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Local Touch Should Be Key to Banks’ Future Plans
Research finds consumers want future interactions with financial services companies to feel local and personal.
Posted Apr 17, 2012
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Banking customers in the United States prefer localized, personalized services to be at the center of their relationships with their financial services institutions, according to a new international study by BT and Avaya.

The study, which reflects results of a survey of more than 2,000 financial services customers in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Spain, found that despite the growing use of telephone and Internet banking in recent years, two-thirds (66 percent) of U.S.-based customers see their local branch as the most vital link with their bank, second only to cash machines.

The results indicate to financial services institutions developing multichannel customer service strategies that U.S. customers want the same personalized service that local branches deliver, regardless of whether the interaction is taking place in person, on the phone, using the Internet, or a mobile device.

Looking to the near future, 32 percent of U.S. consumers would like to use Web chat when browsing financial Web sites, 24 percent would be happy to use click-to-call, and 14 percent would like to use video chat. Mobile banking is gaining popularity as well, with more than one-quarter (27 percent) of respondents already trying some form of it and 34 percent of U.S. consumers eager to make mobile payments. The call center, however, remains the preferred first stop for resolving a complaint or issue.

Tom Regent, president of global banking and financial markets and sales and marketing at BT Global Services, said: "Despite this being a tough time for financial services institutions, these results show they can strengthen trust and build stronger relationships with their customers by delivering truly local and personalized services through every channel they have. Innovations in customer service technology can help them achieve this. Whether it's in the branch or through remote channels, such as mobile banking, technologies now exist that can link up customers to the right people and the right information in a cost-effective way.

"We know financial services institutions want to give their customers the most rewarding and enjoyable experience possible, but banks in particular are facing some of the toughest challenges of any sector, and they have to prioritize investments that deliver to the bottom line," said Regent.

The study found that 55 percent of U.S. consumers have a strong relationship with their bank. Seventy-four percent of U.S. consumers say good service improves loyalty, which is the highest of the four countries surveyed (71% for the U.K, 66% for Spain, and 58% for Germany).

U.S. consumers also seemed more satisfied than other countries surveyed with customer service, with only 35 percent saying they wait too long on the phone to get through to a call center (versus 41 percent for the U.K. and 45 percent for Germany) and only 27 percent feeling that they wait too long to have a complaint resolved (versus 49 percent for Spain, 34 percent for the U.K., and 31 percent for Germany).

Kevin Reilly, global financial services vertical leader at Avaya, said: "While the frequency of customers visiting the branch is declining, the importance of those visits is increasing. Customers are also very clear that they still want that personal service, tailored to their specific needs at the time regardless of the method or channel they choose. Mobile and smartphone apps can now offer unparalleled levels of personal contact between a financial institution and its customers. It's important to note, however, that inherent in the expanded opportunities to engage with a customer is also an opportunity to fail, especially if a consumer experiences inconsistent service and information when using different channels."

The research exposed further cultural trends, which suggests that the more technologically advanced we become as consumers, the less tolerant we're going to be of poor customer service in personal finance. The research found that:

  • Spanish consumers are using mobile browsers, smartphone apps, email and text messaging for banking more than most.49% of consumers in Spain want to be notified by email, text, or phone when a better deal is available (compared to 39% in the U.K., 33% in Germany, and 28% in the U.S.).
  • Spanish consumers have to wait the longest to apply for a new account (40% of Spanish consumers say they often or sometimes have to wait too long to apply for a new account, compared to 22% in the U.K., 24% in the U.S., and 22% in Germany).
  • Germans seem more focused on getting the best possible deal than quality of service66 percent of German consumers agreed, ‘I like to constantly review my financial products to check I am getting the best deal’ (compared to Spain, 58%; U.K., 52%; and U.S., 56%). While 56% of German consumers are more likely to switch banks due to bad customer service than to get a slightly better deal (compared with 59% in the U.S. and U.K. and 45% in Spain).
  • The U.S. has the most competitive market and U.S. consumers seem the most satisfied with service and interactions. Only 32 percent in the U.S. say they often or sometimes have to wait too long in the queue at a bank branch (compared with 59% in the U.K., 56% in Spain and 40% in Germany).  Similarly, 27 percent in the U.S. have to often or sometimes wait too long to have their complaint resolved (compared to 49% in Spain, 34% in the U.K. and 31% in Germany).

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