Power to the people – how empathy is the most important of human touches

  • 8 January 2021
  • Blog | Career Development | Managing People | Blog

Like other industries, banks were busy adapting to new ways of living and working throughout 2020. They now find themselves looking to the future; they need to keep open the full range of channels, work within the latest restrictions and support customers who find themselves in difficult situations in an efficient but personal way. More than anything though, COVID-19 has demonstrated that digitisation and automation aren’t optional – they’re essential for day to day operations and for resilience through this crisis and the next.  

Indeed COVID-19 has brought forward digital transformation and, in many cases, acted as a positive catalyst for change. Video conferencing for meetings, digital banking and using bots have become everyday things. Banks have had to prioritise enabling customers to complete the most common service journeys remotely, such as resetting PINs, changing loan terms, paying for groceries or filling in forms electronically. 

The value of people 

Colleagues with the attributes to use digital tools themselves as well as the confidence and skills to help customers use them have been worth their weight in gold.  

But this is far from being a simple technology play. One of the most striking things about COVID-19 is how people have stepped up. Colleagues’ commitment to customers, their resilience and openness to change and their ability to adapt has been striking. There has been a real ‘can do’, positive attitude which has, in turn, served to empower those colleagues.  

Banks meanwhile has recognised the worth of their colleagues and are starting to think more about a culture where they actively seek, not just to equip people with the right tools but also the ‘softer’ skills, where people are encouraged to be proactive, to think for themselves and take an adaptive approach to their workplace.  

The personal touch 

One of the things that has been brought into the spotlight is the need for colleagues to be able to empathise with customers. Bereavement, for example, is obviously a highly distressing and emotive experience. There need to be systemic checks and balances to make sure the right steps are being taken. Technology can help, but most importantly it’s a situation where a fully personalised, empathetic process that requires minimal input from the customer is needed. 

And when it comes to helping with financial difficulty, the technology to use data to help identify which customers are better positioned to ride out the crisis as well as those who will need more active management and outreach, is there. The next best suggestions – tool kits – are there too. But without an empathetic approach it counts for little. A customer experiencing financial pressure needs a partnership type approach rather than a prescriptive one.  

The COVID-19 crisis has, in many respects, brought out the best in people. It is now down to the banks to support colleagues to hone their soft skills to play a vital role in supporting people through difficult times, as well as promoting social and economic success through loans and mortgages. Banks need to actively leverage the empathy and intelligence shown by colleagues and marry it with the flexibility and adaptability of systems to achieve the optimum outcome for customers. Doing so will help pave the way to stronger financial footing and the trust of customers in the future.