Cisco: Omnichannel banking on demand – James Cronk

Mobiles and tablets are now integral to the lives of consumers; the onus is on banks to keep up. It is up to the financial institutions to adapt to this growing demand and develop new ways to engage with clients. Cisco's James Cronk looks at the advantages of omnichannel banking and the importance of incorporating new platforms like video banking into an all-encompassing system.

Omnichannel banking is more than just the latest convoluted argot to infiltrate the finance lexicon. Technology has reshaped the way banks communicate with customers - texting, instant messaging and social media are already an essential part of their strategy. Driven by the insatiable thirst of millennials for the latest consumerist gadgets, it is a landscape that continues to transform as more avant-garde technologies hit the market.

After an extended period of austerity, many financial institutions are looking at how to encourage growth within the constraints of cost cutting. On the flipside, consumers have acclimatised to cross-platform integration and, with that, their expectations have increased; banks must engineer ways to match these demands. Omnichannel banking is the provision of an integrated service offering any product on any device in any location; whether consumers use their mobiles at homes or video links in branches to speak with experts.

A simple, yet idyllic concept, the execution has left some banks wanting.

"The basis for using any new collaboration technology is to make interaction a lot more seamless. The challenge is how to converge these new mediums into your call-centre environment," says James Cronk, director, financial services EMEAR at Cisco. "We've seen multiple instances where the most ultimate, up-to-date technology has been implemented, but failed to work as planned. A lot is down to employees who haven't adapted - you need to have the right skill sets to get the message across. It comes down to the culture in your organisation."

Removing people from the process entirely is technologically feasible, but wholly undesirable. Firms are experiencing the negative effects from removing the human aspect of communication, as customers become frustrated with fully automated systems and a perceived lack of engagement. Complex and urgent requests require responses that technology is currently incapable of delivering.

"Addressing this necessary cultural change in organisations is one of the key factors to making a success of new collaboration technology," says Cronk. "We commission one of our consulting teams to take users through how new systems and devices would function and how best to incorporate them into their role. It's about making them see how they can get real value out of it, maximising contact and making customer interactions pay for themselves."

An ideal scenario involves a fully virtualised call-centre environment that encompasses all staff, allowing each specialist to communicate with customers through any medium. Giving employees access to new digital channels has the potential to improve efficiency, cut costs and dramatically improve customer experience, if used correctly. The right technological facets exist to do so, yet, so far, few institutions have implemented such a complete solution.

"Perhaps the biggest resistance to unified communications from banks is a result of the perception that it is complicated to adopt or that they already have a structure in place," says Cronk. "Banks have got to be braver. An omnichannel strategy will act as the glue between channels. It enables a totally different interaction with much improved customer service and drives better employee productivity."

Smart solution: the innovative Cisco Remote Expert service

The profitability of bank branches has been heavily scrutinised in recent years, but Cronk believes the new Cisco Remote Expert solution will help revitalise them.

"From the banks' perspective, video is a great way to create a more personal relationship. Amazon is already doing something similar, and video is being used on every other device, so why wouldn't banks adopt it?" he says. "This added service will mean customers can talk to any adviser within the bank from a branch, irrespective of location."

Cisco's Remote Expert solution allows customers to connect with financial advisers via high-definition video. It offers retail banks the opportunity to optimise accessibility to experts, increase sales productivity and deliver a more engaging experience to their customers.

It's a service that is already used by Nationwide to great effect in its mortgage department. No longer do its advisers have to travel great distances to appointments with customers who may not even turn up. With customers able to connect at any time from their local branch, they control when meetings take place, while specialists can focus on holding as many meetings as possible.

All systems go: banks will benefit from implementing the new systems

Adviser productivity, increased sales capability and customer satisfaction may be the most obvious benefits, but there are other internal advantages to banks using the system. Regulations dictate that the audio is recorded, and these files act as a tangible audit trail and a great training source.

"Access to this level of information is great for looking at the best and worst case scenarios, and how not to interact with customers," says Cronk. "Feedback has been extremely positive so far, and we are now introducing this into people's homes and when they are mobile. This will be a significant benefit when it is combined with the branch service, as it means they can communicate with customers in a far more collaborative style. Remote Expert revitalises the branch allowing banks to maintain their high street presence, delivering enhanced customer service and full product capabilities while keeping operating costs at very acceptable levels. It is allowing the banks to rethink their branch strategies."

In the face of increasing competition from comparison websites, Cronk feels this service will help banks with customer acquisition and retention.

"The customer is involved in a more immersive experience, and you can close them down a lot more effectively in this type of interaction than you could otherwise. If you can provide the right product or service from a qualified resource at a time when the customer chooses, you can mitigate customers running off to do the comparison elsewhere," he says.

The rise of cloud hosting systems has seen a lot of banks question the necessity of keeping communication channels in house. The preference for many now is to have a preferred party take over non-mission-critical applications, and provide the flexibility and agility they were looking for in the first place.

"The banks that are going to succeed will be those who successfully adopt this omnichannel environment and this high level of interaction capability," says Cronk. "When you look at the challenger banks coming through, they're not held back by legacy, so they're more responsive and adaptable in terms of providing these new digital services. People see that they're able to go in and open a bank account in 20 minutes, and have a cheque book and credit card provided to them, but it's not such an easy service to provide for some of the larger banks."

Bank on it: the modernisation of the high-street

High-street branches have come under considerable scrutiny in recent years as firms strive for efficiency and cost cutting. Incorporating video interaction services could help banks change the role of the branch, with customers aware they could be face to face with the relevant specialist in minutes.

"It's a new channel in its own right, and will have huge ramifications for the branch. I expect we're going to see them moving from being purely transactional to offering far more complex services than they do today, in a very different format," says Cronk. "We should start to see comprehensive sales and advice capabilities coming from branches in order to maximise their usage. It comes down to the barriers between channels being removed so that customers receive a seamless experience across all channels."

At present, Cisco's Remote Expert Smart Solution is operable by existing customers during branch opening hours; in theory, though, it has the potential to be transformed into a 24/7 service, especially when integrating with its mobile solution and providing customers the option as to how and when they want the conversation Offering it across mobile platforms would certainly fit into the omnichannel mandate of "any customer, anywhere at any time". Technology like near-field communications for payments has already been integrated with mobile devices and, with their domination of the consumer communication market, banks will continue to explore the other services they can transition over to them.

Cronk believes the retail banks that truly understand and embrace this concept will be the ones to succeed in the future. Video banking may just be a small part of the modern customer's experience, but it is only when all these mediums are interconnected that an institution can claim to have truly grasped the essence of omnichannel banking.

Cisco’s James Cronk.