The COVID-19 pandemic upended people all around the globe, causing many to re-evaluate aspects of their life, including their relationship with banks. During such a difficult period, many customers are asking their banks to show a deeper understanding of their particular financial and emotional situation, which is the core of what we call empathetic banking. It’s a personal approach to banking that combines digital with a human touch.  

To offer an empathetic experience at scale, leading banks will need to reconfigure banking channels to offer a human touch in the moments when it matters the most—but the question is, how? Ideally, much of this will be done by fast-tracking their transition to a single, unified model that provides a consistent and empathetic banking experience across channels. 

Click/tap on image to enlarge. Source: Accenture’s Banking on Empathy report.

In order to understand empathetic banking on a deeper level, Accenture surveyed 125 senior banking executives, measuring the extent to which their organizations currently prioritize customer empathy in their service model. This helped us identify four key steps that will help the industry move towards scale: 

  1. Anticipate the customer’s intent at the zero moment of truth
  2. Make empathy part of the digital skillset  
  3. Transform contact centers into empathetic customer care hubs 
  4. Reinvent branches as empathetic experience centers 

If undertaken in a strategic and committed way, these four steps can help banks connect with consumers where they are and deliver on the promise of a more thoughtful and personalized enterprise, driven by digital.  

Four steps for empathetic banking success

A bank’s ability to adapt to its customers’ emotional state will deliver an advantage in building relationships that endure. So how best to scale empathy within your company? Here’s a closer look at the four key steps:

Step #1: Anticipate your customer’s intent at the ‘zero moment of truth’

A truly empathetic bank anticipates customers’ emotions and intentions early in an interaction—right at that second when they might be researching which services, products or advice they need to deal with a financial crisis or opportunity—and adjusts its tone of voice and customer journey to their needs. We call this the ‘zero moment of truth.’ The key is to deploy a robust tool that perceives customers’ state of wellbeing by pulling in multiple data sets. Richer data, when the bank has the ability to analyze it, uncovers unmet customer needs and enables the institution to provide the experience consumers want—which is critical for growth.

Step #2: Make empathy part of your digital skillset

A bank needs to understand a customer’s emotional state in order to provide an empathetic experience, which is easier when an interaction takes place face-to-face with a skilled advisor—but that isn’t always possible. Banks with an empathetic focus are increasingly accessing technologies such as voice recognition, and speech and text analytics, to better perceive customers’ emotions. They can then improve empathy across channels by matching service responses to the customer’s emotional state, rather than their economic profile.

Step #3: Transform contact centers into empathetic customer care hubs

Leading banks are transforming their contact centers into empathetic customer care hubs. This means investing in capabilities that promote empathetic experiences by reducing call hold times and adding a personalized touch to the customer conversation. It also includes making human chat the primary way that customers interact with their contact centers, augmenting these centers with digital capabilities to promote an empathetic banking experience without physical face-to-face interaction. And then combining resources from the back office, service center, branch and contact center into distributed contact centers.

Step #4: Reinvent branches as empathetic experience centers

Many empathetic banking leaders are reinventing their branches as hubs where customers and community members can learn, network and connect in a comfortable and inspiring setting. Instead of simply being a place for services and transactions, branches in strategic locations should become experience centers that offer friendly spaces for customer engagement, designed around the need for human interactions. This includes informal areas to spark conversations and connections that are less likely to happen in the traditional office-like setting.

At Accenture, we’ve helped many leading banks leverage intelligent platforms and technologies to build better behavioral insights—and we understand that each bank will need a customized plan for empathetic banking as it aims to transform how it understands, interacts with and serves customers. In my next post I’ll go into further details of banks that have already started their journey to become an empathetic bank, and what the success factors and lessons learned have been.

Contact me here or on LinkedIn to discuss empathetic banking at your organization. To learn more about our services and our research on the subject, please visit the Accenture website to download the full report, “Banking on Empathy.”
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