Breaking free – the future of customer engagement

12 February 2015

There has been a lot said about customer relationship management in the digital age. But whether it’s in person, over the phone, via web chat, social media, mobile or even video, today’s retail banking customers are seeking choice first and foremost. Raymond Pettitt, managing director at Barclays, explains how banks are breaking down walls in their quest for engagement.

Across the financial services industry, customer expectations are changing. With the so-called digital revolution firmly underway, they are seeking more from their bank than ever before, particularly when it comes to engaging with their provider across multiple channels. For a bank with millions of customers, this means offering an increasingly wide array of choices.

Perhaps the most prominent change has been the rise of mobile. Because mobile apps are so easy to use, they have quickly become part of the day-to-day fabric of retail banking. Simply through keying in a PIN on their smartphone, a customer can move around funds with minimum hassle.

"I think that's where we've got it right - we've created a mobile proposition for our customers where their registration process is secure, but after that it's relatively simple," says Raymond Pettitt, managing director at Barclays. "We're seeing mobile really take off massively. Now the challenge for us still is how do we continue to service customers who are maybe less digitally savvy, but want to go on that journey? How do we build their confidence and allow them to partake in that revolution?"

Pettitt believes that as a major brand, Barclays has a social responsibility to help more customers reap the benefits. The 19th-century industrial revolution, he points out, was great news for certain members of society, but less so for those who fell behind the curve. As he sees it, the digital revolution is starting to follow a similar pattern.

"The customers who are involved get the best deals in the market, so we really see it as part of our ongoing drive to open it up for as many people as possible," he says. "We're lucky to have so many diverse customers; some of them will rush towards the technology and love it, and others will ignore it until the last second before they'll give it a try. Our role as the people in the middle is to try to connect with them."

Pettitt himself speaks from an interesting vantage point having spent 20 years in contact centres before making the leap to the branch side. This has enabled him to see customer engagement less in terms of discrete channels and more in terms of the customer's overall experience.

"What I found is, customers who are in the branch and those who are on the telephone generally want the same things," he says. "They want ease of access, they want it to be secure, and then they want the first person they speak to be the person who solves their problem. Whether that's a simple direct-debit update or something more complex like a fraud issue, it's all about empowering that front-line caller to deal with the issue."

Fall of the walls

Barclays is not unique in wishing to break down its siloed approach - in recent years, we have heard plenty of discussion about knocking down walls between the various channels. What that means in practice, however, varies from bank to bank.

For its own part, Barclays has begun to use ClickFox proven technology to assess how a customer has interacted with their services across multiple touchpoints. This means if someone starts the process online, then makes a call and finally goes into a branch - all with a view to resolving the same issue - the bank is able to build up a complete picture of that experience. It will ensure the person's engagement with their bank is seamless and cohesive.

"It allows me to say, 'well, how can I re-engineer that and either conclude the process digitally or via web chat or a secure messaging service?'," asks Pettitt. "We can solve the problem for the customer in the channel of their choice. I think that's one way we've started to look at the customer rather than the channel."

One of the greatest sticking points for many customers is, of course, the call centre. Largely viewed as a time-intensive and frustrating process, with no guarantee of achieving the desired results, the phone call is generally approached with a certain apprehension. Does Pettitt believe this perception is changing?

"If a call has to be handed off to three or four different people, that's expensive for the business as well as a pain for the customer," he says. "So, back in 2010, we kicked off with a complete revisioning of the contact centre. We stepped back and said, 'our contact centre is basically a reactive service, and when we're dealing with transactional issues, actually we do a really great job'. But when it becomes more complex, we hand over to other departments and it becomes more difficult. So we looked into changing that."

"For customers who are less digitally aware, Barclays has recruited more than 8,000 dedicated ‘Digital Eagles’."

Intent upon eliminating the typical escalation process, Barclays made efforts to ensure the customers' first point of contact was equipped to address any given concern. As a result, it cut down handovers to the tune of 600,000 a month.

Equally, it wanted to be proactive. It created a proposition known as SkyBranch, which allows customers who are using the mobile app to engage with a customer representative as quickly and straightforwardly as possible.

"There are two ways you can do that just now," explains Pettitt. "One's through Smart Call - you can press a button on your app and you'll go straight through to our contact centre. You're already ID-verified, so we can welcome you by your name and do what we need to do. Secondly, we've got secure web chat, so you can be on the app, slide over, click, contact one of our colleagues and chat there securely.

"I think that's the purpose of the call centre moving forward - to step out and be there with customers. Call centres have fantastic people, so how do you use those fantastic people in this digital market? When you get digital plus people, our customers really engage with that."

Security service

Barclays is also working hard to expand its range of secure service offerings to video chat. This is taking place from two sides: firstly, in the branches where customers may be offered immediate video access to a specialist, and secondly via users' own devices.

"At the moment we have video connection in about 20 branches and we've got plans to expand that next year," says Pettitt. "Alongside that, we're working on a proposition where we invite a customer to connect with us on any device and have secure video conversations. We're hoping that will be live Q1 next year, and then we'll see some real expansion. So, at Barclays, we want to ensure we can offer our customers a face-to-face service wherever they are."

Another key point of focus is, of course, social media, which remains an important channel for customer engagement. On one hand, this is about soliciting feedback; listening to users' ideas as a means of driving continuous improvement. Equally, though, it's about addressing any issues as and when they arise. Where a customer has had a problem of some kind, and tweets about it, Barclays will pick that up and consider the next steps. Depending on the size of the problem, this may entail talking to the consumer in a secure space, or it may mean a simple back-and-forth exchange on Twitter. While there are limits to what can be achieved in this space, the aim is to maintain a holistic service across all applicable channels.

"If there's an individual customer who's tweeting that they're in a queue, we don't have the technology just now to be able to take that customer out and move them up," points out Pettitt. "Our focus is on continuing to offer customers choice, so what we can provide them is technology for callback - they can press a button and come off the line but stay in the queue. We then call them back when they're at the front."

Digital revolution

For customers who are less digitally aware, Barclays has more than 8,000 dedicated 'Digital Eagles' - employees who can help them build the confidence to use the latest technology and ensure they don't miss out.

"A Digital Eagle will show them it's not just for banking - it's also for connecting families and getting the best deal in the marketplace," says Pettitt. "This isn't about trying to sell a product, it's about trying to show you a new way you can do things. We've seen a great drive for customers using digital platforms as a result."

The company has also retrained many of its cashiers as 'community bankers', reflecting the evolving needs of branch users today. Their training process involves acquiring a 'digital driving licence', which essentially shows they are equipped to use the latest technologies.

Meanwhile, if customers require this extra level of assistance while browsing the Barclays website, they can take advantage of a web chat service, in which a representative will run them through whichever product has piqued their interest.

Tomorrow's lesson

The financial sector, of course, is not alone in its quest for customer engagement and Pettitt believes banks can learn important lessons from other verticals. He cites the development of the mobile phone, for instance. Some years ago, call centres would have to deal with thousands of calls querying how to use the handset; these days, handset technology is so intuitive that calls of this kind have been virtually eliminated. Banking products, he contends, are following a similar trajectory.

"I think that kind of ease is really key - if you make your product or service easy, customers will run to it and use it," he says. "The second thing is around transparency, ensuring that when a customer request can't be completed instantly, they really understand the next steps. I think that's an area we need to work hard on."

He feels that banks such as Barclays need to continue to expand their service offering, ensuring the customer proposition is as straightforward as possible and that their millions of users are offered a meaningful choice.

"Whichever way the customer decides they want to interact with you, you'll make it available," he explains. "If you don't make it available, you'll become irrelevant and the customer won't want to be with you. So that means we will need a full omnichannel solution for customers. We'll need branches; we'll need contact centres; we'll need digital, we'll need mobile; and we'll need to be integrated together in those channels in a customer-centric way.

"Ultimately, brands need to show their customers that it's easy and secure, and that the people they speak to add value. I think the brands that can do that will be the winners."

Raymond Pettitt, managing director at Barclays.