CRM comes of age

15 Sep 2005

Think about it for a moment: how many times in a given year do you speak directly with someone at a bank? Now think about that from the bank’s point of view: how can it get closer to customers if it doesn’t talk to them? BT Ireland’s seminar, entitled CRM in the Financial Sector, in Dublin last week looked at this question in some detail.

The banking sector is changing. The obvious indicators are the arrival of new entrants to the market — Danske Bank acquiring National Irish Bank, ACC Bank being bought by Rabobank and Bank of Scotland (Ireland) opening new branches. Added to that is the growing sophistication of consumers whose expectations of what constitutes good service have been raised.

All of this is putting pressure on banks to improve their customer service, but the quandary many find themselves in is while they are driving down costs and trying to make themselves more efficient, this doesn’t necessarily make them better at providing customer service.

Graham Taylor, vice-president for the banking industry advisory services with Gartner, set the scene and emphasised the strategic role IT can play in helping banks to achieve their goals. “IT has tended to get bogged down in things such as compliance and regulations. You’ve got to keep moving and be more customer focused and use technology to help you do that. It’s not just for keeping the lights on.”

With fewer chances to talk to customers and ultimately sell them a financial services product, it becomes critical that any contact with customers is used correctly. “The big thing is to take personal contact channels and link them together,” urged Taylor. “It’s where all the technology investment is going at the moment.”

In addition, Taylor spoke of the public’s “backlash” against outbound calling and the need for banks to adopt a “guided inbound approach”, where contact agents, prompted by a smart CRM system, can offer different service options depending on the customer’s answers. Another useful technology would be software that ‘shadows’ customers’ movements on the bank’s website and if it sees they’re stuck on a transaction, asks if they would like an operative to call them.

Stephen O’Neill, head of BT’s global CRM practice, acknowledged that there has been a lot of hype around customer relationship management (CRM) and that businesses are looking for tangible benefits and savings from deploying the technology. The challenge, he said, was “how to free up money to invest in CRM and make it an effective investment”.

He gave the example of Continental Airlines, which he said experiences many of the pressures familiar to the banking sector. The company moved all of its Spanish-language telephone agents to a single centre, reducing operating costs and improving customer service. “That’s freed up money in the business and it is investing it back in CRM,” said O’Neill. Now, Continental’s passenger lists contain not just names and passport numbers, but data such as whether the customer is a ‘gold’ frequent-flyer cardholder and whether his or her last flight had been delayed, allowing airline staff to personalise his or her greeting and offer that customer an additional service.

Helen Kelliher, business application consultant with Verint, a BT partner company that specialises in voice recording systems and quality management, warned of falling into the “efficiency trap”. This is a culture where meeting service levels such as answering a certain number of calls within a period of time becomes more important than actually responding to customer queries successfully.

A customer contact centre is an excellent source of feedback about what a company’s service is really like, Kelliher said. “Customers are telling you what’s broken, what they want more of and ultimately what they want to spend money on. It’s a customer focus group going on in your organisation every day and all you have to do is listen to it.”

Kim Robertson, head of CRM, finance sector, BT, elaborated on the details behind the strategy. Customer analytic systems and scorecards can be used to measure the customer’s experience in dealing with a company, ensuring that the customer’s experience is the same regardless of what channel he or she has come through. This takes in elements such as routing calls intelligently to the right agent and involves linking a bank’s branches and contact centre so that the customer essentially sees them as one.

Pictured: Graham Taylor, vice-president for the banking industry advisory services with Gartner, emphasised the strategic role IT can play in helping banks to achieve their goals

By Gordon Smith