With so much at stake, Teleperformance UK brought together specialists in customer care to discuss how contact centres are changing, and what impact that is having on sales in the financial services sector
Significant challenges face banking and insurance firms as customers expect ever more complex services from the contact centre connections they make. So how is everyone coping?
How that support is being delivered, overseen by a toughening regulatory regime, and the tests ahead was discussed at a recent event organised by Teleperformance UK.
It brought together senior executives involved in the drive to reconcile the swirling regulatory and commercial pressures in centres supporting financial services.
The task they face is complicated by customers whose expectations of what a contact centre should deliver are often formed from experience with far simpler retail businesses.
Some spoke of lingering legacy issues hampering progress and innovation: The incompatible software when operations or firms merge causing friction with customers, the old products nobody fully understands but have to explain.
But everyone could hold to one truth. As Matt Sims, Teleperformance European Vice President for Business Development, put it: “The biggest challenge for the big financial services providers with legacy issues is creating a coherent, company-wide structure.”
As one specialist put it: “Our business is not like returning a lamp shade to a department store.” But it still wants the same sureness of touch.
Coherence emerged as a theme. A consensus emerged that customers want their contact centres to have a ‘whole-world’ view of their finances – and fast. Nobody wants a call back. But competing firms do not necessarily yet want to share commercially sensitive information.
Meanwhile, the customer journey may begin on social media, perhaps with a web chat, but migrates to the phone as soon as it becomes more complex.
The ‘Holy Grail’ for all, and equally elusive, is a coherent system that gives the customer that seamless, multi-channel journey to a rapid resolution, whilst giving contact centres a way to manage requests and find commercial opportunity.
The cost of providing full customer-facing support for products that may not have that much value was also raised. Some fear that advice is simply being withdrawn, arguably from people most in need of it, where margins are not there to support it.
Yet a lack of joined-up technology means that most financial services businesses are unsure just what margins are being made from each customer, further complicating decisions about levels of contact centre support to provide.
One official from a Europe-based bank noted that customers in the UK are particularly prone to use their call as a form of financial confessional and talk frankly about their monetary affairs. This, she noted, was a cost in time but also an opportunity if handled sensitively.
The task is to leverage their customer service proposition to support sales. But it is a delicate one: Not everyone responds well to follow-up calls with a selling intention. They will accept “process” with less hostility than they will a sales call.
Knowledge and empathy is also often missing from centres, it was suggested, which may not have mattered when they were just the entry point into an organisation, but does now. In Nordic countries, it was noted, financial services contact centre work has the status to attract many graduates.
One bank executive spoke of the challenge of getting together a workforce able to be a hybrid of customer service and sales. How does a process-led customer experience become a personal one, he wondered? Another observed that his bank was getting fewer phone calls each year, but the time to service them was lengthening and the issues becoming more complex.
“It doesn’t matter how good the technology is, the experience is driven by staff. They are more and more the key to the delivery of service or advocacy. What we are seeing is more empowerment of that front line.”
But even with empowerment as a given, fears were voiced that in the rush to sell, mistakes will happen, and further down the line litigation will follow.
One bank official spoke of unease with the speed and often casual nature of social media contact in a sector where, traditionally, caution is woven into the regulatory framework, not least by requiring every call and web chat to be kept for years.
“Who ends up responsible when an online terms and conditions section that would print to dozens of pages is recorded as checked within seconds, clearly unread? Is it you as the seller or the customer? It’s a hard call.
“Another danger I see with ‘big data’ is that the seller could end up responsible for not acting on a piece of information that was technically available to them, just not perhaps visible.”
But whatever the hazards ahead as financial services wrestle with producing a seamless journey, and handling and harnessing their ‘big data’ issues, contact centres are clearly now seen as not just places where a transaction takes place, but where business relationships are maintained. Or lost. The stakes could hardly be higher – or more complex.
Photo by Ken Teegardin licensed under Creative Commons