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Empathy Matters More Than Your Technology Budget

Kelly Dakin, Chief Digital and Customer Experience Officer at Atlantic Union Bank

We live in a tech-forward world where companies are increasing their technology spend to better support clients and teammates. With companies merging to reach economies of scale, it’s reasonable to assume that a community bank or a regional bank could simply not compete without the same resource spend. However, delighting a customer is not correlated to the size of your technology budget.

Today more than ever, you must find a way to differentiate your customer experience to gain customer loyalty. Think about the way in which Uber disrupted an industry. They provided customers the ability to have transparency and control in their travel experience. Uber empowered their customers to know if their vehicle was four miles away or two, and if they should expect a four-star experience or two. Innovations like this can happen in banking at a micro-scale in the same way – by taking an extreme focus on the customer journey and what features can empower customers to live their best life.

Rent, Buy or Build 

While customer experience should be the leading factor in recent technology developments, it’s clear that the budget still can be a promoter or a detractor for creating a delightful experience. If you do have budget constraints, then the conversation around renting, buying, or building the back-end technology is a key differentiator. As a general rule of thumb, it’s okay to buy that technology if the experience you’re providing is simply a commodity. However, if you’ve gone through the proper journey mapping and understand a differentiating moment in your customer’s experience with the bank, then it may be extremely valuable to build. A regional bank or community bank can truly differentiate themselves if they are empathizing with their customer and creating a more thoughtful, nimble experience that a larger size organization may not be able to provide on a similar local level.

  At a community or regional bank, you can focus on specific aspects of the customer journey and focus on them with more predictability and confidence. By achieving small micro-successes, you can also show the value of these carefully selected and tailored moments in your customer experience to your executive team and Board 

Across the industry, we’re seeing many banks taking “out of the box solutions” without thinking about the customer. But there is power in understanding your customer base. For example, if your journey mapping session shows the empathy of your Customer Care Team is one of your strengths, then can you convey that same tone and quality in your mobile application by personalizing the chat bot interactions? By modifying an “out of the box solution” you are able to transform your customer experience and share something more personal to your customer base that no one else can provide. The ability to have a choice around renting, buying, or building systems for different solutions provides an environment where banks big and small can tailor an experience to differentiate.

Follow the Numbers

Advanced systems enhancements are driving the industry forward, but there’s still a great need to focus on the basics. With so many changing processes in our technology-focused industry, improving the customer experience can sometimes be as simple as following the numbers. The Digital and Customer Experience team at Atlantic Union Bank noticed that our online enrollment numbers should be trending higher, which caused us to follow the customer journey from branch enrollment to online enrollment. After we did some research, we realized that we were asking customers to share the same twenty-six fields for online enrollment as the initial account opening enrollment. In reality, customers only need to type in three fields for online enrollment once they’re already in our system. We were able to update this process in a short four-week period with minimal cost, and once the change was made, our data reflected the positive effect of this change. The time we used to implement this small change made an immediate positive impact on our customers – time well spent following the numbers to find the greatest customer need of the moment.

With technology changing rapidly, it’s understandable that teams cannot elevate every process at the same time, but it is a game-changer to be bold enough to ask the question and pinpoint where the customer is having the largest pain points in their journey. If you’re looking to make a positive change in the customer journey, simply ask the question more often: “what are we asking our customers to do?”

Digital Maturity

Even the way we approach our work has changed in the last ten years. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 20-million-dollar bank, or a 50-million-dollar bank, everyone is thinking about digital maturity. Many large institutions have successfully transitioned from Waterfall to Agile methodologies, but you don’t have to completely transition to Agile to create a more mature practice at a smaller institution.

Even without taking on a full Agile methodology, everyone can learn something critical from the practice. Agile has many definitions, but I share with my team that there is power in taking an Agile approach to empathizing with the customer and design more thoughtful experiences to deliver a better banking experience. Agile teaches us that perfection can be the enemy of good. And perfection can certainly be a barrier when thinking about ways we can make banking easier to improve our customers' lives today – not just in six months or two years down the road.

At a community or regional bank, you can focus on specific aspects of the customer journey and focus on them with more predictability and confidence. By achieving small micro-successes, you can also show the value of these carefully selected and tailored moments in your customer experience to your executive team and Board. Small wins can lead up to a culture where you’re really thinking about the culture, and differentiating your customer experience in a way that’s meaningful.

Customers want to know that you’re listening and understand their pain points. The banks that show customers they’re listening and are working to improve the customer experience will find the most success, despite the size of the technology budget. At Atlantic Union Bank, we believe in a team culture where teammates are empowered to solve problems. After all, we can only make banking easier if we’re focused on empowering the customer experience and delighting them in the process.

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