How challenger banks set new standards for customer service
Innovation is often high up on the agenda in the banking industry, but for digitally native challenger banks, it’s a way of life. They were borne from innovation and continue to push the envelope and carve out new ways of engaging consumers, made possible by fewer overheads tied up in retail space and a smaller but more dynamic workforce.
While the small and medium-sized banks have set the tone, the bigger high street banks are following closely behind. This is demonstrated quite clearly by an increasing number of big banks and wealth management firms now framing themselves as technology companies. They invest heavily in new mechanics and trends often set by smaller banks in order to retain their share of the consumer market and attract new, younger customers.
This transition to technology is compounded further by the fact that face to face branch banking is starting to dwindle, particularly in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with most users preferring to do all of their banking online or via phone. So-called ‘convenience banking’ isn’t new, however, with challenger banks like , the UK’s very first app-based bank, setting the trend when it launched in 2014.
The customer-centric approach
Of all the things driving these smaller banks to innovate and set new benchmarks for the industry, there’s one element they’re all competing on - customer service. Ever since Amazon launched in the early ’90s and allowed people to start shopping online, the customer experience has been the primary driver of innovation. Businesses quickly figured out that they couldn’t differentiate themselves on price or products alone; they were now competing in a global marketplace and needed to make customers’ lives as easy as possible. A lot of things have changed since then, but this core principle still holds. From web and UX design to apps and targeted marketing, every innovation has been about putting the customer experience first, and voice is now a bigger part of that than ever before.
Little more than a decade ago, advanced voice technology was in the realm of science fiction. Today, we carry around voice-capable devices in our pockets, not thinking twice about asking Google, Siri or Alexa to add something to our shopping list or tell us the weather forecast. In the past three years, worldwide sales of smart-speakers have grown by , with global sales in 2025 projected to hit 300 million. According to from PwC, more than 52% of all smart speaker owners use their device daily, with 80% reporting that they are “satisfied” with their voice experience. More than 30% of all mobile searches are now orchestrated by voice, and ‘voice shopping’ is set to account for 10% of all mobile e-commerce transactions.
One thing is clear: consumers are more comfortable with voice technology.
Contact centres have used voice technology for decades, and in many ways, it is still one of the cornerstones of the industry. We are used to being able to call up our bank and use voice commands to check our balance, pay a bill or even transfer money. While automated contact centres are often stigmatised or portrayed as a frustrating way to get things done, our research indicates that opinions are to the contrary, with 52% of customers choosing to phone a contact centre rather than trying to find answers online. The same research noted a spike in the use of contact centres during the COVID-19 pandemic and found that almost all reported a “satisfactory experience.”
So where do banks fit in?
Challenger banks in particular have always been at the forefront of innovation in customer service. That’s doubly true in 2020, with challenger banks taking centre stage, offering new and exciting ways for people to manage their money online. Payments companies like PayPal and Venmo along with banks like N26 and the Royal Bank of Canada now allow customers to make payments through conversations with Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. This voice-based account servicing is raising the bar for what’s possible with NPL, which is having a knock-on effect on modern-day call centres. Automated call handling and call routing are still a huge cost-saver for banks, and if recent studies are anything to go by, customers are actually strongly in favour of them if it allows them to handle their finances with speed and efficiency.
The pandemic has been devasting for all sorts of reasons, but if there’s any small silver lining to be gained from it, it’s that it’s pushed remote technologies like natural language processing to their limits in the interests of serving customers safely. One of the biggest challenges banks will face in the coming years is where to direct their innovation budget, and if challenger banks are to continue setting the trend, all bets are on voice.
Frictionless banking, the Salesforce way
Alan Donnelly has enjoyed a long and successful career in the IT and financial services industry. He has worked with banks, insurers, payments companies, fintechs and more in support of business transformation programmes for some of the biggest names in the business for the past 27 years.
Today, he’s head of financial services for Salesforce UK, the leading global, cloud-based CRM platform that integrates customers and companies. Donnelly is also currently leading the Salesforce operation that is digitally transforming the UK arm of the Madrid-based Santander Group.
“I have had the pleasure of working with many financia
l institutions over many years,” he says. “Typically, it was involved in helping customers build big banking systems and banking platforms that ran what we would call systems of record. But now, as I've moved into Salesforce and we're building our financial services business, we are really now helping our customers engage with their customers.”
The partnership withSantander is a multi channel operation that sees Salesforce helping the bank to engage better with corporate clients and retail customers via their branches and the internet, says Donnelly.
“We're also helping them with customers, who maybe wish to acquire mortgages and mortgages for the life events. I guess it's a multi connectivity environment. But in every case, Santander needs to understand the customer's requirements and better serve those customers in the right time and the right fashion,” Donnelly explains
He adds, “I also think the ability to contact customers whenever they need help and support, as we've seen in the recent pandemic, has proven critical - so I think technology is definitely much more connectable and effective than it was before.”