How Can Financial Firms Improve Post-Pandemic Customer Service?
Financial firms generate profits by borrowing short-term cash cheaply and lending or investing it for higher, long-term returns. A steeper yield curve—which indicates a wider gap between short-term and long-term interest rates—means more profitability. But the yield curve has been relatively flat in recent years, squeezing profits and adding pressure to counter with aggressive cost-cutting measures.
That’s bad news for financial sector contact centers. About 75% of center budgets goes to labor, making call centers an obvious target for cost-cutting. Large firms began offshoring customer service operations in the early 2000s and shifted domestic agents to remote work in more recent years. As a result, the 2020 office evacuation drill was less jarring than elsewhere.
But uneven customer service performance during the pandemic has prompted firms to reconsider the relative value of offshoring and remote domestic workers to their overall cost-control strategy. One possible response is to repatriate as least some offshored service operations; another is to expand the remote model for domestic agents even further. Either way, intelligent automation is emerging as the most effective way to reduce costs while also giving a much-needed boost to efficiency and productivity.
Technology has long played a role in financial firms’ contact centers because most day-to-day transactions are easy to manage through non-human channels. Existing technologies can provide a customer’s account balance, payment due date, branch office locations and hours, etc. But when mortgage loans or foreclosures are in play, no customer will accept a technology program as a negotiating counterpart. The tone of those exchanges is often set by emotion rather than reason. So financial firms need technology that actually improves agents’ ability to satisfy the full range of customers’ needs.
Agents in this industry face multiple challenges. In addition to providing empathy and flexibility in situations where high-stakes money matters are emotionally charged, agents also deal with financial transactions that are often subject to federal and state regulations. This adds to their training requirements. Large firms may employ tens of thousands of agents, which increases the logistical challenge of delivering thorough and uniform training. Inconsistent or insufficient training could leave agents vulnerable to making mistakes, and even small mistakes can expose the firm to hefty fines or lawsuits.
Lastly, the pandemic abruptly shut down in-branch customer service access, sending customers to the phones to deal with both simple and complex issues. This caused a spike in contact center call volume and complexity. Complicated issues typically handled by account execs and managers now fell to agents, who found themselves at the customer-facing end of a chain of service upheaval and forced to deal with more calls and unfamiliar issues which they were not trained to handle.
It’s impossible to manually address all instances when agents stay too long in after-call work or leave customers on hold for too long. But with intelligent automation, business rules are put in place to monitor these metrics and remind agents when they cross specific thresholds.
When agents select the wrong AUX state, it’s difficult to identify which did so by mistake and which did so to avoid answering calls; coaching after the fact is not effective. Intelligent automation notifies agents in the wrong state immediately. Potential savings are huge: One financial services customer leveraged AUX state alerts to realize $16.8 million in annualized savings.
Many large financial firms sent half or more of their contact center operations overseas, where lower wages reduced operating costs. But when the pandemic forced overseas agents to work from home, pockets of weak electricity and WIFI service availability led to poor customer service delivery. Overloaded infrastructure caused problems among remote domestic agents too, but the problem—and its impact on the customer experience—was greater in offshore operations.
For financial firms that choose to repatriate customer service operations, intelligent automation’s proven ability to lower costs, increase agent efficiency, and facilitate consistent customer experiences thanks to its unique blend of RPA and real-time data processing capabilities will provide a critical competitive advantage in the post-pandemic marketplace.
Technology can never substitute fully for human agents, but the right tech can amplify agents’ ability to deliver focused, empathetic customer service. Intelligent automation takes repetitive tasks off the agent’s plate and also processes data related to agent behavior and overall center activities, detecting service logjams across the agent population in real time and providing immediate support to get agents back on track quickly.