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Apply the human touch without letting go of scalability

Posted: 17 February 2017


It fascinates me that in many industries and businesses, we seem to have forgot that the customer (those folk who buy and consume, pay bills and keep businesses afloat) are humans.

When did that undisputable fact get lost? We now have an entire industry of management consultants telling us that we need to reinvent our businesses using ‘human-centric design’, yet financial services practice doesn’t always follow that rhetoric.

Let’s blame technology, in part, for this. Businesses face many pressures – cost reduction, scalability, risk mitigation – and they often seek to address these pressures using technology. The problem is that this often undermines the personal engagement between a firm and its customers.

Contact centres are a great example. For most businesses, delivering support and service is critical but expensive, so technology is used to lower the cost of delivery. But complex interactive voice response (IVR) software isolates customers from a business and can leave them feeling frustrated and lost in a loop of commands. Frustration grows and the customer may hang up forever.

In contrast, human-centricity involves creating a product or service that resonates deeply with customers – ultimately driving engagement and growth. What does all this mean for financial advice? I can hear many of you thinking, ‘My entire business is built on the deep engagement, understanding and trust that I have established with my clients. Don’t talk to me about human-centricity.’

The problem is that the financial advice industry delivers solutions using high-cost human processes. Financial advice is expensive, or at least consumers perceive it to be. The result is an industry that delivers to perhaps just 20 per cent of the population, leaving millions of Australians without advice. There is a need for more efficiency and scalability, along with the human-centric advice.

There are rapid advances being made in technology that will address this need. It is crucial for advisers to adopt such technology in their businesses to protect and build their market share at a time when robo-advisers and other human advisers employed by the Big Five are working hard to undercut fees and grab business.

So how can you keep customers and win new ones?

Social media will deliver personalisation

Heavily personalised service is costly. But gathering data on our customers, which enables the delivery of highly personalised services, isn’t expensive.

For example, being aware of changes in a client’s family situation (perhaps the death of a loved one or a divorce) may enable you to deploy more effective financial strategies. This information could simply be obtained from a client’s social media sites. Prospective clients could then be profiled and mapped to a potential persona that could make engagement easier.

Indeed, the potential for delivering more client-centric advice is huge here. Product designers can even leverage existing social media data to determine the risks associated with the delivery of a product or service. A life insurer, for example, could build an individual’s risk profile more accurately from social media data than from a questionnaire. This is not far-fetched. Social media, search history and analytical tools leveraging our ‘digital footprint’ will become mainstream as part of client profiling. This will enable financial advisers to deliver more human-centric advice.

Artificial intelligence and cognitive learning

Artificial intelligence (AI) tools also provide powerful insights into clients or prospects. Conversational speech and facial expressions can be analysed to determine customer emotions. For example, Microsoft’s Emotion API can detect anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and surprise from a voice stream and images.

Financial service providers can use cognitive tools to deliver their products in a more engaging manner. For example, meetings with a client in person, via video or on the telephone, can be analysed and an adviser can be alerted if a client appears to become unhappy or disengaged. These are areas that we are experimenting with in VideoSign’s video meeting technology. Once implemented, AI can cost little to operate, yet the return on your investment – or knowledge gained about customers – can be huge.

The power of video

Most surveys continue to tell us that customers prefer meeting personally with their advisers. However, this can be costly. Do you or your client want to spend time in traffic, battling for a parking spot, and suffering the stress of congested roads, for a personal meeting?

Of course not. So we use the phone as our primary non-physical meeting tool. But the problem with the phone is it doesn’t employ the power of sight. Eye contact is fundamental to human communication. We can tell a lot from a person’s eyes, what mood they are in and their level of comfort. Avoiding eye contact with strangers is a common strategy to remain private, especially in situations of close proximity. Yet this is what we do in important telephone calls with our clients.

That’s why video technology is gaining popularity. Video-based engagement is not new but it is rapidly growing in professional environments. Skype and FaceTime have brought simple video calls into the mainstream. But they have their limitations. As a result, more reliable video solutions have developed for business and they are growing in popularity, as they offer a low-cost way to reintroduce the personal aspect of client interactions. They’re more human-centric than a telephone call, where your client could even have you on the mute button and you’d never know.

The future is bright

Technology will play a huge role in the delivery of human-centric financial services. We are barely at the starting gates, but innovation is moving rapidly. The financial services sector will undergo a new wave of reinvention. Stay at the forefront, stay informed and use the technology that is being offered to engage more effectively with your clients and be human-centric.

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