Human touch, digital reach

As I write this, parts of the world are slowly returning to a new version of normal. But many of us are still experiencing, or are in recovery from, the massive upheaval brought about by COVID-19.

With governments slowly pulling back financial relief measures, those who relied on state funds will need their banks to understand and empathize with their particular financial circumstances in the coming year.

Banks have an important role to play in this moment.

During the pandemic, banks saw an increase in customers’ use of digital channels as they moved them out of branches and online. At the same time, consumers’ trust in banks dropped. Our Consumer Survey found that 29% of respondents trust their banks “a lot” to look after their long-term financial wellbeing, compared with 43% two years ago.

29% of respondents trust their banks “a lot” to look after their long-term financial wellbeing, compared with 43% two years ago.

While digital channels are easier to scale, they also carry the risk of commoditization. They make it more difficult for banks to provide the human touch, at a time when customers need empathy more than ever. Consumers want their bank to show a deep understanding of their particular financial and emotional situation—which is the core of what we call empathetic banking.

Watch the video: Empathetic banking in practice

To better understand empathetic banking, Accenture surveyed 125 senior banking executives to measure the extent to which banks currently prioritize customer empathy in their service model, their plans to increase their ability to offer more empathetic experiences, and the return on their investments in empathetic banking.

A human touch

While empathetic banking is about making the relationship better for customers, it also benefits employees, who are better positioned to be there for clients when it matters. Our survey 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. With this in mind, banks are trying to balance two imperatives: becoming more empathetic while becoming more digital.

Customers still crave personalized banking advice when it helps them save money and enhance their financial management. But whether it’s refinancing a mortgage or taking a $3,000 personal loan, they want their bank to show a deep understanding of their financial and emotional situation no matter how small that decision may seem to the bank.

This time it’s personal

Banks cannot simply automatically match customer service responses to the customer’s economic profile and expect to retain or grow market share. Those that factor in a customer’s emotional profile will enhance their engagement with a more complete, personalized and effective response.

During the post-pandemic recovery, banks that understand their customers will see their market share and customer loyalty increase.

84% of banking CEOs agree that their company will fundamentally change the way it engages and interacts with its customers.

Few banks currently have the awareness and sensitivity to detect the needs and challenges their customers face, and most are unable to proactively offer help. The small group of banks that do—the empathetic banks—will have an advantage in building customer relationships that endure.

So what can banks do to become more empathetic?

To offer an empathetic customer experience at scale, banks will need to reconfigure their banking channels to infuse a human touch into those digital moments that matters the most. A consistent and empathetic banking experience across all channels needs to align with a single, unified customer engagement model.

The evolving maturation of digital banking solutions, paired with customers’ increasing willingness to use digital channels for increasingly complex interactions, gives banking leaders the opportunity to not only offer more personalized services and experiences, but to do so at scale—all while delivering an empathetic response to consumers.

Our survey identified four steps that banks can take to better serve their clients through a lens of empathy:

  1. Anticipate your customer’s intent
  2. Incorporate empathy into your digital skillset
  3. Transform contact centers into empathetic customer care hubs
  4. Redesign branches into empathetic experience centers

Empathetic banking combines the human touch with the reach if digital.

In my next post, I’ll dig deeper into the four key steps banks can take to deliver on the promise of empathetic banking, with proof points and pathways to get there. In the meantime, to learn more about our survey on the subject, please register to read our full Banking on Empathy report:
Read report

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