Why Omni-channel Must be Omnipresent in the Innovation Evolution

graham-lloydGuest Post By Graham Lloyd, Industry Principal of Financial Services at Pegasystems. Graham explains how omni-channel is the key to customer engagement in the FS industry… There’s never been a better time to be financial services customer – in theory, at least. Once upon a time, if you had a query about your bank account or insurance policy, you either had to go into a physical branch to find an answer to your question, or sit on a telephone line during office hours waiting for an operative to answer your call.

Today, of course, that has all changed. If you want to ask your financial services provider a question, you can communicate by email, social media, telephone and expect a response no matter what time of day you reach out.

However, customers very rarely use the same channels for every interaction. For example, a customer may choose to make a complaint about poor service they’ve received from an insurance company using Twitter, but then choose use an online chat facility or a telephone call to find out if they can get themselves a better premium. This can create problems for the provider.

The insurer above still needs to consolidate all this into the single customer picture that is so necessary to shape and deliver excellent service. But it takes a great deal of time and effort to bring together each interaction conducted on each separate channel, not least because, for many firms, it’s a quasi-manual exercise. This can lead to costly errors with high potential to cause upset, annoyance and, in extreme cases, even see the customer taking their business elsewhere.

However, the best players resolve these challenges at source and enjoy substantial benefits from the resultant difference in customer engagement. They ensure that all their individual channels are integrated into a single omni-channel that immediately consolidates every interaction from each customer regardless of source. By moving from multi-channel to omni-channel in this way, the financial services provider gains the correct and complete context and background before it engages with the customer.

So how well prepared are those in the financial services industry to integrate their communication channels effectively? A recent global survey conducted across 56 different countries by Pegasystems, Cognizant and Marketforce amongst 500 senior executives in the financial services and insurance industries, found that very few were in a position to offer a fully integrated omni-channel service. Indeed, just 4 per cent of respondents claimed that they achieved this stage, while only 16 per cent said that they expected to have done so within the space of a year. Meanwhile, 11 per cent admitted that they had not integrated any channels at all.

The real issue for organisations is even more complex than securing the “multi-omni” dynamic. As technology continues to evolve, they not only face a race to integrate existing traditional channels with digital channels that they have only just begun to master, but they also need to keep pace with the rate of innovation and learn how to integrate new, emerging channels as well. So although many in the financial services industry will be patting themselves on the back and congratulating themselves for managing to integrate customer interactions from traditional channels like the telephone with digital touch points such as social media, the truth is that the majority haven’t yet scratched the surface of what they still need to do in order to fully embrace omni-channel.

This is particularly true when you consider the importance that the next generation of tech-savvy financial services customers holds for organisations. In order to engage with this new type of customer, banks, insurers and other providers are starting to realise that they need to have the ability to interact with them on their terms, using newer technologies. Indeed, our research found that 80 per cent of financial services based respondents felt that their organisation would have to change its operations significantly over the next five years in order to keep up with 18-25 year olds.

Despite this, however, it also found that only 9 per cent of FS companies are using wearable technologies such as smart watches as a customer communication channel. Although another 7 per cent said that they are conducting pilots into the feasibility of doing so, it still raises questions as to the agility of the industry as a whole when it comes to integrating new technologies into their omni-channel ecosystem.

There’s little doubt that the customer of tomorrow is going to be increasingly demanding when it comes to their communication channel of choice, with little or no tolerance shown for those who are unable to offer a seamless experience across multiple channels. The ability of organisations to not only ensure that they are able to offer this to customers, but to also anticipate their needs by integrating new technologies into the mix, could play a critical role in deciding how successfully the industry is able to win and retain customers.

Omni-channel must be seen by all in the FS industry as an omnipresent part of its innovation strategy and as a key means of engaging with and interacting with customers of today and tomorrow. But it needs also to be seen as a constantly-moving target. The days of delineating between separate, established communication silos are long gone, and organisations will quickly learn that if they are unable to meet evolving demand for access and emerging channels as well as services, they will quickly start losing customers entirely.