A substantial change in consumer behavior has been noted with the increasing adoption of digital services. A paradigm shift was noticed right from brand awareness to the buying journey, the service delivery aspect, and up to a query/ complaint being resolved. To add complexities, a customer engages with a brand through a mixture of traditional channels as well as the new-age digital avenues, especially for the BFSI domain. Seamless and spontaneous mapping of customers’ experiences & their expectations across different touch-points is evidently the way ahead but has its own challenges. Complexities arise as customers now have different avenues to interact with due to the various touch-points- human interface, brick & mortar layouts, customer call centers, automated chatbots, online forums to the do it yourself digital initiatives, just to name a few.
So what are brands doing to overcome this challenge?
A customer-centric approach, a way of doing business with your customers, is in a way an element of the past now. The point is not to say that providing a positive customer experience before, during, and after the sales process in order to drive repeat business, a positive word of mouth, customer loyalty, repeat purchase and profits is not required anymore, but rather with the change in market dynamics, it's all the more important. You will find many articles on the internet claiming that CX (Customer Experience) is the new age of Marketing. For a customer-centric organization to continue being in business, the challenges & opportunities have changed drastically from the era the term ‘Customer centric’ was coined.
Your customer’s expectations change with every new technology-enabled touch-point being added to the existing ones. There is no magic wand to find out how customers’ expectations change between shifts from the traditional to the digital experience. The multi-channels offered by brands have different expectations for the same product offerings, but at a different time in our lives. For instance, I am ok to wait for a Pizza to be delivered by the online food app in 30 minutes (online purchase, offline delivery), but when I chat with the bot to complain that my pizza was half burnt (Online service touch-point, automated), I want my resolution instantly- not only an instant response but a first-time resolution & that too as per my satisfaction.
Seamless and spontaneous mapping of consumer experience across touch-points is evidently the way ahead, in this world of an Omni-channel strategy. Customer-centered management is the conduct of all marketing activities with a strong belief that the individual customer is the central unit of analysis and action.
So what do our customers want?
The answer is not that simple, so let’s take a back step to first understand some themes that are evolving in the BFSI domain. A decade-old process to target customer segments (rather than individual customers), calls for a modification, especially with the move towards digitalization and far-reaching internet access. With the availability of a customer database and the cost of servicing customers going down drastically, an individualized offering of product/ services followed with post-sales relationship building is imaginable now & possible. Here are some themes that we note across consumer research-
1. Increasing individualization
The need to define a separate existence or space will encourage highly individualistic lifestyles and behaviors. Marketers will feel the impact of such demographic movements in the form of consumer choices, such as outsourcing of some activities due to time constraints, more consumption on-demand (24/7), and on the basis of symbolism and social group values. A segment of consumers will also seek out products and services that offer them social and emotional value. This will lead to increased consumer heterogeneity, calling for a further need to look at data-driven decision-making. Banks & Insurance companies are cognizant of the fact & are looking at tapping the vast data on their CRMs to offer “Products relevant to me.”
2. Rise of health and sustainability consciousness
Customers are increasingly conscious today of their health and sustainability issues. The belief is stronger today that brands should think about profits, but also operate responsibly and address social and environmental issues. However, simply communicating a sustainable goal will not be sufficient, the goal also has to fit the brand, must be credible, and executed.
Mobile technologies now allow customers to scan barcodes, get all the information they need about the product including their interest rates, bundling offers, and conduct a price comparison on the go to choose the best product. It will be a new form of transparency, and brands must get habituated to it. Banks have adjusted beautifully to the concept of Video KYC to onboard new customers without even leaving the comfort of their homes, no interaction with a BFSI staff during this pandemic, marred with a contactable virus.
3. Increasing use of social media
Customers will increasingly engage in sharing their WOM (Word Of Mouth) on different social media platforms with friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. Brands have already realized this fundamental change in consumer behavior and will have to change their strategies accordingly, especially to take advantage of these new opportunities- learn by listening to consumers online, social media will offer ways to improve the timeliness of customer feedback. This will allow BFSI companies to execute new forms of communication strategies and advertising that will enhance the value of data sharing, by engaging with customers. The lines of demarcation for telecom, BFSI & Fintech companies are diminishing here with each hungry to grab that pie of customer’s share of wallet. We never know payments through social media channels might be the way ahead!
4. Increasing use of apps
Smartphones will be critical as the prime screen (ask yourself are you reading this article on your mobile or on that laptop?) with innovations, a better UI/ UX, always being connected on the go will all ensure that the app usage increases even further in the coming years. Brands will have to ensure ways to build loyalty here, we all are evident to the fact that many apps opened up their “premium services” for free during this lockdown. Can the brands capitalize on this and make it an exclusive experience especially for their high CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) segments, at a later stage? Would some customers move up the ladder & subscribe to these premium services? Then what should be communication like? These questions are to be answered. Customers prefer an assisted model with an OTP-based transaction for added security features. Even to tap the underbanked segment which doesn’t own a smartphone, a UPI assisted feature phone option has come to the rescue of customers.
5. Use of real-time data
Brands in the BFSI domain have focused on customers staying connected anytime and receiving/sending data, instantaneously. This will lead to a paradigm shift, with advertisers bidding for space in real-time, assisting brands with real-time data for better decision making, targeting the right TG, re-direct web traffic, and justifying ROI (Return On Investment). Here AI & ML plays a big role to predict the number of footfalls at the branch, enabling a proper optimization or rescheduling of sales & service frontline staff. Banks have started building such statistical models for offline & online presence. Preapproved loans are being offered on the basis of the customer's past behavior & transactions with banks & NBFCs, in addition to vital information like their creditworthiness, personas & their Customer Lifetime Value.
Customer-centric brands have utilized this power to the full extent with the help of a feedback mechanism post every customer transaction- financial as well as non-financial, implementing a service recovery for the dissatisfied detractor group within a specific TAT & then conducting a post-resolution survey to close the loop, ensuring a happy & retained customer. Capitalizing on a negative experience to convert the customer to be a brand promoter/ ambassador.
6. Priority for convenience and self-service mindfulness
With constraints of being at home & ordering essentials at their fingertips, consumers will seek more and more convenience, which will have an impact on all aspects of customer relationships. Convenience will eventually lead to the rise of self-service options. Whenever they can, customers want to take care of their own needs (without hassle). Online banking platforms will give consumers the means to buy more structured and customized products. Companies will have to empower consumers to perform minor services themselves by offering convenient self-service options, but be always available when customer problems grow more complex and demanding in nature.
Here “Voice” has great power, especially for a country like ours with a good blend of India which fluently speaks English & the more traditional “Bharat” which still prefers to interact in the regional choice of language. BFSI domain is investing heavily in AI & ML here to understand customer sentiments, match their language barrier expectations & make the most of NLP.
7. Increased demand for experience and authenticity
Amplified adoption of technological advances will make customers more demanding. They will strive for individuality and self-realization. Brands will need to create memorable events and experiences that engage with the consumer. Relationship building over a time frame will be the key differential, rather than a one-time transaction. Offering memorable experiences is one way for brands to position and differentiate themselves when the physical product and service will no longer be sufficient, especially for the BFSI domain where the products are quite regulated.
Another trend will be consumers’ quest for authenticity. The improved information transparency in the digital age will provide consumers with a better understanding of marketers’ persuasion tactics. Here again, via a video KYC, insurance & loan providers have been stressing customers in their own voice to record the term of product, the rate of interest/ mortality charges, foreclosure clauses, etc that they will pay across the lifetime of the product to minimize misselling & have transparency in the process.
Consumers are now increasingly aware & evolved towards any form of brand communication & have started to digest the key message than just be carried away by a creative execution. The brand promise is far more important today than the claims in an advertorial & the trend is here to stay. Hence, brands will need to be transparent, honest, and consistent in their communication as well as reflect the brand values to actively engage with their customers. The need of the hour is to understand and prioritize the relationship of the organization’s culture, internal customers (employees), pricing, service delivery aspects, and communications for a seamless experience across touchpoints to ensure repeat business, a positive word of mouth &enhancing customer advocacy. Developing and implementing a customer interface as a hybrid approach, basis the insights driven from data- for delivering information & product offerings to the customers, will determine which banks, insurance companies, NBFCs & Fintech stay in business, the next decade.
Unleashing the power of data & insights for decision making to enable an organization to move from a problem resolution model to a preventive mode, when it comes to better understanding consumers & the reasons to connect via a channel/ touchpoint.
The end objective is to understand the underlying variables, to access the impact of Omni-channel strategy on sales, service experience & ultimately brand loyalty.