A smart investment: Extending ESG values to customer service

With the right training and tools, contact centers can be a central element of a bank’s strategy to affirm its commitment to ESG and build customer loyalty and trust.

By Bhavana Rana

One of the clearest ways banks can communicate their commitment to building a better world is through sustainability initiatives. Sustainability is a key element of environmental, social and governance criteria which is increasingly being used by socially conscious investors and clients to help guide decisions about whom banks will do business.

Millennials, in particular, have developed a reputation for being socially and environmentally conscious. As Forbes writes, the millennial generation “typically endorses banks, investments and funds with demonstrable social and environmental sensitivities. This is why millennials are also known to be increasingly interested in placing their bets on companies and investment funds with measurable ESG records.”

Indeed, a recent report by Morgan Stanley shows that in 2021 a staggering 99 percent of millennials are either very interested or somewhat interested in sustainable investing, up from 84 percent in 2015, as is 79 percent of the general.

Social responsibility and financial inclusion

For banks and other financial institutions, the message could not be clearer: If they want to continue to earn the business and loyalty of millennials and of an increasingly socially conscious public, they must show their commitment to sustainability and social responsibility. And the commitment to social responsibility should encompass issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion as well as financial inclusion.

Banks are expected to do the right thing. We saw examples of this after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February: Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Citigroup announced they would cease operations in Russia. Many banks also are making funds available to displaced Ukrainian refugees. In these cases, banks are showing both empathy and a willingness to respond quickly to disruptive events.

Financial inclusion initiatives also send a signal that a bank recognizes it has a large societal role. Financial inclusion, as described by the World Bank, “means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs—transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance—delivered in a responsible and sustainable way.”

Many banks and financial institutions already grasp the importance of offering products and services that reflect the social consciousness of consumers and investors. “Wealth managers are moving toward ESG-informed investing, and retail banks are creating new sustainable banking and investing in products and services, such as green home-improvement loans, carbon neutral banking and sustainable exchange-traded funds (ETFs),” KPMG notes.

Meeting the expectations of socially conscious clients and investors is not only about doing the right thing and serving the common good, but it’s also good business. According to a PwC report, 7 percent of clients say they would “discontinue my relationship with companies that treat the environment, employees, or the community in which they operate poorly.”

Lead with empathy in customer service and client interactions

Offering ESG-based products and services and demonstrating a social conscience go a long way in building brand image and customer loyalty. But banks benefit when their commitment to ESG values is reflected in the customer experience.

Contact centers are at the front line of customer service and tasked with delivering the best experience. When clients have questions, concerns, or complaints, they usually interact with the financial services institution’s contact center. It is critical, then, that financial institutions train frontline employees to handle sensitive situations, such as a refugee crisis or a natural disaster, with as much empathy as possible. Contact center agents also must be equipped with tools that enable them to effectively interact with and help clients who may be upset or in distress.

Artificial intelligence-infused customer experience platforms that analyze intent and sentiment in real time and provide contextual guidance to employees during live interactions can help them connect with clients on a human level. In doing so, employees are providing far more than assistance in that moment (critical as that is). They are also strengthening the bank’s brand and forging an emotional connection with clients that will pay off in lifelong loyalty.

With the right training and tools, contact centers can be a central element of a bank’s strategy to affirm its commitment to ESG and build customer loyalty and trust.

In a world where consumers have more options than ever, the value of loyalty has never been higher. To cultivate that loyalty, financial institutions accomplish essential work for their customers when they:

  • Acknowledge their social responsibility and play a more active, positive role in times of crisis and disaster
  • Incorporate ESG principles into product and service development to align with client and investor values and expectations regarding socially responsible banking
  • Prioritize the client experience through highly trained employees, smart contact center technology and AI-infused customer experience solutions that enable them to treat clients with empathy and care.

Bhavana Rana is the director of financial services and insurance at Talkdesk.