Customers use many channels to interact with the companies they do business with. This includes the rising adoption of smartphones and use of social networks among consumers. According to the Mobile Marketing Association, more than half of the population in countries such as the U.K., Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and UAE are using smartphones, while the penetration rate is greater than 40 percent in countries such as the U.S., Spain, and Switzerland. Meanwhile, Facebook has 845 million active users worldwide; LinkedIn and Twitter boast 150 million and 127 million users, respectively.
While there are rich opportunities for companies to engage with customers and prospects in mobile, social, and other channels, the retail channel continues to be a critical touchpoint for companies and customers to interact. This is particularly true in financial services where customers prefer to have face-to-face discussions with relationship managers (RM) about complex products such as retirement or college savings accounts. People also tend to feel more comfortable discussing sensitive topics, such as mortgages or loans privately with an RM.
When product information is easy to obtain and decipher online or via mobile and personal advice isn't really required, retail's role in the customer interaction can be minor or insignificant. However, in some industries such as financial services, customer-to-employee interactions continue to be vital to the long-term success of the customer-to-company relationship.
This is particularly true at a time when customer loyalty has faded considerably. Over the past year 82 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a company due to a poor customer service experience, according to a study from RightNow and Harris Interactive. The need to deliver relevant and consistent experiences to customers has become more critical than ever.
How the role of retail must change
As consumers use a variety of channels to connect with companies, including web, mobile, voice, social, IVR, chat, and email, it's crucial for customer-facing employees in branches to be seamlessly connected with tools that enable them to follow the thread of customer interactions across multiple channels. These capabilities are needed for salespeople, agents, and other customer-facing workers to gain a deeper understanding of what customers are looking for and provide more germane assistance.
For instance, a financial services relationship manager could use this type of information, including a customer's recent transactions, product portfolio, and channel usage, to gain a more complete view of each customer in order to provide them with contextually-relevant offers. A sample scenario might be, "I noticed that you were recently online visiting our web pages about IRAs (individual retirement accounts). Would you be interested in receiving additional information or scheduling a meeting with one of our specialists?"
Customers are increasingly using digital channels to get information they're looking for. However, nothing beats the personalization and depth of knowledge that a one-to-one interaction between a customer and a well-informed employee offers.
Assembling a roadmap
In order to meet the needs of today's discriminating customer, companies with retail arms should fully assess, measure, and benchmark the retail customer experience across multiple dimensions. For financial services companies, these include branch transactions and turnaround times; integration between branch channels (ATM, VTM, Teller, RM, etc.); and customer experience measurement. Peppers & Rogers Group recommends applying a customer experience touchmap that can be used to evaluate the retail customer experience across different products (credit, loan, investment) and business processes (application, inquiry, complaint) at different touch points (IVR, ATM, teller, etc.).
Using this type of an assessment, companies can then identify retail experience gaps and opportunities for improvement. Project leaders can then develop business cases for each of the identified experience improvement opportunities, exploring ways in which to strike a balance between sales, service, and operational priorities. Decision-makers can also weigh the cost/benefit of each initiative by examining the account lifetime value of the company's most loyal and profitable customers.
Companies with a retail presence can benefit from these efforts by developing a greater understanding of the customer experience and to provide relevant and personalized interactions that differentiates the organization from its competition.
About the Author: Orkun Oguz is a Partner at Peppers & Rogers Group. Contact him at email@example.com.