As banks worldwide increasingly service customers through new channels, they need to integrate platforms to better meet consumer needs and differentiate their service, according to a study from McLean, Va.-based Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH). "Consumers have many options when conducting business," relates BAH VP Paul Hyde. "However, all consumers, regardless of where they reside or how they bank, want a consistent level of service."
While retail banks are improving customer service through efforts such as simplified account-opening processes and more-robust online access, according to the survey, Striving for growth: Best practices in retail banking sales and service channels, which assessed the strategies of 100 banks in 17 countries, banks worldwide are missing opportunities to provide differentiated service offerings. Despite their efforts, many banks still struggle with how to deliver consistent product offerings across all channels, Hyde notes. "This is especially important as consumers demand more integrated offerings," he explains. "Consumers worldwide are unhappy with services, and this is due to a breakdown in basics and failure to meet customer needs in a timely way."
And this will remain a challenge until banks integrate their operating platforms, stresses Greg Lowell, senior manager in the financial strategy group at Accenture (Reston, Va.). "Leaders are using technology to simplify their siloed structures and move back-office operations to common platforms," he says. "This drives down the cost and complexity."
A service-oriented architecture (SOA) can help banks achieve a seamless, multichannel customer experience, adds Michael Redding, senior executive, director of development, for Accenture Technology Labs (Chicago). "By using SOA to wrap core systems and expose them to users, banks have a cost-effective way to break down silos, add new services and salvage core systems," he asserts. For example, a customer service representative may access as many as five systems when selling a consumer a portfolio of products -- "By wrapping these services in SOA, users can see all data in real time and cater to a customer's total needs," Redding says.
According to the BAH study, U.S. banks show above-average performance for service integration. JPMorgan Chase (New York), HSBC (North America headquarters: New York) and Wachovia (Charlotte, N.C.) are top performers in this area, the study says.
Now It's Personal
Part of providing a satisfying customer experience, experts agree, is personalizing that experience. By tapping analytics tools, banks can better understand consumer needs and deliver appropriate products and services on local, targeted levels.
"Due to a shift in customer demographics and their needs, banks are learning that one size does not fit all," Accenture's Lowell explains. "However, analytics can reveal the best operating hours and the best products to offer."
While larger banks struggled to achieve localization in the past, "They have stepped up and made heavy investments in technology of late," relates BAH's Hyde. "This is helping larger banks close the customer-satisfaction gap, historically led by smaller, more-intimate banks."
These efforts also are changing the role of the branch. While the branch remains critical to relationship-building, the study reveals that many consumers are replacing the branch with alternate channels.
"As more consumers confidently conduct business across newer channels, the role of the branch must transition into a sales and financial advisory outlet," says Accenture's Lowell. "This is a way to uphold personal interaction with the customer and provide more-personal service than can be gained through static online information."