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Every Experience Matters

Nidal Abou-Ltaif, President, Avaya International says that in the era of the “Everything Customer”, banks must attend to the full range of needs and wants and tells MEA Finance that whatever the final vision of banking that comes to prevail, digital technologies are here to stay.

A cultural stigma around digital technologies has been broken; they are no longer the preserve of younger generations, and their value has been made obvious across the business spectrum says Nidal Abou-Ltaif, President, Avaya International

What has changed in the banking sector over the last twelve months?

Across the global economy, we have seen the rise of what Gartner calls the ‘Everything Customer’, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the banking sector. The good news is that the banking sector is best placed to address the needs of this new type of customer.

Banks must now be able to meet all their customers’ needs through the entire range of different digital platforms and touchpoints. Many customers do not want to visit a branch anymore, and they certainly do not want to wait in a queue on the phone. What they do want is much more difficult to ascertain because they want it all. They want to be left alone yet remain connected. They want to be treated equally but served uniquely. And they want any requests to be dealt with instantly and seamlessly.

This is the Everything Customer, and their rise is having profound effects on the way banks approach customer experience. It means an end to physical form-signing and lengthy call-waiting queues. It means embracing digital touchpoints, and extending capabilities such as money transfers, payments and more to the digital apps and services that customers actually use.

The emergence of the Everything Customer has been a long-time coming, but it has been accelerated over the last 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As both customers and employees have moved online for safety, it has become imperative to deliver a multi-experience that’s just as meaningful in the digital realm as it is in person.

Our work with Mashreq Bank is a great example of this approach in action. We worked with this leading UAE bank to develop an intelligent digital engagement banking bot that can answer customers’ questions, help them find the services they need and assist them with transactions – through whichever touchpoint they choose. Mashreq customers can now complete service requests almost entirely through this AI-powered ‘agent’. It is a major step on the journey to an entirely digital, branchless banking experience.

All these developments create the backdrop against which financial institutions need to decide how they approach the future of customer experience. There are a lot of challenges to overcome, and at Avaya, we’re addressing those challenges with extensible technologies that help banks to not only personalize each experience for the Everything Customer, but humanize them with a service that’s empathetic and trustworthy. The Everything Customer views brands as the sum-total of the experiences that they provide, which is why we have chosen the theme ‘Every Experience Matters’ for our participation at GITEX Technology Week.

Is Open Banking an opportunity or a threat for regional banks?

Open banking enables banks to share financial information with authorized providers through open application programming interfaces (Open APIs), and it is leading to some amazing innovations in various markets across the world. We spoke about the possibilities of open banking at GITEX a few years ago, demonstrating a platform that enables banks to not only offer core banking services online, but also become an aggregator and platform for a raft of other services. And since then, we have seen regional banks move in that direction, offering the ability to manage utility bills or telecoms plans through their online banking platforms.

Banks should continue down this road, or else the opportunity will pass them by. We are seeing service providers move in this direction, too – expanding their offerings to new verticals with new services and selling managed services along with connectivity.

The challenge is that true open banking requires a psychological shift towards working, and sharing data, with third parties to enhance customer experiences. Despite the demonstrated customer loyalty this would provide, so far, we’ve only seen a few key use cases. Banks are either unwilling, or unable (because of regulatory challenges) to enable the sort of data sharing that creates true customer-centric innovation.

We are helping move the needle as we embrace the API economy. As recently as five years ago, it was next to impossible for organizations to look at the idea of embedding artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) into their engagement applications. It required massive investment and rich technology that would shortly become outdated with the quickening pace of innovation. It was unfeasible from an operational, efficiency and financial standpoint. But all of this has changed with the rise of the API economy, which is fuelling an exciting new era of customer experience.

The basic premise is that, through our open platforms, banks can cherry-pick services from different providers, getting access to best-of-breed technology for creating unique solutions that drive specific customer and business outcomes.

Will regional banks wilfully embrace innovations like Open Banking?

There is certainly an appetite among banks in the region to adopt open banking, but the shift will likely be primarily driven by the central banks and the regulators in the industry. There are positive movements across the region, in markets such as Saudi Arabia, and we are seeing an overall global shift to open banking, so we think it is only a matter of time.

With that assumption granted, the focus should be the readiness of traditional banks to embrace open banking. As outlined earlier, embracing the API economy requires a cultural and operational shift driven by digital transformation. The banks that have accelerated their digital transformation – both when it comes to delivering great customer multi-experiences across quickly emerging touchpoints, and internally – will have the first-mover advantage.

The point around transforming internally is an important one. The work we are doing with several banks involves ensuring contact centre agents have everything they need at their fingertips, including knowledge, access to subject matter experts and real-time insights, so that each engagement is effortless. This is especially relevant (and challenging) with home working. As a result, the focus is on creating an integrated workspace, underpinned by AI, analytics and knowledge management, which proactively finds the required contextual information for any customer interaction.

Does the technology behind banks’ digital platforms still matter?

The short answer is yes. And because of this, over the last 12 months, we have seen a much broader acceptance and adoption for cloud-based technologies in the Middle East Banking sector. Traditionally, both business and IT leaders have always seen challenges when moving to the cloud – for example there were questions over data sovereignty, or there were corporate policies that said the institution should own perpetual licenses outright. But the mindset has shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The security and data sovereignty concerns have not gone away, but what has become obvious is that they can be addressed on a personalized cloud journey with a trusted technology partner. At the height of the pandemic, Avaya’s cloud-based solutions enabled Middle East banks to immediately get their staff and contact centre agents working from home, ensuring both business continuity and employee safety. The fact that these deployments were, in many cases, up and running in a matter of hours and days illustrated the power of the cloud.

Of course, we cannot propose a full-scale migration for every piece of on-premises technology to a public-cloud equivalent. But the crisis illustrated how cloud journeys can be personalized to any given organization’s unique needs.

Regardless of the platform a bank chooses, that journey requires two things: Firstly, a trusted technology partner who understands the industry, and has decades of knowledge in helping banks to deliver outstanding customer and employee experiences. And secondly, a provider that can offer the best-in-class technology that enables banks to compose the solution that works best for them.

Which vision of banking will prevail in the region?

Regardless of which vision prevails we know two things for certain: First, digital technologies will prevail – not only because COVID-19 necessitated them, but because customers demand the convenience that they afford. A cultural stigma around digital technologies has been broken; they are no longer the preserve of younger generations, and their value has been made obvious across the business spectrum.

Secondly, due to the nature of the digital commerce, transparency and trust will be the key factors that will decide customer loyalty and satisfaction. In an all-digital world, trust becomes a new form of currency – and that currency is made up of every micro-experience that the organization offers. The banks who are already figuring out the formula to make every experience matter, building up their trust reserves, will eventually be the ones leading as the world continues marching towards its digital future.