By Craig Charles WebsterEveryone knows that the holiday season puts significant pressure on retailers—to execute on campaigns, dazzle customers with deals and beat revenue numbers from the previous year. To achieve these feats, many keep most of their ad/marketing spend and sales earmarked for the four key weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This means that many brands bring in extra support—particularly staffing for the physical store locations, but also customer support via phone—that ends up being critical for smooth operations, customer satisfaction and sustained loyalty.
But retail isn’t the only sector inundated with requests during this time. According to a new survey by Infobip, nearly half (44 percent) of U.S. consumers say that they at least sometimes have to call their bank or credit card service company during the holidays. Naturally, this is largely due to charge inquiries, potentially fraudulent activities, requests for charges to be removed, and similar queries.
With that in mind, how can banks better prepare themselves this year (and moving forward) to tackle seamless customer communications and increased satisfaction across the board?
Invest in useful tech, including WhatsApp and chatbots
To help inform brands and their marketers of best practices for this year’s unusual holiday season, Infobip monitored channel trends across their platform, and found that WhatsApp far surpassed the growth of other channels. While it’s often used by consumers in South America and Asia, it’s a growing way to reach global consumers—and one that retailers and banks in the U.S. should take note of.
WhatsApp Business enables businesses to send real-time alerts and notifications while offering always-on support through a chatbot or live agent. Providing services over WhatsApp can increase the likelihood of customer loyalty and engagement due to convenience, trust and familiarity. Additionally, bank profiles can be verified and messages are end-to-end encrypted, so clients and banks both feel secure using the platform.
In addition, a main benefit is the on-demand service, so banks can deliver instant interactive communication with rich content capabilities. Customers can quickly open bank accounts via WhatsApp, students can speak to their banks to locate their nearest ATM and bank statements can be provided in seconds.
The same applies for customer care, where chatbots can be used to manage more straightforward queries like bank opening times or balance updates. Those that need more complex care can be diverted to contact center agents for quick conversational support, resolving issues in one-to-one conversations that feel human.
Personalize, personalize, personalize
Despite wanting personalization, people also want choices. Banks need to provide multiple options for their customers while still providing a seamless experience across all. For instance, a quarter of Gen Z spends more than five hours per day on their phones and more than half (57 percent) use messaging apps for the majority of this time. As such, for that age bracket, financial organizations must make the most of how a mobile phone is being used, to deliver a quick, seamless and personalized banking experience.
During the holidays, it is understandable that employees in a bank’s customer service department are swamped, so one-on-one time with every customer may not be feasible at every touchpoint. As such, it’s increasingly important for incorporated automation to support customer queries and needs and recommend appropriate avenues for problem-solving and reconciliation—to both free up agent time, and ensure any and all paying customers have a positive experience.
In order for automation technology to truly capitalize on these opportunities, banks must have the appropriate amount of data on their customers. Including data directly pulled from website/app analytics and third-party data that shows customer preferences across the board, and not just as it pertains to one particular company. This allows the system to best identify which audience each customer falls into, and what next step would likely be best. Therefore, recommendations are personalized throughout the entire process—from communication to desired next step and ultimately, outcome.
Focus on the right message at the right time
Automated services and notifications are invaluable in the age of technology. Providing real time updates via SMS messages or email alerts—straight to the consumer’s device—ensures a consistent service across the entire customer journey. It also limits the need for customers to proactively check the status of a service or product with an agent.
However, it’s also important to supplement with live support, which encourages quick, targeted answers and the crucial element of empathy that gets lost through automation. Once a bank has settled on a channel mix for each customer, it is halfway to building a long-term relationship of trust with their customers. The other half is human customer support. While many millennials and Gen Z’ers may say they prefer never to speak to a human customer support representative again, it’s necessary in many instances and can’t be overlooked, particularly throughout the holidays.
Done well, customer support and communication throughout the holidays should benefit both the consumer and bank—and leave customers either happy with the experience or forgetting the situation happened at all. Mixing automation technology with the appropriate data and communication preferences allows both the bank and the customer to meet in the middle and encourages seamless connections that solve problems and move the needle forward for everyone.
Craig Charles Webster is head of marketing for the Americas at Infobip, a global cloud communications platform that enables businesses to build connected customer experiences across all stages of the customer journey at scale, with easy and contextualized interactions over customers’ preferred channels