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Business News of Monday, 22 June 2020


Coronavirus: Customer expectations will grow, but other things will stay constant - Expert

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The coronavirus pandemic is hastening the drive towards robust and hassle-free digital financial services.

As banks speed up the deployment of digital technologies and products in response to this new normal in banking, keeping the customer well-served to maintain their loyalty is vital for competitive success.

Although the benefits of digital technologies, in terms of speed, convenience, and security, mean that banks can provide enhanced customer service, consumer expectations are also likely to rise as they experience and get used to the new forms of satisfaction brought about by digital technologies.

“Expectations are always prone to change. If pre-Covid, there was a certain normal for the customer, what Covid and the rapid digitisation has done is to now make the thing the customer didn’t previously expect the new normal they want to enjoy every day,” says J.N Halm, a service consultant.

“Customer expectations will continue to grow; very soon customers will be asking: ‘If you can do A, why can’t you do B?’ So in terms of expectations, banks should anticipate that their customers’ expectations are going to change—and as these expectations change, the banks better be ahead of the curve,” he adds.

Just as a stone-faced receptionist or teller in a bank branch is a turn-off for many a customer, a mobile banking application that malfunctions repeatedly causes disappointment and frustration, leading to customer dissatisfaction which impinges on a bank’s service reputation.

Philip Owiredu, Managing Director of Cal Bank, says ensuring that digital banking platforms are stable by investing in robust infrastructure is critical to satisfying clients’ needs.

Meeting customers’ expectations also requires banks to maintain some level of physical interactions with them, even as self-service digital banking becomes the norm. “If we find ourselves over-digitalised, we will find ourselves disadvantaged, because the human touch is always needed,” says Halm.

He adds pointedly: “ATMs will not be sympathetic to the customer, as the frontliner of the bank would. Also, if the customer needs a certain service that is not readily available, he would feel better with that response coming from a human or a bank’s staff than from a machine.”

Given that banking is more than just payments, person-to-person contact is unavoidable for certain transactions or services, such as negotiating a loan or receiving financial advice to help manage one’s money. Moreover, some customers would simply find it hard to place greater trust in a mobile application, even if they can use it, than the person they meet face-to-face in a branch.

Consequently, the in-person banking experience will continue to play a role in shaping the bank-customer relationship. Nevertheless, says John Awuah, Deputy CEO of the Ghana Association of Bankers (GAB), branch sizes will shrink in future in response to declining customer traffic.

Alberta Quarcoopome, a banking consultant, believes some elements of service delivery will not change in the face of digitisation. “My challenge is the need for bank staff to remember that the RATER elements in service delivery have not changed,” she says.

The RATER concept is a way of evaluating customer service by focusing on five things—reliability, assurance, tangibles, empathy, and responsiveness. These service elements matter to customers and influence their perceptions and expectations of a business.

A bank’s reliability would worsen if its channels suffer consistent breakdowns, for example, or if a service does not deliver what customers have been promised. Meanwhile, customers would expect a bank to manage their accounts without error, and to quickly take steps to rectify an error if one occurs.

This is how banks can remain trustworthy service providers. Banks must also ensure their technologies and channels are user-friendly and appealing, just as they take care in decorating their branches.

Further, now is the time for banks to upgrade or overhaul their call centres, which will get busier as footfall in branches declines and more customers make use of self-service modes of transacting. If digital banking means the ability to transact banking business 24/7, then call centre services should equally be available 24/7—so that, say, a customer encountering issues while attempting to complete an important payment at 3am through a mobile banking application can immediately contact their bank for assistance.

“There is the need for intensified training of bank staff in soft skills to enable them solve problems and not leave customers feeling frustrated. Customers should not feel that out of sight is out of mind,” Mrs. Quarcoopome says.

New training is needed for staff as banks embark on new customer journeys as well as to help the staff identify the new pain points and work to address them. “Some customers would be onboarded to digital platforms and yet not be tech-savvy. Omni-channels are helping consumers, yet specialised ones are needed to service the unbanked,” Mrs. Quarcoopome suggests.

Consumers will benefit a great deal as banking goes digital. However, banks should not be complacent, and should shepherd and foster their customer relationships throughout this transformation. As Halm says, “You may be the first bank that entered the digital space, but if you are not careful to maintain a certain rhythm in terms of advancing your customer relationships, someone might come in last and overtake you, and before long you might be losing some of your very good clients.”