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Client engagement

Bringing back the human element in client engagement

Here’s a novel revelation.  It turns out customers are also human, after all. 

It fascinates me that in many industries and businesses we seem to have forgotten that customers (those folk that buy and consume, pay bills and keep businesses afloat) are actually human beings.  When did that undisputable fact get lost?  We now have an entire industry of management consultants telling us that we need to reinvent our businesses using ‘human centric design’ yet financial services practice doesn’t always follow the rhetoric.

Let’s blame technology in part for this.  Businesses face many pressures – cost reduction, scalability, mitigating risks – and they often seek to address these pressures using technology.   The problem is that technology often undermines the personal engagement between a firm and its customers.

Call centres are a great example.  For most businesses, delivering support and service is critical, but expensive, so technology is used to lower the cost of delivery.  But complex Interactive Voice Response (IVR) software isolates the customer from a business and can leave the customer feeling frustrated and lost in a loop of commands.  Frustration grows and the customer may hang up forever.

In contrast, human centricity involves creating a product or service that resonates deeply with customers – ultimately driving engagement and growth. What does all this mean for financial advice? I can hear many of you thinking ‘my entire business is built on the deep engagement, understanding and trust that I have established with my clients. Don’t talk to me about human centricity.’

The problem is that the financial advice industry delivers solutions using high-cost human processes. Financial advice is expensive, or at least perceived to be so by consumers. The result is an industry that delivers to perhaps just 20% of the population, leaving millions  without advice.

But there are rapid advances being made in technology that will better enable more human centric advice to be delivered, whilst delivering efficiency and scalability. It is crucial for advisers to adopt such technology in their businesses to protect and build their market share at a time when robo-advisers and other human advisers are working hard to undercut fees and grab business.

So how can you keep customers, and win new ones?

The use of data to deliver personalisation

Heavily personalised service is very costly.  But gathering data on our customers, which enables the delivery of highly personalised services, isn’t an expensive exercise.

For example, being aware of changes in a client’s family situation (perhaps the death of a loved one or divorce) may enable more effective financial strategies to be deployed.  This information could simply be obtained from a client’s social media sites.  Prospective clients could then be profiled and mapped to a potential persona that could make engagement easier.

Indeed, the potential for delivering more client-centric advice is huge here. Product designers can leverage existing social media data to determine the risks associated with the delivery of a product or service.  A life insurer, for example, could build a profile of an individual’s risk profile more accurately from social media data than from a questionnaire.  This is not far fetched.  Social media, search history and analytical tools leveraging our ‘digital footprint’ will becomes mainstream as part of client profiling. This will enable financial advisers to deliver more human centric advice.

Artificial intelligence and cognitive learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools provide powerful insights into clients or prospects.  Conversational speech and facial expressions can be analysed to determine customer emotions. Microsoft’s Emotion API, for example, can detect anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise from a voice stream and images.

Financial service providers can use cognitive tools to deliver their products in a more engaging manner.  For example, meetings with a client in person, via video or telephone, can be analysed and an adviser can be alerted if a client appears to become unhappy or disengaged.  These are areas that we are experimenting with in SuiteBox’s video meeting technology. Once implemented, artificial intelligence can cost very little to operate, yet the return on your investment – or knowledge gained about our customers – can be huge.

The power of video

Most surveys continue to tell us that customers prefer meeting personally with their advisers.  However, this can be costly. Do you or your client really want to spend time in traffic, battling for a parking spot, and suffering the stress of congested roads, for a personal meeting?

Of course not, so we use the phone as our primary non-physical meeting tool.  Hardly a new invention, but the problem with the phone is we lose the power of eyesight.   Eye contact is fundamental to communications we have as humans.  We can tell a lot from a person’s eyes, what mood they are in and their level of comfort. Avoiding eye contact with strangers is a common strategy to remain private, especially in close proximity situations. Yet this is what we do in important telephone calls with our clients.

That’s why video technology is gaining popularity. Video-based engagement is not new but it is rapidly growing in professional environments.  Skype and FaceTime have brought simple video calls into the mainstream.  But they have their limitations too. As a result, more reliable video solutions have developed for business and they are growing in popularity as they offer a very low cost way to reintroduce ‘personal’ into client interactions. Now, that’s more human-centric than a telephone call where your client may even have you on the mute button and you’d never know.

The future is bright

Technology will play a huge role in the delivery of human-centric financial services.  We are barely at the starting gates, but innovation is moving rapidly.   The financial services sector will undergo a new wave of reinvention.  Stay at the forefront, stay informed and use the technology that is being offered to engage more effectively with your clients and really be human centric.

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