New report unveils the hidden opportunity of customer correspondence for banks and lenders

New research has shed fresh light onto the way customers prefer to receive correspondence from their banks and lenders, confirming the value of functional communications to businesses in building customer relationships and revealing changing consumer expectations as technology evolves. The survey of 2000 consumers was conducted by OnePoll on behalf of outsourced communications provider Opus Trust Marketing. The report uniquely focuses on account-related communication, revealing that:

Age has no bearing on consumer preferences, but the type of correspondence does;
Banks rated top service provider at communicating with customers, with evidence that both banking and lender customers are far more likely to embrace omnichannel than other sectors;
Within five years, a third of consumers across all age groups expect online chat functions to be their preferred method to communicate with service providers, equal to those expecting to use email;
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to customer communications, but suppliers need to provide customers with choice and easily editable preferences to meet all their expectations.

The research has confirmed that customer choices cannot easily be predicted by age or demographic and the main point of divergence was the type of communication itself, meaning utilities providers must assess their suite of correspondence to ensure each piece achieves cut through and elicits a response. Consumers were more likely to opt for post for critical information and documents that need to be acted upon or stored, whereas email was more often the preferred way to receive transactional or regular communications, followed by online portals.

Across all age groups, consumers were happy to switch to exclusively digital communications from at least one service provider, with 46% happy to receive electronic bills and statements from financial service providers. Customers of banks, credit card companies, mortgage companies and loan providers were also far more likely to embrace digital channels than other sectors: around a fifth were keen to view loan and credit card statements via online portals, rising to over a quarter for current account customers.

Around 30% of banking customers and over a third of lender customers wish to receive statements and correspondence through the post, however, 75% of customers want to receive direct communications (via post or email) to notify them of changes on their account or action that needs to be taken.

Wider trends revealed a willingness across all age groups to take a more independent approach towards managing their account: 42% of all consumers want to manage their accounts online without the need to contact their provider, including 45% of over-55s. Apps were the only area that revealed a generational divide: over 20% of under-34s use apps to pay bills, compared to just 4% of over-55s, and they were consistently the least preferred tool for this age group (for example, four times as many under-34s use apps to view their current account statements compared to over-55s).

However, the preference for digital and ‘self-serve’ account management for some sectors doesn’t mean a hands-off approach for businesses: consumers still want the ability to contact suppliers and many expect email or SMS notifications for changes on their accounts or to notify them of any action required.

There is also a shift in how customers want to contact their suppliers. Currently 42% of consumers expect to be able to discuss their account over the phone with suppliers (including 46% of 18-24year olds, defying the ‘Generation Mute’ label) and 31% currently use the phone for general enquiries.

However, only 16% expect to pick up the phone to their supplier in five years’ time and 33% expect to be using online chat bots or live chat functions, up 123% from today’s usage and slightly higher than the 31% expecting to communicate by email by 2023.

Account-related correspondence is also less disposable than direct mail: 80% of consumers file away at least one type of communication, with hard copies preferred by 62% of those who do. Two thirds of banking and lender customers store ad-hoc correspondence, rising to over three quarters filing away monthly and annual statements.

However, 60% of consumers also expect their provider to keep copies of documents online for them to access, reiterating the importance of including intelligent document management and retrieval in a company’s customer experience strategy.

Rob Alonso, Chief Executive of Opus Trust Marketing, said: “Regular communications speak volumes about a company but are overlooked as tool to help build customer relationships. The research unveils a hidden opportunity to turn conventional, more functional communications into engaging, relevant and informative customer experiences.

“The message from this report is clear: consumers value customer correspondence and they are embracing new technology and channels, but there is no one-size-fits-all communications strategy. Regardless of sector, consumers each have individual preferences and organisations must ensure they offer customers a choice of channels to enable them to customise their communications. The message being conveyed often has the biggest impact on preferred channel, making an omnichannel strategy even more important.

“Banks and lenders should also act now to prepare for the future and maintain their leading position: consumers increasingly expect to use online chat functions, portals and apps to communicate with providers, and businesses must be ready to meet their changing expectations.”

The research also explored individual sectors in more detail, providing a more granular view of how consumers prefer to receive the different types of document and communications issued by different service providers. This can be used as a benchmarking exercise for marketing and customer experience professionals in financial services to see how customer preferences differ by sector.