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In Channel Projects, Banks Look for Simpler Solutions

In today's business environment, meeting customers' increasing service expectations is more important than ever. A comprehensive and seamless multichannel strategy -- one that includes the branch -- is critical for survival.

The Human Touch

Though the convenience provided by multiple channel options is an important part of a bank's strategy, actual customer service and problem resolution can be more important drivers of customer loyalty, notes Mike Cholak, VP, customer intelligence services, with Cincinnati-based relationship management solutions provider Convergys. In call centers, for instance, "The focus should be first-call resolution -- [on] the knowledge of the representatives so they have all the information they need to solve customers' problems," he asserts. "If you have this, that extra 20 seconds of hold time might not matter to the customer. And you save money on repeat calls."

It's important for banks to note that customer-facing employees need different training, depending on the channel in which they work, Cholak adds. "People contact the call center because there's a problem. There are disproportionately higher problem interactions in this channel. You wouldn't really go to the branch because of a lost credit card, for example. So you can't train call center reps and tellers the same way. CSRs need more problem resolution training than, say, your branch personnel," he says.

In terms of costs, however, call centers run second to the branch. But again, self-service and automated call center solutions can help solve customers' problems while keeping costs down, Cholak contends. He says speech recognition technology that uses predictive analytics capabilities can make IVR answers more precise and improve the customer experience.

The Stars of the Show

Yet with all the talk about branch and call center, there's no doubt the stars of the show are online and mobile. While mobile has yet to achieve the penetration of the online channel in the U.S., S1's Proctor expects to see an even greater emphasis on both channels. Today nearly 70 percent of teller interactions are transaction-based, not sales- or service-oriented, "But more transactions are moving to online and mobile," he notes.

And that's an attractive proposition for banks since online is a low-cost channel. In fact banks are looking to make the online channel even more attractive for consumers.

According to Financial Insights' DeCastro, "the next evolution" for online banking is personal financial management (PFM). But, he concedes, "It's difficult because it requires a complete redesign of the entire online platform and a change in look and feel."

PFM tools, adds CCG's Schaus, are very sticky. "Banks only have [customers on their sites] for a short period, so you have to hit them hard," he says, adding, "Online is like a branch that a bank can always grow and invest in more easily."

And don't believe the popular wisdom that the Web is the channel of choice only for the young, points out Convergys' Cholak. According to a Convergys study, he says, six out of 10 seniors performed an online transaction in the past year.

To differentiate their online offerings, banks increasingly are tapping Web 2.0 technologies and pushing the collaboration fostered by social networking. For example, Citi, which is focusing on Web 2.0 internally as a means of sharing expertise throughout the enterprise, is offering video feeds on Citi Global Transaction Services' new CitiDirect BE platform featuring commentary on key issues from the bank's global experts.

First Horizon's Livesay says the retail-like comparison-shopping experiences enabled by these collaborative tools will be key. "People are able to do a lot more on their own now," he relates. "If you're a bank, look at your pricing and services and expect to be held up side-by-side with other banks. Consumers will find a way to do this on their own and build sites dedicated to this. Banks will be at a disadvantage if they don't show up on 'The List.' "

Ultimately, a bank's success likely will require a comprehensive -- and seamless -- multichannel experience, says Citi's Kay. "There's a convergence between the digital and the physical where people are becoming more comfortable interacting with their money in a virtual environment," he notes. "So there's a blurring of the channels where you start an interaction in one channel and finish it in another. Being customer-centric means allowing them to use any channel they want."

All this will require a balanced channel strategy, one that invests in leading-edge technology but still maintains support for customers who prefer traditional channels, says CCG's Schaus. "Some banks would just love to turn off a channel," he remarks. "But you can't do this -- people hate change."

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