By Leigh Hopwood, CEO of CCMA (Call Centre Management Association) and Mike Orlic, vice president for EMEA at TTEC

With soaring inflation and skyrocketing energy prices, the cost-of-living crisis in our region is wreaking havoc for many individuals and families. Household budgets are being upended by growing utility bills, homeowners are increasingly in danger of falling behind on their mortgages, and borrowers are doing everything they can to stave off defaulting on their loans.

For financial institutions, all these mounting pressures are coming to a head in the contact centre. Banks are being inundated with enquiries from panicked customers who need help – and the deluge shows no signs of slowing as this crisis continues to swell.

It’s a lot for organisations to grapple with, but several customer experience (CX) best practices can help navigate this tumultuous new landscape. With the right mix of people and technology, institutions can weather this storm and set themselves apart from their competition.

1. Make sure customer support is empathetic and authentic

The crisis happening throughout EMEA, and particularly in the United Kingdom, has added an emotionally charged layer to what has typically been a rather transactional industry. Now, financial institutions are being flooded with enquiries from customers who worry about how they will keep their lights on, afford their mortgage or rent payments, make ends meet, reduce insurance costs, and keep their homes. The stakes have gotten exponentially higher for customers and interactions are more emotionally charged.

What does this mean for contact centres? Associates must deliver customer experiences that are empathetic and authentic. A business-as-usual approach won’t work in these extraordinary times. It’s never been more important for financial institutions to make every customer experience frictionless and personalised, especially considering many consumers will leave an institution after experiencing poor customer service.

Empathetic support is needed during these challenging times, but many financial institutions are finding it difficult to recruit and retain frontline employees. Some may find it beneficial to work with a CX outsourcing partner.

2. Respond to customer needs quickly

It’s no longer enough to merely tell your customers, ‘We’re here for you.’ Companies need to show it, by providing solutions that alleviate the problems consumers face right now.

Barclays, for instance, recently started offering its customers tools to help them with household budgeting. The move shows that Barclays knows its customers and what they’re going through; customers are worried about paying their bills as costs rises, and Barclays provides tools to help.

This is what it means to be proactive in our new reality: not just talking the talk, but giving your customers tools and solutions they need – before they even realise they need them.

Institutions also need to be proactive when it comes to removing any friction from their customer journeys. Too often, there is confusion somewhere in the customer journey, whether it’s at the bank branch, the contact centre, a mobile app, or elsewhere. Now’s the time to eliminate these friction points wherever you find them because any added confusion will only heighten customers’ anxiety.

It’s also crucial to remain agile. Fintechs and challenger brands are, by design, built to be more adaptable, but even the largest legacy institutions need to embrace new technology and ways of thinking if they want to thrive.

To truly help customers, and to thrive in the long term, financial organisations must understand customer intents, be able to predict why customers are contacting them – before those customers ever pick up the phone or stop in a bank branch – and be ready with the answers and solutions they need. Those that can’t proactively anticipate how to help customers will lose out to those that can.

For many financial institutions, becoming more proactive and agile marks a major shift, but it’s one that will pay off in the long run. Because it can be difficult, some organisations turn to third parties, such as a CX outsourcing partner, to help them on their journey. Doing so lets them tap into expert guidance and a wealth of best practices along the way.

3. Focus on employee engagement, too

Frontline colleagues are being tasked with more than ever: delivering seamless, personalised, and empathic interactions that resolve customers’ increasingly complex enquiries quickly. But don’t forget, your employees need empathy too.

Contact centre workers are facing the same struggles your customers are. They’re putting their own concerns about how they’ll make ends meet on hold to help your customers in their time of need. And just like your customers, they deserve an empathetic and authentic experience with your organisation.

Now is a good time to re-evaluate your frontline colleague training programs. Are you giving them the tools they need to do their jobs well in this challenging environment? Are you incorporating cutting-edge tools, like AI-powered role playing and gamified options, into your training to set them up for success?

Investing in employee engagement is vital to retaining top talent in this challenging labour market. These people are the front line of your brand, and they’re more likely to stay with an employer who values them, gives them the skills and tools they need to do their job effectively, and recognises a job well done.

There’s no doubt it’s a scary time for many consumers, and a challenging one for financial institutions. But amid all the uncertainty, there are opportunities for brands to become more empathetic, proactive, and agile. There are still opportunities to delight customers, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Devoting the time and resources now to double-down on customer and employee experience will pay dividends, not only throughout this current crisis but well into the future.

About the Author

Stephen Yap – Research Director, CCMA

Stephen Yap is the Research Director for the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA), where he designs and delivers bespoke research on topics of interest to the contact-centre sector, encompassing themes such as customer behaviour, advisor experience, operations management and technology transformation.

Prior to this Stephen spent almost 20 years with two blue-chip research firms: Kantar and Ipsos. For more than 20 years Stephen has helped some of the world’s most recognisable brands uncover and satisfy their customers’ wants and needs.