The Customer Communication Playbook (Pandemic Version): 5 Lessons from Leading Indian Financial Enterprises

The past decade has accelerated change at an unprecedented pace across leading financial firms. Undoubtedly, the fintech and digital payments revolution has advanced the future of the entire industry into a reality today.

But this century’s biggest event, the COVID pandemic, has picked holes in the industry’s current business and customer engagement models.

In a way, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise to indicate the need for an anytime, anywhere accessible customer experience model not just to sustain but to power businesses forward. Well, we are not claiming this. That was the broad consensus of an elite cohort of panellists who gathered at a recent virtual roundtable co-organised by ET and Exotel, a leading cloud customer engagement platform.

Before you go ‘not another session with cliches and trend overstatements’, it had the following industry practitioners:

In this blog, we discuss how they steered their organisations during the past year to adapt to an evolving normal of doing business. This piece will help frame your customer communication strategies going forward.

Feel free to jump directly to any of the following sections:

1. Business Continuity With Remote Work

When the pandemic forced lockdowns upon us, financial entities believed that trust, previously thought to be built through in-person customer interactions would disappear overnight. But the rapid shift in communication between customers, customer-facing agents, and other stakeholders (like brokers or channel partners) retained, if not grew trust levels.

The burning question on industry executives’ minds was how to have offline agents deliver online experiences sooner than later from the confines of their homes. It was a question of whether the business could build resilience to suit shifting customer engagement patterns. BFSI players had to rewrite their processes to adapt to a fully remote conversation model with customers. Tactically, this involved introducing e-cards or campaign microsites for sales reps to easily pitch solutions and share contact details.
Suhail Ghai,
EVP (IT) & CTO at Max Life

Technology’s potential is put on display:

It was time for the theory of processes and technologies managed around an on-premise setup to be put to rest. While desk phones and other communication tools hosted on-premise were now adapted to operate with remote agents, a better alternative was through cloud telephony or cloud contact centre solutions. The solutions had to offer:

a. Ease of setup without massive tech reconfiguration

b. Ease of use to quickly ramp up adoption across teams

c. Communication capabilities adapted for remote working — say clicking a button to directly dial

d. Reliability levels that surpassed what traditional communication systems offered

The notion of creating ‘deskless agents’ as a norm, not an exception, is gaining steam today. Given businesses delivering high employee experience (EX) levels see a corresponding rise in CX scores, they must introduce technology solutions that simplify their teams’ work. Like gaining customer context with a couple of clicks or pressing a button to call, without needing to manually dial the number.
Shivakumar Ganesan,
CEO, Exotel

2. 360-degree Customer Context

None of the panellists could disagree when Rohit Ambosta, CIO at Sharekhan shared how the customer was always remote. Except for a few mandated in-person visits by government regulations or bank policies (for instance, submission of KYC documents).

New rules of engagement in the digital playground

Today, the primary way to continue engaging and deriving value from customers has defaulted to digital. But in the digital playground that firms play in (like mobile apps on customers’ smartphones), they compare CX levels of apps like Big Basket or Zomato with financial businesses.

Create a harmonious tech stack

To meet these renewed expectations, financial institutions have been launching cloud tools for a number of customer needs during this time.

The Challenge:

But the host of apps work independently of each other. The result is generic, not personalised CX that popular services deliver. In fact, think of conversations you had with Ola or Zomato. These services would not be able to set the bar high without strong technology integration across their tools.

The Solution:

Personalised customer engagement is possible through insights from comprehensive data. In addition, team productivity improves with lesser app switching between tools for agents to build customer context.

Why are bot channels ineffective today? Because they don’t know everything they need to know about the customer. Data that exists in silos across individual communication apps needs to be fed into a central data warehouse like a Customer Data Platform (CDP). When the CDP works with other key tools like a CRM and a communications nerve centre, it creates a better and more comprehensive view of the customer which the bot can access. Thankfully, the industry is making rapid moves to make this a reality.
Shivakumar Ganesan,
CEO, Exotel

3. Fast-tracking Customer Communication

The Salesforce report cited earlier revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has elevated 68% of customers’ expectations around a brand’s digital capabilities. That is not surprising. Prakarsh Gagdani, CEO at 5Paisa recalls how the likes of Amazon and Uber create automated conversation flows when he uses their app or website. The aim is to reduce human effort needed to respond to non-complex queries and to resolve customer concerns rapidly. For occasions when the bots fail or the queries can’t be answered, a human touchpoint through an agent can be seamlessly introduced. It also shows the benchmarks being set in enterprises delivering expected customer service levels.

The scope of automation in customer engagement efforts today

Throughout the session, panellists were satisfied with how self-service channels are becoming smarter and contextual. However, with the power of automation, they can respond to queries faster when the AI can feed on different data sets generated by automated models. This can begin by gathering data from something as fundamental as a phone call. It can generate useful insights for agents to converse better with customers, even going so far as gauging their current mood. This can help tweak their pitch to arrive at a mutually beneficial conclusion. And for complex-level enquiries by customers, there are seamless ways in transferring conversations to live agents before they become frustrated.

Let’s take this a step further into the world of wealth management where conversations with HNIs are critical. If a relationship manager is unwell or on another call when a client of his calls in, can the cloud communication tool look up resource availability mapped into the helpdesk or the CDP? Then, can it transfer the call to an available relationship manager or a superior in real-time?
Ratan Kesh,
EVP & Head — Retail Operations & Service, Axis Bank

Today, such capabilities are available. But they are just the tip of the iceberg of what you can find in the customer communications stack.

4. Personalised Customer Engagement

Would you choose a quick, standard response from a brand versus a personalised, yet somewhat delayed response?

Axis’ ramps personalisation despite working remotely

Axis Bank found itself with 50,000 sales executives stuck at home. It extended its CRM capabilities onto their mobile phones, making customer information and intelligent insights such as speech analytics from call-related data readily available at their fingertips. In no time, CX levels jumped by 7%, proving the business value of personalisation. Soon, customer onboarding, video KYC and service requests were all managed digitally for a smoother customer and employee experience.

While banks have got the basics of customer engagement right, there are miles to go before carefully personalised experiences can be delivered. Gaining customer intelligence is a key frontier financial institutions are trying to master to approach this. One approach is by suggesting next best actions through predictive insights. A centralised data hub like a Customer Data Platform (CDP) becomes the AI engine or nerve centre for intelligent customer engagement.

The CDP can work in sync with data fed from technologies like the CRM and enterprise communications framework (like a communication platform as a service — CPaaS) to offer smart next best actions for customer-facing teams. What if smart bots could listen to call recordings and extract insights like recurring phrases or whisper data-backed suggestions to an agent during a live conversation? Those are opportunities to negotiate better or offer real-time service levels.
Shivakumar Ganesan,
CEO, Exotel

5. Building an agile, adaptive tech stack

The concept of operating on-premise enterprise software is slowly fading into the past, although remote employees are able to continue customer conversations and access a level of customer data from the on-prem infrastructure through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). But there is a growing disconnect between the nature of modern tools hosted in the cloud, and how those tools interact with legacy tools. No doubt, the latter was the best available option during the period they were mainstream. Today, they are still used for data privacy and security compliance. Like, the mandate to host data of customers within the regions they reside in.

Set up a cloud hub and spoke nerve centre

But the advent of cloud solutions has made customer-facing teams access their work and customer data from anywhere, at any time. With data-residency concerns now addressed with data residing in cloud centres within specific regions, the path is now clear to create a hub where ideal customer engagement can be personalised at scale. It is by far the most viable technology alternative to on-premise today. All the panellists felt the way forward is to continue adapting such technologies to match customers’ pace of the buying journey.

88% of customers surveyed as part of Salesforce’s “State of the Connected Customer” report expect that businesses will accelerate their digital transformation efforts as a result of the “new normal”. In line with this, panellists shared a renewed focus to keep their customer-facing apps updated with features like video KYC, e-signature, quote engines (to easily generate quotes), and secure co-browsing solutions. Businesses can add these capabilities to their customer-facing solutions with easy integrations, giving agents instant functionality to meet customers’ evolving needs.

Also, new regulations are forcing newer engagement capabilities to be built and integrated. For instance, how can managers monitor agents trying to fraudulently record customer’s personal information by taking photos with their smartphones? Our laws prohibit unsolicited capture of customer data. Although there are apps that restrict screenshots used across financial businesses, the SBI solution is configured to turn off the screen when an agent raises his phone in front of his computer.
Anand Pejawar,
Executive Director of Marketing, SBI Life

According to Hubspot, over 70% of customers believe that respect for their time is paramount when it comes to service. This is regardless of the kind of customer communication strategies you have in place, the channels they prefer, all factors that could impact delivering engagement the way your customers expect it. To enable this, look under the hood of your enterprise systems. You will realise that while it is not that straightforward, it is not complicated to get things in place too.

Omnichannel CX requires some tech plumbing

Offering channel choice through omnichannel service delivery to customers is a growing area of focus. Physical visits have long but disappeared, paving the way for businesses to focus on how they can craft digital experiences across a host of frequently-used communication channels. Businesses today are creating hubs such as a Communication Platform as a Service which interconnect various channels and can in turn work with a Customer Data Platform (CDP).

We would reach customers’ expectations when business systems can solve problems like failed OTPs via text. What if the system can detect the failure and immediately send a voice OTP? That requires both the areas of focus mentioned to work in unison. This is where concepts of a CDP and a communication framework come into play.
Shivakumar Ganesan,
CEO, Exotel

As part of our ‘Reimagining Customer Communication’ series, our next blog throws further light for you to understand the channel and infrastructural updates needed to serve your customers better.

To get a cloud communication expert to consult on your current customer engagement model and suggest ways to make it even better, contact us here.

Exotel gives you the added benefits of unlimited channels, top voice quality, regular analytics reports, multi-level security, and so on to your prospective ‘exophone’ (Exotel virtual number). Speak to us today to get your own.

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We make customer communication simple & efficient for enterprises in India & SEA. Follow us for stories on building a profitable startup