3 minute read

Breaking the Bottleneck: Resolving the Trade-off Between Quality and Convenience in Customer Service

Even the best CSRs can only talk to one person at a time.

Good. Fast. Cheap.

Back in my ad agency days, these three words were a vexing Venn diagram that we creatives (copywriters and designers) used to rant about discuss when we tried to deliver on our clients’ expectations. Clients wanted all three. But that was impossible—we could only pick two, at best.

Fast-forward to today’s exploding world of fintech, and we have a similar discussion taking place about tradeoffs. Quality vs. convenience. Call centers vs. bots. Humans vs. machines. And you can only pick one.

At least that’s what people think. I beg to differ.

Let me explain.

Community financial institutions thrive on personal service. Even during the pandemic, we’ve seen banks and credit unions of all sizes get creative with their operations and use technology to combine human and digital in new ways.

We’ve also seen the opposite. Call centers have been flooded, giving people the same experience they get at the DMV—long wait times and lackluster results. But it wasn’t always like this.

In a not too distant past, the call center held the crown for quality customer service. It may not have been the most convenient, but you could call your local branch and soon be talking to someone who lived in the same community as you—a local branch representative. In some cases, it might be the same person you see when you physically stopped in. And this worked. You called, got connected, explained your problem, and a friendly, familiar voice provided the same level of service you would get face-to-face.

But here’s the problem: call centers are still largely synchronous. No matter how amazing your call center reps are, they can only talk to one person at a time. This limitation creates chronic bottlenecks. While you can encourage your staff to speed up conversations or put people on hold and bounce between 2-3 calls, that’s a surefire way to lower your net promoter score and increase mistakes.

So, how do you break the bottleneck? You flip that shiny new bot on or tell everyone about the five-step process they can follow to do a transfer through text banking. Everyone has a phone, right? People will love it.

Not so fast.

On the opposite side of quality is convenience: the domain of new apps, widgets, bots, website popups, and everything in between. It’s a digital Wild West, and some financial institutions are going all in with dedicated chat apps that are independent of mobile and online banking.

What does that mean? If a customer or member is trying to dispute a fraudulent transaction, they better have two phones in hand. One phone to chat in the new chat app. Another phone to reference the transaction details from the mobile banking app.

Going this route means you may have relieved the call center bottleneck (by diverting inquiries to a different channel), but the quality of the experience just tanked. Congratulations! Your “convenience” strategy just failed.

These types of situations make a mockery of the customer experience, especially as people seek financial guidance during COVID. A recent episode of the Bankadelic podcast summarized the three lessons we’ve all learned over the course of the pandemic:

  1. Digital is not an option and self-service isn’t sufficient.
  2. Digital must be supported digitally.
  3. Relying solely on synchronous call centers does not cut it.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with an alternative approach, one that’s been around for over a year and has been written about extensively. It combines the best of both worlds, delivering quality and convenience at the very same time. It provides live, personal service inside digital channels.

Think of this approach like the best chat app experience you’ve ever had but having it embedded directly into your mobile banking app. In this bliss, customers and members are engaging the same people they interact with at the branch. It’s secure, encrypted, incredibly fast, and asynchronous.

Ding, ding, ding! The asynchronous aspect is where the magic truly happens. It’s where the bottleneck breaks. It’s the sweet spot of personal digital combined with convenience and quality—all packed together in one seamless, appropriately simple experience.

What does an asynchronous experience mean for your customers and members? It means both parties (the customer/member and your staffer) don’t have to be concurrently active in the conversation. Rather than waiting for an immediate response, the customer/member can send a quick message describing her issue and then carry on with her day. This is texting, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp at its best.

But what about your staff? What does asynchronous support do for them? When asynchronous support is intelligently paired with detailed context (like attaching explicit transaction details to a chat conversation) your reps can do what they do best: provide exceptional care with empathy and do so quickly on-demand. Depending on volume, they can support 7+ conversations at a time versus one at a time over the phone.

An asynchronous model immediately equates to efficiencies and can even impact the way you staff your support team. With branch hours reduced and stay-at-home orders in place during the pandemic, banks and credit unions providing asynchronous digital support quickly decreased support queues—all while working from home.

Let’s end the debate. You really can provide convenience and quality simultaneously. “Quality” and “convenience” are no longer mutually exclusive.

Full-service digital requires both.

By taking an asynchronous approach, community financial institutions are building the next generation of support centers that minimize queues and provide the differentiated service your communities need.

Digital experiences that provide asynchronous support are the way forward for banks and credit unions that want to serve people in meaningful ways in near real time.

Quality and convenience are now mutually beneficial, not mutually exclusive. And it can be achieved without breaking the bank…or credit union.

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