Tuesday 14 April 2020

Don't blame COVID-19 for poor service levels. Canadians have been receiving poor financial customer service for years and it needs to stop.

It has been long thought that the Canadian financial services' industry was one of the key benchmarks of customer service excellence and innovation in Canada but yet our 2009-2019 research of Canadian digital banking and self-directed brokerage service levels indicates that Canadians are entering the 3rd decade of the 2000's with the worst financial services customer service levels seen in the past two decades. In addition, and more concerning, is that the past decade's data indicates that retail consumers are being pushed back to traditional face-to-face interactions which one can only be interpreted as cross-selling/share of wallet opportunities for the institutions.

Surviscor, through its ongoing Service Level Assessment program, evaluated over 45 Canadian financial services firms between 2010 and 2019 amassing over 70,000 service records. The statistics indicated an early improvement due to digital acceptance in the first half of the decade then unfortunately a steep decline in the last half. The trend is not specific to one of the two financial services benchmarks as both banking and self-directed brokerage firms are trending in a direction indicating that service levels are at the worst levels over the past 10 to 15 years.

The How. Who's driving the interaction?

The most puzzling, and raises concerns, trend entering 2020 is the increase in the number of firms who have removed both Email and Service Request Forms capabilities and replaced them with essentially nothing, or weak and unproven, social media options. For example, self-directed brokerage firms no longer support a 24/7 business with most not even offering weekend support and banks are forcing customers into the touch channels of the firm’s preferences despite a large variance of age groups and e-contact adoption. The message to consumers is that the banks are trying to simplify the growing number of customer segments into its own preferred service process but are trending towards methods that they feel are attracted to the younger segments like Millennials. What they may be missing is that the older segments have the money and are not interested in interacting via Twitter or being cross sold at a branch. Conversely, financial service firms may soon realize that even Millennials will learn to appreciate customer service as a differentiating value that will, relatively speaking, trump small rates variance and cost savings.

The world of customer interaction has been evolving since the introduction of digital channels and the popularity of social media. 

In the late 1990’s consumers had a few standard options including phone calls, face-to-face interaction and some level of email support. Fast forward 20 years and the world of customer service is evolving on a yearly, even monthly basis.

"The issue is that the banks would like us to believe that the additional consumer touch points and changes have the customers best interests in mind, but the reality is the statistics indicate otherwise"
says Glenn LaCoste, President of Surviscor.

In fact, the statistics indicate that today’s customer service facilities offer many more channels to choose from but the glaring issue is that customers are now faced with less hours of service coverage, and in some cases days, and overall response times are 2 to 3 times longer than 20 years ago. Is this a case of improving overall service with different methods and processes or simply removing a service that the firm was failing to support? To date these are all banking firms and surprisingly the charge is being led by the big banks.

COVID-19 - The 'UNDERSTOOD' Service Reality for NOW

The current COVID-19 crisis creates a new, and hopefully short-term, environment that is difficult to criticize as tough times call for tough measures. It should be understood by everyone that grocery store and other essential services lineups are the new normal and that they should be welcomed, for both our own personal safety and the safety of others. Financial service firms are currently struggling to service everyone as the 'stay at home' orders have everyone spending more time on their finances and investments. They have made the conscious decision to temporarily focus on current customers only but the real increased pressure is on the investment industry, primarily the self-directed digital brokerage firms. These firms are forced to deal with the COVID-19 stay at home measures and the impact the virus is having on the stock market, activity levels that haven't been seen since 2008 and 2000.     

Demand EXCELLENCE Moving Forward

Seriously, what is going on with the once pinnacle deliverable of financial services? On average service requests are answered in 55-62 hours across industries and on average firms only respond to between 62-67% of the requests across the industries. These levels are beyond unacceptable and most financial services firms should be embarrassed.

Moving forward, the question that should be asked by consumers is one of a revenue/cost analyses that asks "Am I ok with an extra $10 of interest or $10 in savings in exchange for poor or no service?". The sad reality is that the new digital world revolves around firms convincing consumers that an extra 5 basis points on an investment or account is worth considering moving a consumer's hard-earned money at the expense of good service.
"As the new decade starts and COVID-19 passes, consumers must get back to basics and hold each and every firm accountable for its service levels. Demand excellence and once again make customer service the key driver when choosing a financial partner". 

Surviscor has been analyzing customer service experience since 2006, compiling in excess of 100,000 service interactions across 45 plus firms. The Service Monitoring and Benchmarking program analyzes service interactions initiated through Canadian banking and self-directed brokerage firm’s chosen public-facing interaction facility. The program has amassed approximately 2,000 experiences per firm which have been individually compiled and benchmarked versus individual industry firms to determine the best, and the worst, Canadian banking and self-directed brokerage firms.

Individual Firm 2019 Results: Surviscor Website
Surviscor Group Report: The State of Financial Customer Service in Canada - A Decade in Review

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