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How technology can ensure that convenience is useful, not detractive

This is a guest blog post by Larry Augustin, CEO, SugarCRM

I’ve always been wary of generalisations but I’d guess that most people, if you asked them, would value ‘convenience’ pretty highly when rating the organisations and services with which they regularly interact. Indeed, the pursuit of convenience has been the energy that has driven several millennia of human progress. To use, dare I say it, a convenient example, the wheel was not invented as an abstract project, simply for the joy of its creation, but instead to serve a very real need. And as such, convenience changed the world.

In more modern contexts, convenience doesn’t always equate to epoch-defining moments of change; the fact that my email client now shows me a list of recently-saved files when I click on the attachment button isn’t going to usher in a new era of humanity but it is very useful. And it’s made my life a tiny bit better as a result.

The same model of incremental convenience can be witnessed across all areas, but in the banking sector the pace of innovation would appear to be notably rapid. For several years now, we’ve had the option to bank via our smartphones but in the past eighteen months the functionality of banking apps has grown considerably more complex.  This change has come in small but frequent increments, to the extent that there’s little that I can’t now do with account via my phone whilst sitting on my couch.

However, the technological innovations keep coming: from NatWest incorporation of Apple’s TouchID to negate the need for complex pin codes, to HSBC’s voice-recognition software that does the same thing, through to Nationwide’s recently-announced system that identifies you by the way you hold and interact with your device; technology is becoming a much closer to what we’d always thought the future would look like. Surely iris-recognition via your phone is only a couple of operating system iterations away?

There’s also been a slight stirring in the previously unshakable position of the UK’s high street banks, with start-ups like Atom bringing a fresh, youthful verve to both their advertising and their mobile-only product offering. Whether you decide to entrust your life savings to a bank that feels a little like an advert for a new organic coffee bar is completely up to you, but the fact that they exist and are making a lot of noise is indicative of incremental changes moving towards a fundamental shift.

A recent survey by Temenos predicted that ‘retail banking will be fully automated by 2020’. Certainly this prediction doesn’t seem fanciful and indeed it is supported by a recent BBC report claiming that there were 600 high street branch closures during 2015.

Losing high street branches may well be cost effective but is it leading to greater convenience? Many argue that the rush towards full automation means that banks are failing to cater to the needs of their elderly customers and indeed you don’t need to be elderly to feel somewhat bewildered when walking into a bank and being greeted by a row of iPads rather than a person sitting behind a desk.

Greater convenience is of course desirable but not if it’s at the expense of customer service and technology should not be used simply to remove human beings from customer interactions. However, when they are combined, when the smartest software is used by the most attentive customer services teams then great things can happen. CRM technologies have the potential to deliver bespoke, responsive and timely interactions that reduce unnecessary communications and ensure that the customer is made to feel that they’re both valued and understood.

The Temenos report also found that 31% of bankers feel that their employers need to modernise their technology and it’s clear that this process is well underway. And there are great things ahead as long as those making the decisions realise that convenience should not be defined by what’s been removed from customer services but rather what’s been added.

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