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Stop Letting Poor Communication Ruin the Banking Customer Experience (Part 1)

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According to the 2012 American Express® Global Customer Service Barometer, nine out of ten Americans (93%) say that companies fail to exceed their service expectations. What’s more, more than half (55%) recently walked away from a purchase because of poor service. When asked to name what irritates them most, consumers blamed an insensitive or unresponsive representative.

Communication is the biggest part of the customer experiences we create. Can you blame consumers for walking away if the message they receive is that the retailer doesn’t care about them or their needs?

When I monitor service centers and bank branches, I often see missed opportunities to tell customers they are valued, and that the bank or credit union wants to help them. Communication is the key. It’s language and much more. Everything the customer sees, hears, feels and yes, even smells, is sending a message. Here are some strategies institutions can use to ensure clear, consistent, customer-focused communication.

Use Familiar Language

Many tellers, service representatives and lenders use industry jargon. Some may assume the customer already understands these terms and their implications. Others may lack experience, and are simply repeating official definitions they may not know very well themselves. Either way, customers will likely nod their heads even if they don’t understand jargon, because they don’t want to appear ignorant.

In contact centers, I often hear a customer finish with an agent who used jargon — and then call back immediately to ask a different agent the same question. The reason? "I didn’t understand what she was talking about."

To make sure this doesn’t happen, employees can follow up any financial term with a simple "which means…" and then explain the product, service or issue in layman’s language, emphasizing the benefit to the customer or a key point of difference. Common terms that may confuse customers include:

• Account balance vs. Available balance

• APR vs. APY

• Billing cycle vs. Billing date

Create a Conversation

Explaining products to customers is a necessary part of the sales process. Too often, however, it becomes a one-way experience composed strictly of "telling." Without real interaction, financial institutions send a message that the customer’s opinions don’t matter. To build the back-and-forth, it is important to:

• Ask more questions

• Avoid pushing the promotion of the month, regardless of the customer’s situation

• Offer choices and see what the customer thinks

• Avoid cold, canned phrases such as, "Our policy states…"

Show You Care

How we communicate is just as important as what we say. To feel valued, customers expect your empathy and interest. It sounds simple enough, but many struggle to make it work. The failure often occurs when representatives are more concerned with process than the customer’s needs or attitudes. Are you watching for signs that your front-line representatives are communicating disinterest? Some of these include:

• Flat, tired or bored tone of voice

• Not listening to the customer’s question

• Cutting off the customer in mid-sentence

• Scripted apologies: "I understand how you feel…"

Part two of Melissa's piece on communication is here.

Melissa Kovacevic is the Founder and President of CommPlan Consulting. Melissa consults with Contact Center and Retail Customer Service clients on ways to improve and blend People, Process and Technology for a winning Customer Experience