Branch, contact center and digital channels all need to be underpinned by a reliable and high-performing network so that customers can keep transacting no matter what happens. Oshadha Ranaweera, Manager for Connectivity and Network Services at Somerville, tells us more about how connectivity is important to the customer experience.
Financial services has always been a customer service-led industry, but the focus on digitally-powered service elements has increased in recent years.
The pandemic forced banks and other institutions to think differently about customer interactions. Like other industries, banks digitized their contact centers and increased their use of chat (and of chatbots), enabling agents to handle multiple online queries simultaneously, or only the most complex problems, instead of having to answer (often routine) queries one at a time.
There is also now a greater use of communication channels built directly into banking apps, some of which route data about customer actions through Artificial Intelligence algorithms to determine financial products they might be receptive to or other similar conversation-starters.
At the same time, banks continue to digitally enhance the customer experiences offered through their traditional branch network.
For example, Westpac has revamped branches that are designed around an ‘open and flexible layout, maximizing front of house space with new digital technology including 24/7 self-service lobbies, iPads, digital marketing, video conferencing, Wi-Fi, touch screens and teller cash recyclers.’ ANZ similarly has modular branches that offer ‘24-hour digital transactional zones’ and are ‘configured to optimise customer flow and provide a digital banking experience that is smooth and intuitive.
While customer improvement initiatives are occurring in all front-facing parts of financial services firms, there is always room for improvement. As one survey found, only 60% of customers ‘believe financial companies have created a seamless experience digitally and in-person’.
Powering transactions, empowering staff
One way that customer experience can be enhanced is by boosting application performance at the branch and contact center.
Wait times are a sensitive issue in all customer-facing environments. The software that powers transactions and service interactions at these sites mustn’t experience performance and latency issues. One way to do this is by making sure that the connection or path between the branch or contact center, and where the software is hosted, is as short and optimised as possible.
It is also increasingly important that branches and contact centers are supported by resilient telecommunications connectivity. Ideally, they should have access to redundant data links from separate providers, such that if one link is suffering from latency problems or disruption, traffic can be automatically switched over to an alternate link, so that the performance of applications in the branch or contact center is maintained.
The same focus on connectivity can benefit the employee experience at financial institutions, in addition to the customer experience. It follows that branch and contact center staff benefit from having reliable access to mission-critical applications they need to access for customer transactions, in much the same way that customers do: if the whole interaction they have with customers is frictionless and time-to-serve can be reduced, customers are more likely to leave happy and Net Promoter Scores are likely to improve.
The rise of SD-WAN
This focus on improving connectivity and application performance has financial services firms evaluating and adopting SD-WAN technology. This is software that acts as an overlay to physical network infrastructure, such that these links and their capacity can be dynamically managed, based on ambient network conditions and customer and employee demands.
SD-WAN supersedes older, more inflexible WAN architectures such as MPLS networks, which locked financial services firms into telecommunications contracts that could not easily expand or grow to meet changing business requirements.
In addition to enhancing customer and employee experience in front-facing parts of the organization, SD-WAN is also improving aspects of back-office operations as well. Financial employees often now require access to sensitive data and applications from remote locations – regional branches, home offices or as mobile employees. Banks need a way to ensure compliance by providing secure access to data based on role and identity.
In addition, SD-WAN is lowering the cost and increasing the efficiency of deploying new network-connected IT hardware into branches and remote locations. Indeed, SD-WAN can extend to laptops and devices.Among other things, it facilitates faster onboarding of branches with zero-touch appliances that can be managed centrally. It also allows financial services firms to securely use Internet broadband and 5G/LTE connections at a lower cost, but with the same benefits as private dedicated lines. Installation of new network connections to sites is also faster and backups and Disaster Recovery plans are quicker and more practical.
Furthermore, financial institutions face strict regulations, such as the PCI DSS standard (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). Compliance is made more accessible with an SD-WAN solution, since SD-WANs have security features such as end-to-end data encryption baked into them, meaning payment data is secured as it traverses the financial services firm’s network.Click below to share this article