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Good News -- And Room for Improvement -- About Banks' Customer Experience Efforts

Accenture's 2012 Global Consumer Survey finds that consumers give relatively high ratings to their banks' efforts to provide tailored experiences.

At a time when many financial institutions are striving to overcome (sometimes justified) public perceptions that they do not care as much as they should about their customers, there is some encouraging news in a new Accenture study about the factors that influence customer loyalty or defection. The 2012 Accenture Global Consumer Survey, an annual research project that assesses consumer attitudes toward marketing, sales and customer practices across 10 industries (including retail banking and life insurance), found that retail banking is among the most effective industries at providing tailored experiences -- which Accenture says is critical to a strong customer relationship.

Retail banks ranked second (behind travel and tourism and ahead of life insurance providers) in terms of consumers' assessment of their abilities to deliver tailored experiences, according to the Accenture research. Nearly half (48%) of the survey's respondents said that, compared to one year ago, they have higher expectations of getting specialized treatment from their banks for being a "good" customer, and 31% said they prefer companies that use information about them to make their experience more efficient. At the same time, 47% of those polled said it frustrates them when their banks don't use the information they have to make interactions and offers more relevant.

[Read Localized Services Key to Improving Customer Experience.]

Overall, according to Robert Wollan, global managing director of the Accenture Sales & Customer Services practice, banks rank somewhere in the middle of the industries evaluated; however, "The banking industry overall has become a leader in improving the customer experience," he says. I asked Wollan to elaborate on the survey's implications for banks, given their intensifying focus on customer experience and the related investments needed to improve engagement and retention:

We often hear that banks are compared (often unfavorably) to other service providers (e.g., Amazon, Nordstrom, Starbucks) in terms of service/interactions. Is that a trend/behavior you observe? And if it's true, how do you think that influenced how consumers rated banks in this research?

Wollan: Across industries, we're inevitably comparing experiences with lower-complexity transactions, such as in utilities, to a more confidential, more complex and more personalized portfolio of needs that banks address for their customers. That said, we do see consumers transfer their expectations for service from one industry to another, and this trend is really accelerating as consumer expectations rise year over year. Banks can win back valuable ground with consumers by continuing to do a better job setting expectations with their customers upfront, and ensuring they deliver against those expectations. According to our study, broken promises are among the biggest reasons for customer switching in all industries. Banks can also leverage their unique position of engaging customers in some of the most personal, emotional and impactful areas of their lives -- a distinct advantage other industries lack when trying to develop deeper relationships and loyalty.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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