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Loosing the human connection - Are banks destined to become call centre only businesses?

The results show that although banking in SA is almost completely digital, consumers still want to talk to a human. Image by Simphiwe Mbokazi

The results show that although banking in SA is almost completely digital, consumers still want to talk to a human. Image by Simphiwe Mbokazi

Published Jun 25, 2022


Customer experience partner, Merchants, carried out some consumer research around banking and customer experience in SA.

The results show that although banking in SA is almost completely digital, consumers still want to talk to a human when they have an issue or query. It also showed the shortfall of tech like AI.

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The consumer survey found that the traditional bank is fast becoming irrelevant, and could soon turn into a solely remote entity that operates through customer experience (CX) touchpoints alone.

93% of consumers saying they use digital platforms for day-to-day transactions.

Of those 93%, 63% of consumers are using banking apps, while 30% are using traditional online banking. Only 7% prefer to visit their bank – the majority of whom were over 50 years old and likely to earn more than R30 000 a month.

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What’s more, a third of respondents said they only need to contact their bank a few times a year, while 23% said they never need to contact their bank outside of their day-to-day banking.

However, this certainly does not mean that CX should not be a priority for the industry. Interestingly, those with household incomes of more than R30 000 a month were more likely to contact their banks.

The survey, which had over 2 000 racially diverse respondents from across locations and household incomes, found that when reaching out to their bank regarding a problem or query, consumers still prioritise being assisted by a human being as opposed to digital CX solutions like chatbots, self-service or email.

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AI Technology

“The growth and adoption of AI technology in the South African banking landscape has ushered in a new era of convenience. While this technology, especially as used in chatbots, is useful in providing a positive customer experience, it does have its limits,” explains Mathew Conn, Group Chief Revenue Officer at Merchants.

When it comes to banking CX 75% prioritise a quick response, 71% prioritise problem solving and 70% agree that they prefer to speak to a person when contacting their bank.

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“The research showed that clients found automated, often meaningless, responses to be one of their biggest frustrations with AI when it comes to banking. Furthermore, connectivity issues in South African also place a damper on the adoption of AI,” Conn added.

“While many of South Africa’s sectors move toward a largely digital future, our continuous research over the last two years continues to show the importance of the human connection when it comes to CX. Specifically, consumers are looking for strong problem-solving ability in CX agents, and South Africa has a strong pool of talent in this regard,” says Conn.

Call centres were the preferred contact method as they allowed consumers to access safe, same-day service in their home language without the cost and hassle of travelling to a branch. Pain points include the cost of calls, long waiting times and security checks.

According to the survey, a lesser number of consumers preferred to use email, stating that it was important for them to have a trail of communication they could refer back to. However, many said they felt unsure about wait times and were worried about being vulnerable to hacks and scams.

“South Africans have a low tolerance for bad CX – switching providers after between 2 and 5 bad experiences, according to our research. Banks who do not provide safe, reliable and consistent CX will fall behind – especially as products and pricing continue to converge across the industry,” concludes Conn.