Saving Your Customers’ Time While Saving Money

In the past 18 months, customers have needed guidance and advice more than ever on how to manage their financial lives, but unable to visit their local banker in the branch.

At the same time, banks have faced a dramatic shortage in available skilled resources. Combined, these factors have driven average call center wait times 7 minutes to more than 20 minutes, fueling dissatisfaction and frustration.

However, while most banking needs are important to the customer, they are typically not urgent. When brought to the attention of bank employees, they can be supported or resolved in a few minutes. Customers are frustrated not because their task is urgent, but because they are actively waiting to bring the task to the attention of bank employees. The bigger the discrepancy between the active wait time and time to complete the request, the bigger the frustration. Anything that banks can do to save time will lead to happier and more loyal customers.

The most elegant way to accomplish this is by eliminating the need for customers to actively wait for customer service, and replace it with more efficient, attention-free service model. Active waiting requires dedicated time and attention while waiting: while on the phone, you cannot make another call or do other activities that would require focus so you can respond within a few seconds once the call finally goes through. Another example customer service via web chat. Customers must keep the chat window open and respond to any messages sent by the service person within a minute or so, otherwise the session will end and they need to start over.

Attention-free waiting doesn’t require dedicated resources or attention while waiting. Some banks have a callback function that allows customers to hang up and receive a call once the service representative is available. Although burden of waiting is minimized, because customers can do other things.

Banks have traditionally tried to reduce customer active-waiting by hiring more employees and staffing them to match customer demand. This can take months to execute successfully and can be too complex to adjust resources to match changes in customer request on a daily basis.

Luckily, thanks to recent advances in servicing technology, there is a better way: replace the synchronous, or active-waiting, service model with an asynchronous one that allows for attention-free waiting. Synchronous means that both the customer and service provider need to be available at the same time; in an asynchronous model, only one person is needed to move the task forward.

For customers, the synchronous model means active waiting and the asynchronous service model is attention-free waiting. For banks, the synchronous model means staffing for peak customer demand and an asynchronous model means staffing for average customer demand.

This asynchronous model can mean a customer communicates a request to the bank using one of the methods describe below, and then continues their daily activity uninterrupted. The bank holds the request in a work queue until an employee that can handle the task becomes available. The employee works on the task and contacts the customer once it is completed. If the employee needs additional clarification, they contact the customer, put the request back in the queue and work on other tasks until they receive a response. The efficiency comes from both the customer and employee not needing to actively wait while the other is working on their task.

Tools banks need to enable an asynchronous service include:

  • A method for customers to communicate a request, such as an online portal, phone or similar channel.
  • The ability to keep track of open customer requests through something similar to a ticketing system.
  • A method for bank employees to contact the customer once the request has been completed, over email, phone, messaging or something similar.
  • A compliance and approval process to allow for asynchronous service requests to be processed – an important component banks cannot forget.

There are many vendors and existing solutions that make deploying the asynchronous service model easy. Several examples of asynchronous service currently in use include:

  • Self-service – customers finding solutions for their query through online or mobile channels.
  • Call back service – calling customers back, ideally coupled with a time estimate, instead of forcing them to hold.
  • Messaging – allowing customers to communicate with your institution via text or chat.
  • Secure email – the older cousin of messaging
  • Calendar scheduling – while not exactly asynchronous, it offers some benefits of attention-free waiting to customers.

Removing the synchronization burden in customer service results in not only happier customers, but less of a strain on resource planning and much higher scalability for institutions – a welcome strategy for every bank, at any time.


Slaven Bilac