The same research reported that 41 percent of those who have lost their jobs are struggling to meet basic costs. This finding is evident in other research from McKinsey, which shows that 43 percent of survey respondents “are very or extremely concerned about their job or income — and not being able to make ends meet.” This immediate and severe economic shock has left many individuals seeking financial solutions. As a result, retail bank service professionals have emerged as a primary point of contact for customers.
Throughout their conversations, retail banking service professionals have an opportunity to understand the customer’s concerns, needs, and even emotions. This breadth of information, like many tiles in a mosaic, creates a detailed picture. What matters is how service professionals use this information.
During a time of economic upheaval, service professionals have an obligation to deliver superior service and thereby strengthen their relationship with customers.
Here, we offer four ways to elevate the approach to customer service.
Engage in Active Listening
As businesses engage in an escalating arms race for superior CRM systems, they often forget that one of the most powerful tools in customer service is not a program or piece of technology — it is active listening. When someone engages in active listening, they are focused on the other person’s words. They are making a concerted effort to understand the other person and respond in a meaningful way.
Active listening is different than passive listening, which seeks only to hear without truly understanding. Studies have shown that “participants who received active listening responses felt more understood than participants who received either advice or simple acknowledgements.” Customers who speak to a retail bank service professional engaged in active listening feel satisfied. They know they have been heard. Biases, expectations, emotions, and assumptions all get in the way of active listening, which requires one to be intentional, open minded, and dedicated.
Adopt a Mindset of Authenticity
Authenticity means speaking to the customer as a person. While this may sound easy, it quickly becomes difficult over the course of numerous conversations. Retail bank service professionals work with a variety of customers, often in quick succession, throughout the day. This frequency is exhausting. Therefore, remaining authentic across every interaction requires mindfulness.
Authenticity is about being natural even if doing so does not come naturally. It’s about having a genuine interest in the customer and curiosity for learning about them and solving their problems. By learning more about the customer’s needs, retail bank service professionals can offer insights. However, every insight offered must answer the question “So what?” Service professionals must make clear how the information they bring to the dialogue connects to the customer’s challenge. The goal is to blur or erase the line that separates the service professional from the individual customer.
It is important to remember that authenticity is not a strategy. It is a mindset. It is the result of a sincere commitment to the customer’s challenges. Service professionals cannot make authenticity a goal. Instead, they must develop a genuine interest in understanding the customer’s issues, which is a precursor to building and maintaining relationships in a difficult economy. The importance of authenticity is underscored by research from Accenture, which shows that “approximately 70 percent of firms have yet to develop strong relationships with customers.” Without an authentic interest in the customer’s world, service professionals cannot bridge the divide.
Personalize the Experience
A personalized customer service experience is a rare event. Customers are often pushed through a matrix of yes/no questions to arrive at a prepared response that falls short of a solution. In contrast, a personalized experience recognizes the customer’s need, challenge, or question. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to listen and read the customer’s tone and empathize with them. Service professionals must use acknowledgment, rapport, and empathy to connect. With these skills, the service professional can convey the right presence while projecting confidence, credibility, and conviction to show interest, gain respect, and inspire trust.
These traits resonate with customers who are often forced to play hopscotch in their search for a solution. They are shuttled from one service professional to another. “The result is that, in many organizations, the first-call resolution rate hovers around 40 percent,” according to research published by McKinsey. Effective service professionals take responsibility and own the issue. Doing so minimizes the effort required from the customer. Moreover, redirecting customers to different service professionals makes it difficult to explore the customer’s needs.
Understand then Solve
The customer wants to be heard. Their words do more than clarify the issue. They also reveal ways in which the service professional can go further in the resolution. Understanding the customer helps reveal underlying issues. Once the customer has been understood, the service professional must solve the problem. They must use clear language that outlines next steps. Language must be concise and linear. Additionally, they must use specific language, which encourages the customer’s confidence. Rather than, “I will help you solve this problem,” a more effective retail banking professional might say, “I will help you correct the account setting so that the defaults reflect your original preferences.”
The key is to take the time to listen and avoid the habit of extrapolating meaning before it has been articulated by the customer. This tendency arises when we lack what psychologists call “theory of mind,” which is an awareness that another person’s knowledge is different from our own. Unfortunately, research in the International Journal of Cognitive Science revealed that “adults do not reliably use this sophisticated ability.” If we don’t retain this “theory,” we assume false information and make assumptions.
The researcher’s findings are a wake-up call. Even though we develop theory of mind as children, we’re prone to forget it as adults, leading to “a stark dissociation between an ability to reflectively distinguish one’s own beliefs from others.” Simply put: we cannot assume that others know what we know or vice versa. Service professionals cannot afford to make this assumption. They must always be aware that their knowledge doesn’t always match the customer’s knowledge. The most powerful aspect of theory of mind is that it reminds service professionals of this gap and that the only way to bridge the divide is to learn more about the customer.