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Retail banks are changing and so is the way they engage with their customers. Mobile and internet banking is on the rise with some of Britain’s largest banks reporting that 90% of transactions are now done using the phone or the web.

Given this change in customer preference it’s not difficult to see why banks are choosing to shut expensive-to-run branches. HSBC, RBS and Barclays, three of Britain’s largest banks, have said they will close around 400 of their branches this year.

Despite this move away from face-to-face interaction, research shows that the quality of customer service in the retail banking sector is more important than ever. According to Ernst and Young, customer experience is the most common reason for opening and closing bank accounts, more so than fees, rates, locations and convenience. Meanwhile the 2015 UK Customer Satisfaction Index showed that banks whose customer satisfaction rate was higher than the sector average, were much more successful in gaining new accounts.

With the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) set to make switching easier, banks that fail to provide good customer service may quickly lose customers as a result.

As a global customer service provider to some of the biggest retail banks in the world, Convergys understands the challenges the industry faces. For many years we have been investing heavily to ensure our capability evolves with customer preferences and helps clients stay competitive. Here are four clear trends within the industry which make the contact centre agent set to become the virtual ‘bank manager’ of the future.

  • Customer service agents upgrading their skills

Gone are the days when agents simply helped customers with basic requests like statement balances. Calls to contact centres have become increasingly more complex as agents deal with enquiries that cannot be easily resolved through other channels. Providers have invested heavily in digital tools, training and more specialised staff to deliver a fuller spectrum of direct customer services.

  • Integrating multiple channels to provide a seamless service

Once you’ve spent some time trying to resolve an issue online the last thing you want to do is retrace your steps and provide the same information again once you phone up a call centre. In the digital age, great customer service requires integration of multiple channels to provide a joined-up experience.

For example at Convergys, data is now increasingly shared across services via what we call a Customer Interaction Hub so when a call comes through, the agent has all the information about what the customer has previously done on the website on their screen and is ready to help answer their questions.

  • Retaining the ‘human touch’

Recent research by BBA and Social Market Foundation shows customers dealing with a more complex issue still value being able to speak to someone. With the closure of physical bank branches customer service providers are offering multiple ways to do this virtually, via a ‘chat’ service on mobile apps, the bank’s website or even via video call.

  • Personalisation and increased use of analytics

Contact centres are using ever more sophisticated analytics to be able to accurately build customer profiles, learn from past interaction and provide a personalised service. This both increases the chance of a positive experience for the customer and helps banks cross-sell services and products targeting customers with the right offers, at the right time.

The retail banking sector is in the midst of major transformation. Consumer expectations, combined with the increasing ease that customers can switch, is forcing retail banks to rethink their business models, capabilities and practices.  However, one thing is clear, in the move to all things digital, the role of the customer service agent cannot be overlooked.  After all, fewer branches means fewer options to speak to someone…and sometimes that could mean the difference between saving a customer and losing them to the competition.

Authored by Paul Terry, EMEA Marketing Director at Convergys.

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