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Synchronizing customer service with the times

Posted by Anupam Garg (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:05 PM

As I finished registering for ICICI's latest Facebook app, known as Pockets, I felt that I always wanted such a feature. Pockets allows an individual to transfer money to Facebook friends without knowing their account details. This also obviates the need to log on to a banking website. Even though this was a new innovation, I could not help but feel that it was long awaited.

Internet and tech toys have completely transformed the game plan for several industries. For example, books are not only published as e-books but also come in tablet-supported formats for easier reading. Online registration of travel and hotel tickets has posed a threat to the business of travel agents. And there is no end to the list of consumer products that can be bought online. Amidst such fast-paced evolution, the banking industry seems to have fallen behind. Of course, channels like e-banking and mobile have simplified banking, but there is much more to be desired.

The traditional format of banking, which focused solely on the transfer of money between lenders and depositors does not apply anymore. The current theme of banking is all about enabling customers to use money effectively. Banks focusing on enhancing customer experience can look forward to long and healthy relationships. Some of the activities, which may help banks in enriching customer experience, are outlined below: 

1. Correct identification of the target segment is a prerequisite for good customer experience. This can be achieved by mining customer data carefully and identifying prospects with a higher probability of conversion. Based on the mined information, banks can then provide accurate tailor-made products, offers or services to customers. For example, an overdraft facility at preferential prices may be offered to customers with a history of low account balances towards the end of the month. Another example is the offer of payday loans to customers based on their cash flows.
Useful information can also be obtained by drawing comparisons between customers' data. Banks can use this information to provide advisory services for a fee. For instance they could analyze the history of utility payments to advise customers about the plans best suited to them. They could then offer a higher interest on the savings generated as a result of such advice. 

2. Priority could be given to the Internet, instead of IVR, as the channel of communication for proposed campaigns. In fact, social media could be the new mode of communication with customers. If banks could obtain information from their customers' Facebook account, they could gain insights into their needs and interests and perhaps leverage that to engage them more deeply. Or they could simply reward heavy social networkers with free Facebook credits for opening a new savings account. 

3. There is scope for enhancing user experience in banking channels with facilities such as omni-channel banking. This would allow customers to begin transaction processing on one channel, such as mobile, and finish it on another channel , say a tablet. The facility can be extended at branch level. For example, details of an unfinished transaction can be made available on a bank employee's dashboard to enable fulfillment and improvement of future service.

4. Banks can make use of ecommerce websites to increase the visibility of their offers. Suppose there is a bank level campaign, which awards a cash back on spending above a certain limit. Offers like these can be displayed on the home page of ecommerce websites like eBay and Flipkart. This would not only improve service to existing customers but also attract the attention of others.

5. The business heads of various departments in a bank may work together in formulating effective campaigns. Most of the discount coupons today are offered to credit card holders. The marketing team of the credit card department can coordinate with other departments in designing mutually beneficial offers. For example, bonus reward points can be offered on a customer's  credit card upon renewal of a term deposit account. 

6. Mobile banking services can be evolved further, in keeping with the enhancements in handsets. In addition to developments, such as NFC based payments, innovations capitalizing on various smartphone features such as GPS, front camera, motion based sensors, and so on, should be considered. For example, banks could enable payments for in-store purchases by scanning QR codes. 

The advantages of using technology to improve customer service are manifold. Making banking more appealing would help to attract a completely new demographic between 18 and 23. This is a segment that is still financially dependent on their parents. Banks can begin a relationship early with these young customers by understanding their preferences and requirements. For instance, the rate of interest on an education loan can be periodically reviewed based on the customer's usage of other banking products.
The technology boom comes with ample opportunities for all, including the banking industry, which should leave no stone unturned in harnessing the benefits. However, unlike other industries, the banking sector has to work within strict regulatory mandates. At times, this could restrict the speed of innovation. Nevertheless, banks can tie up with vendors who have the vision to provide future-ready solutions so that they can keep pace with changing times and rising expectations of their customers. 

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