A sneak into digital customer experience in Zim’s banking sector

Financial Technology

FINTECH, which is the integration of technology into offerings by financial service companies, was primarily born out of the need to improve the use of financial offerings as well as their delivery to customers.

The service culture in the financial services industry has over the years gravitated more and more towards a customer-centric approach, and technology has been a huge catalyst in this transformation.

However, after all has been said and done, customer feedback still remains the all-time tried and tested litmus test for the service excellence of any service provider, financial service providers included.

No matter the type of business, however, service excellence can be quite elusive. Such is the nature of the service industry. When you visit social media pages of companies such as Nestle Zimbabwe, it is typically all gold stars to Nestle, especially on reviews for their popular products such as the Cerevita cereal. Their customers seem to be overjoyed and have nothing but praise for the company.

The social media pages of most financial service providers tell a different story. Does it necessarily mean that financial service providers are failing at their job? Not necessarily. It just means that unlike product excellence, service excellence is a different ballgame altogether.

While product excellence is more straightforward, service excellence tends to be subjective. Evaluating and measuring an experience is much more complicated than judging product performance based on taste for instance.

One pertinent aspect in the story of digitalisation of banking in Zimbabwe is the fact that it was largely born out of circumstances. Cash shortages in the hyperinflationary environment, under the multiple currency regime as well as in the prevailing environment where the Zimbabwean dollar has been reintroduced, have been a major push factor to the digitalisation drive.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Zimbabwe towards the end of 2019, digital transformation in the banking sector was already underway but the pandemic accelerated the pace of digitalisation because in the face of a crisis of such proportions, the banking industry, central as it is to any economy, had no choice but to rise to the occasion.

According to a KPMG report titled Banking in the New Reality, COVID-19 vastly accelerated the drive to this new operating model to such an extent that in a very real sense, we saw three years of digital advancement in a space of three weeks.

The pace at which banks were forced to migrate to this new operating model, as well as the pace at which bank customers were expected to embrace this “banking in the new reality”, could very well explain most of the pain points associated with the consumption of digital banking products in Zimbabwe at present.

The pace at which digitalisation was executed in the Zimbabwean banking sector essentially meant learning on the job for most of these service providers. It also meant unleashing a whole host of new products and a new way of doing things to an unprepared customer.

Due to the digitalisation of banking operations, emphasis has moved from mere customer experience to digital customer experience which is a subset of customer experience and relates to the sum total of digital interactions between a customer and a company.

This results in a lasting impression the customer walks away with. The goal for any business is to ensure that a customer walks away with a positive experience. One of the key determinants of a positive digital customer experience is customer digital literacy.

Digital financial literacy combines the skills needed to navigate financial services with the skills to use digital technologies. The user’s proficiency in employing these digital technologies will largely determine the kind of experience they will walk away with after interacting with digital channels. In Zimbabwe, the transition to digital has generally proven to be a challenge for the older generations with limited digital literacy.

Given the availability of multiple touchpoints in banks however, we might see that segment of customers continuing to prefer the traditional touchpoints where they visit the brick and mortar branch and probably only make use of the digital channels for those basic functions that they are comfortable performing digitally like airtime purchase for instance.

While banks appear to be on a massive innovation drive coming up with various digital products meant to smoothen the customer’s journey, there still appears to be a gap in customer satisfaction in the industry. A case in point, Steward Bank’s chief executive officer end of year 2022 message was met with all sorts of negative comments from customers ranging from “chibank chenyu chakadhakwa (You’re a useless bank)”, “Village bank”, “Next year let’s make our bank better, we believe in you but you let us down”, “Steward mahwani (Steward is hopeless)”, “Your service is poor” and all sorts of nasty comments. All 11 comments posted in reaction to that end of year message were negative but there were also 59 likes.

Granted, this is social media and people will say anything, but the fact that someone took their time to give that kind of feedback should not be taken lightly by a service provider and it means there is somewhere where the service provider might not be getting it right. This is a bank that prides itself as being the first bank in the country to have convergence with telecommunications and in having a technology focus that it believes is set to change the way Zimbabweans view banking.

The upside to this negative feedback is that it gives the service provider insights into the kind of experience the customer has had with its brand. The 59 likes are also an indicator that it is hitting the right buttons with most of its customers. The way in which the banking industry was forced to accelerate digitalisation due to factors outside its control may have its pitfalls but one could also say it was also a beautiful serendipitous experience for banks and their customers.

Some banks discovered that when digitalisation is fully utilised, they did not need a huge workforce to get the job done. They also discovered that a lot of work could also be done remotely and save costs in the process.

Most banks also realised that they did not necessarily have to meet physically for meetings and training workshops. All that can also be conducted remotely. Most customers also learnt to appreciate and embrace conducting their banking business remotely which as it happens comes with a lot of benefits. The challenges that could be experienced by both service providers and customers at this point could be just teething problems which will go away with time.

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