By Mohamed Adam Wee Abdullah, Group Chief Marketing Officer & Group Chief Customer Experience Officer, CIMB Bank
I am going to risk being heckled by tech providers in stating this upfront; resist the temptation to jump on every technology bandwagon that is going to present itself as the benefits are not always what it seems and the old adage of being “first in the market” does not always give you the competitive advantage all the time. Technology in its application to commerce has come very far since the internet was first used in 1982. We now have the World Wide Web, search engines, social media, broadband, big data, cloud, etc. Most of these technologies have at best, only improved our communications, our speed of finding information and collaboration. Cost has a tendency to play up as we invest in more hardware, software and new channels. However, with the rate of increase in the power of computing (Moore’s Law), cost is coming down moderately and this has sparked many organisations to seriously consider implementing big data capabilities and providing an Omni-channel experience for customers. However, organisations would have to confront “Moore’s Outlaws” first in order to gain customer trust. There are always data security concerns when it comes to generating, analysing and activating so much data.
The advantage of some of these technology themes like omni-channel needs to be examined carefully and considered against opposing themes like opti-channel. In both instances, technologies are at play. Let's examine the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and its impact on customer experience. The benefits are obvious in terms of making account balance and cash available outside of opening hours. The peculiar thing about human behaviour is that we can’t get enough of checking our account balance, regardless of whether there is money there or otherwise. Before the advent of ATMs, customers were going to the bank at least once a month to check on their balance. And as ATMs achieved scale, customers could be going to an ATM everyday in a location that is near their work, home or recreation hotspot. Now, with Online and Mobile Banking, customers can check their balance every hour if they so wish from anywhere. The number of transactions for a bank has increased at a compounded rate, which may not necessarily correspond with the rate of income growth for the bank.
We Need To Think Through How We Bridge The Transition To A Better, Newer Experience Whilst Retiring The Old
At this juncture, conversations around the importance of providing a seamless customer experience across all these channels would seem pretty exciting. It has been bandied about many times by tech aficionados that customers could start the process on the web and continue it later at the ATM or branch because, with omni-channel, this would be a seamless experience. Or, when a customer lands on a particular product page on the website, the branch staff could cross-sell that product the next time the customer comes to the branch. In reality, customers do not necessarily behave in the manner we imagine. Customers have a propensity to stick to the channel of choice most of the time and it would not be a realistic expectation to think that customers who use online banking would have the same inclination to go to the branch regularly, too.
However, allowing customers to remain on their channel of choice may not be the correct thing to do, either, considering that every channel we layer on top will increase costs for the business. We need to think through how we bridge the transition to a better, newer experience whilst retiring the old. Customer behaviour should be directed towards familiarization and adoption of new channels that are more efficient and easier. Because banks have not done these effectively, today, most banks are embarking on deflecting customers away from traditional high counters, which has a higher cost to serve, to new technology channels that are self-serve. Performing banking transactions from the comfort of your home at anytime certainly beats having to double park outside the bank branch only to have to queue just to perform a transaction over the high counter.
One of the strongest cases for opti-channel that I have observed is in the quick service restaurant (QSR) and airline sectors. As I have not gotten permission to mention the brand, I will just say that a popular QSR recently choose to shut down its call centre despite the fact that it contributed to approximately 70 percent of its home delivery orders. Naturally, customers cried foul and were unhappy, and, sales in the following month dropped by almost 30 percent. The QSR dealt with these complaints by directing and educating the customers on how to place an order online. Sales levels recovered to normal in the second month and the business was on a growth trajectory for the subsequent months. The logic is pretty straightforward. Having to take an order over the phone is simply inefficient and is subjected to human nuances and inconsistencies. Sales throughout would increase significantly with a simpler step-by-step process online, which is so much faster. It is exactly the same for airlines who have chosen to only maintain online booking channels and not having to deal with long queries in the call centre when it comes to deciding on holiday destinations and travel dates.
To quote Abraham Lincoln (and John Lydgate before that), “You can please some of the people all the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” In conclusion, it is my view that we should adopt technology that will help us simplify so that we can amplify the customers experience. Technology should be the enabler to build better customer experiences and not introduce more interfaces. Ultimately, customer experience should be contextual and not interruptive.