Sitel: build trust through multichannel service – Joe Doyle

Since the start of the economic downturn in 2008, there has been no let-up for banks battling to restore their customers' faith in their services. Every headline about failed internal controls or the mis-selling of products has added to their burden, but the industry has been fighting back by making efforts to improve its service.

"There is an ongoing process of rebuilding trust, and some banks and financial services organisations are more proactive than others," says Joe Doyle, vice-president of global marketing for BPO provider Sitel. "It is a painful time for many banks with the credit crunch and the mis-selling of add-on products like PPI still in the very recent memory of their customers.

"There is an ongoing process of rebuilding trust, and some banks and financial services organisations are more proactive than others."

"The best way to regain trust, and we are seeing great strides being made here, is in focusing on the customer experience. Our clients are 'beefing up' their audit processes, looking at every failure point and trying to fix problems.

"It's all about reducing effort for the customer, so banks now look at KPIs such as customer satisfaction and 'first contact resolution' to measure how well they are performing at resolving a customer's enquiry the first time, and to the satisfaction of that customer.

"Banks are also trying to provide a consistent experience across all contact channels. We are seeing a much more cohesive approach to areas such as web self-service and mobile banking, and how the experience there matches that at the traditional contact centre or even in branch."

Sitel's customer-centric approach

Sitel is a world leader in outsourced customer care services. Advising well-known brands in a variety of industries - among which financial services is prominent - the firm has over 26 years' experience, during which time it has expanded to over 120 domestic, nearshore and offshore centres in 25 countries across North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific.

"With banks, credit card companies, finance houses, loan companies and others granting credit, companies are increasingly competing with each other; as a result we are now seeing banks looking at providing alternatives to the standard checking accounts and credit products," says Doyle.

"For example, in some markets, there has been a proliferation of pre-paid cards. These cards tend to have lower fees and are less intrusive for customers who just want money access without the fuss of traditional banking products, thus, they suit many people who need the security of a card without the bigger relationship with a bank."

"For banks to enable call centres to improve their service levels, they must form closer relationships with their outsourcing partners."

A comprehensive approach to improving customer service requires banks to look far beyond traditional call centre operations, as much of the interaction with banks is moving away from the telephone towards digital channels. Nevertheless, call centres remain a priority as they expand to handle other kinds of contact. For banks to enable call centres to improve their service levels, they must form closer relationships with their outsourcing partners.

"The biggest concern is how to get the outsourcer to deliver brand image and the level of experience that is provided inhouse," explains Doyle. "To a degree, this rests in the hands of the clients, as they have to open up and allow us access to the same information that they use themselves. Culture can be embedded in the outsource centre as long as the client is forthcoming in promoting it. By immersing ourselves in our clients' brands, it enables us to provide a seamless service for their customers.

"The other challenge we occasionally hear is surrounding language and context. When outsourcing to areas such as the Philippines or India, we can experience the inevitable cultural differences, not to mention lack of awareness of certain westernised issues. With strong training and education in handling enquiries and questions, this isn't a problem, with agents understanding exactly what the customer is going through."

Sitel is well versed to respond to such challenges, with experience of working with leading international financial institutions and operating services across the globe. The company helps banks and financial services organisations to develop a comprehensive approach to customer service across cultures and channels.

Embracing social media

Improving customer service means not only setting a consistently high standard for customer interactions, but also extending that consistency across increasingly important digital channels.

The most important element driving these channels is speed. Sitel's recent survey of 1,000 people aged 16-64 shows that customers increasingly select channels that offer the fastest response; for example, the data showed a year-on-year increase of 6% in customers selecting live chat as their preferred method of communication, with figures for email (-3%) and phone (-1%) falling. Approximately 26% of respondents believe that companies could improve their customer experience if they responded quickly to questions on social media sites like Twitter.

"A Sitel survey showed a yoy increase of 6% in customers selecting live chat as their preferred method of communication."

Sitel's latest 'Social Media Customer Service Report' shows that social media is especially important for customers under 25 years, though many age groups are using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and forums to solve problems, voice complaints and search for information.

"Traditionally, banks have been slow to adopt new technology," says Doyle. "It was seen as very expensive and the industry was less competitive several years ago, but now financial services companies are among the most dynamic and prolific technology users. Ask yourself the question, 'When was the last time you had to go into a bank branch?'

"Banking has recently been adopting social media for customer service - something we probably would have only expected out of the high-tech industry just a few years ago. The percentage of people performing their banking via some form of electronic medium - PC, smartphone or tablet - has risen dramatically over the past five years."

Social media is a hot topic in financial services, and for banks, the burning issue is no longer cost. Now, they must understand how new channels operate and - more importantly - how to extend a consistent customer experience into the online space.

Sitel: multichannel expert

In a more complex multichannel environment, banks are increasingly looking to external service providers to help achieve better customer service. Sitel, which has an extensive network of service centres around the world, is not only a leader in providing traditional call-centre services, but has also pushed ahead in enabling those service centres to handle enquiries across all channels:

  • developing a unified agent queue for text-based interactions through social media, live chat and email
  • employing a next-generation social media technology platform focused on delivering a proactive service in the customer's chosen channel of interaction
  • leveraging the unified queue and next-generation technology to provide a secure escalation path to live chat for enquiries involving PCI or PII-sensitive data or compliance
  • delivering a net positive solution ROI by maximising first-call resolution and deflecting contacts from more expensive legacy voice channels or less effective legacy channels such as email validating customer satisfaction with a permission-based mobile device customer satisfaction survey that works on any device, anywhere.

In support of this offering, the company also has a recruitment and training strategy that ensures consistency across all channels. No matter where in the world they are located, its agents are suited to the most appropriate jobs for their profile and undergo a globally standardised training programme, one that ensures they have the right product knowledge and customer interaction skills to provide the same level of service as other Sitel agents.

"Social media is a hot topic in financial services, and for banks, the burning issue is no longer cost."

"It is vital that our multinational, global clients have consistency in customer service and brand exposure for their customers," says Doyle. "Globally standardised training also brings efficiency, as the recruitment and training processes are the same the world over. Our global capability is very important, as we handle over three million customer interactions each day in 40 languages, but our key differentiators are our people, processes and technology.

"We focus on recruitment and training for our agents. Our global operating standard (GOS) is a framework for continuous assessment and improvement, placing us at the forefront of technology in everything we do to improve the customer experience, whether we develop the technology in-house or work with best-of-breed suppliers.

"The key is consistency. If we follow what we know and execute our GOS model, then when we add client training and a comprehensive knowledge base, we are able to deliver exceptional service every time."

Banks are working to improve their services and reputation by focusing on the customer experience.
Joe Doyle is vice-president of global marketing for BPO provider Sitel.