningful way. This can be done by embedding the technologies that are essential to the customer journey throughout the ecosystem. If done correctly, empathetic banks stand to reach more customers more effectively, and to drive growth going forward.  

USE CASE: Bringing humans into digital

Commonwealth Bank in Australia has deployed Ceba, a virtual banking assistant that answers a range of day-to-day banking questions. It is one of the only banking chatbots to offer human escalation and easily directs customers to other channels based on their specific needs and reactions. Ceba is available on the bank’s app and website.

In my next post, I’ll explore the next two steps banks can take to become more empathetic, including transforming call centers into empathetic customer care hubs. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about our services and our research on the subject, please register to read our full Banking on Empathy report.

Read report

Or contact me here to discuss empathetic banking at your organization. 

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