18 Customer Service Tips for Financial Services Companies
Illustration by Saskia Keultjes

We know cash rules everything around us, but there are plenty of rules around cash too, and that's just one of the challenges to delivering great customer service in finance. There are also customer relationships and expectations to manage.

When you put all that together, it's clear that working in finance is complicated. In this article, we cover several pain points that financial services customer service professionals face, and we’ll offer 18 tips for how to overcome those challenges.

Pain point #1: Financial regulations and privacy

There’s no shortage of rules and regulations in the financial industry. They exist at the state, national, and international levels and dictate things like what you can say, who you can say it to, and how you can transmit information.

The core goal of almost any regulation is to protect companies and consumers, which we all can agree is good, but it doesn’t make learning the different rules any easier. The three training tips below can ensure you’re building a solid foundation for all your team members.

Tip #1: Focus on real-world application of knowledge

Each year, companies spend lots of time, money, and energy training new and existing staff. For all the effort, we should expect some strong results, right? Well, not so much. One study by McKinsey found only one-fourth of respondents thought training programs at their companies measurably improved performance.

There are a few things that can contribute to training being ineffective, but the largest culprit is a lack of application. We tend to learn in a classroom-like environment, where we receive information but never actually put it to use.

The problem is, studies show if we don’t actually use what we’ve learned within six days, we forget around 75% of it.

You could have your team apply knowledge when they’re learning by creating exercises like practice client calls, where you set a basic scenario and have them play it out. It also allows you the ability to provide feedback in real time to help further refine understanding.

Tip #2: Segment based on product/service (if possible)

Each area of finance has unique rules. Stocks and bonds are different from annuities and IRAs, and it's very difficult to be an expert in every area. If you have a large enough team, it could be good to segment agents and have them only support a couple of products/services.

If that's not possible, consider doing rotations for each product. For example, you could have agents work on practice cases for one product type for a week, then, the following week, switch to a different product type.

Breaking up information and allowing agents to focus on one area at a time for an extended period should help their learning. You can also quiz them at the end of each segment — research shows quizzes can help with information retention — and have a real-world exercise to make sure they’re grasping the information.

Tip #3: Do refresher courses and updates

It’s common for financial regulations and laws to change, making refresher courses necessary. Though there may be some lead time, regulation changes aren’t generally headline news, so you do need someone paying close attention to track and report any upcoming changes.

Outside of training for new rules or regulations, you should also set up a regular cadence for refresher courses. Certain certifications and regulations require this, but generally only once every few years, which probably isn’t often enough.

Consider doing short classes every six months or so. That frequency shouldn’t be too disruptive, and it gives an opportunity for people to apply knowledge. You could even survey reps ahead of time to ask what areas they’re feeling less-than-certain in and focus on those.

Pain point #2: Complex products

Financial products are so complex that explaining them even to people with lots of knowledge can be difficult. However, most of the time you’re not talking to someone with a finance background. It’s likely they may not have even picked the product they’re contacting you about.

For example, they may want to know about the 401k their company enrolled them in or stock options they get as part of their compensation package. Articulating complex financial information in those situations can be incredibly difficult, but the suggestions below can help make the task a bit easier.

Tip #4: Start broad, then get more narrow (if needed)

It’s not always necessary to cover every aspect when talking with a client. Start by giving a high-level overview, and then get into specifics as needed depending on each case. Rushing too quickly into the nitty-gritty could intimidate some people.

You could also simply ask how detailed they want you to get with an explanation so you know from the start where they’re coming from. Remember, the types of questions they ask could signal their knowledge level.

No matter what, at the end of any explanation, ask if they need further clarification on any point or have any further questions to make sure they get all the information they need.

Tip #5: Be patient

Don’t expect customers will understand everything right away (remember how long it sometimes takes you to learn a product!). Be prepared to have multiple meetings and answer the same questions multiple times. Create some takeaway resources, too, so customers have an option for self-directed learning.

Knowledge base articles are great items to share. Also, if possible, consider making plain-language explanations of different products. Removing jargon and legalese can make digesting information much easier for someone without a finance background.

Tip #6: Create a rotation program to improve learning

In order for reps to properly articulate the details of different products, they need to have a firm understanding themselves. To this end, it’s best to not overload them with information all at once.

With that in mind, you could create a rotation program, giving them time to focus on a couple of products at a time. Once they have a solid understanding, you can move them on to something else.

For example, you might have month-long rotations for each product when someone is onboarding. You could even pair the regulation training with each rotation to make everything as relevant as possible.

Pain point #3: Building trust with clients

According to an interviewee for this article who does customer service for a finance company, “around 70% of customers say all financial advisors are crooks and liars.” Though that’s obviously far from the truth — and purely anecdotal — it’s not the only sign of distrust.

A recent study by Gallup asked respondents to rate how honest and ethical certain professionals are, and stockbrokers were near the bottom of the list. The suggestions in this section offer a few ways you can approach this issue to build strong and trustworthy relationships with your clients.

Tip #7: Be transparent

A lot of distrust comes from the idea that information is being withheld. Due to the nature of financial services, there are certain things you simply won’t be able to say. Though you may not purposefully be opaque or aloof, if you’re not mindful, it could easily appear that way to a client.

For example, if a client asks what return they can expect on a certain fund or stock, there’s no way for you to accurately predict that because no one really knows. However, you could present historical data and be open about where your predictions come from.

Another area you can be open about is fees. You could even write an article covering common fees, where they come from, and how they’re assessed. And in the case where there’s information you can’t share, you need to be even more articulate as to why you’re not able to.

Tip #8: Set expectations early

Since finance is so competitive, it’s common to lead with best-case scenarios for things like rates and returns. Though that may be a good tactic to get someone through the door, if they don’t get what was advertised, it can cause trouble.

When talking with clients, be very upfront about what they can realistically expect from a product or service. For example, if they’re applying for a loan, let them know that only those with near-perfect credit tend to qualify for the lowest rates.

Also, set expectations early about what you’re able to do for them in your specific role. For example, you might not be able to offer advice or give direct product recommendations. Being honest from the start means there won’t be any surprises for the client, which helps build a foundation of trust.

Tip #9: Communicate proactively

Personal finances tend to be a touchy topic. It’s an area where people fundamentally only want to hear good news and where even neutral news can feel like a huge letdown — all of which makes communicating information potentially uncomfortable.

Keeping clients in the loop without them reaching out first can signal you don’t have anything to hide and can help build trust. Whether it’s good or bad news, tell them ASAP — it’ll serve you best in the long run.

In fact, one study found that people actually prefer to hear bad news first, then good news after (though the study also reports that those telling the news tend to prefer leading with the good).

Pain point #4: Adjusting to different customer needs

With a wide variety of products and services comes a wide variety of customers. Some are new to personal finance and others are seasoned pros, but most fall somewhere in the middle. Use the steps below to adjust accordingly.

Tip #10: Interview incoming clients

It would be great if clients came with a form explaining their expectations of you, preferred communication styles, and overall goals. But the truth is, clients don’t always know what they want or need from you, which means you have to uncover those needs.

One way to start is by interviewing new clients. Create a standard set of initial questions you ask everyone, then, based on their initial answers, ask more specific, detailed questions.

Sending your questions before an interview can also help with the results as clients are less likely to feel caught off guard and have more time to consider their answers.

Initial interviews are also useful to get a better grasp of a new client's general demeanor and communication style, both of which can come in handy later on. For example, you may find they’re more direct and you need to mirror that in your communication with them.

Tip #11: Set up a regular cadence to review goals

Just like anything in life, financial goals can change. An initial interview goes a long way, but it only speaks to their needs at that point in time, so make sure you create space to talk regularly.

Depending on the type of client, frequency will vary. For example, if it’s a new client, you may have monthly check-ins for the first six months and then decide together on what cadence they’d like to meet after that.

You also might consider checking in any time there’s a major life event. Things like having a child, buying a house, or getting married can all affect someone’s financial goals significantly.

Tip #12: Give yourself time between meetings (if possible)

Some clients and conversations require more of you than others, but all of them deserve to get the best version of you. Sometimes the only way to do that is by giving yourself a little extra time and space.

Research shows the best types of breaks you can take are social breaks and relaxing breaks. During social breaks, you interact with others. Relaxing breaks are focused on leisure and could be going for a walk or leaning back in your chair and listening to a calming song.

Both are shown to help reduce overall stress levels, improve productivity, and keep energy levels stable throughout the day. If you know you have a particularly taxing day ahead of you, try to get a few more breaks in — or slightly extended ones.

Pain point #5: Limited access and outdated technology

Though some companies are making strides, the financial industry has historically been slow to adopt new technology. Sometimes that’s dictated by regulations, and other times, it’s simply hesitation.

No matter the reason, the reality stays the same: Limited access or outdated tools make doing your job more difficult. That said, you’re not totally powerless. There are a few tactics you can use to improve your circumstances.

Tip #13: Advocate for new tools

One of the most obvious ways to get a new tool is to ask for one. In most cases, at least a little convincing is required and for good reason: Adding a new tool requires time and money.

To make your case, there are three areas you can focus on:

  • How the new tool benefits the business

  • Issues the lack of said tool has caused

  • Competitors that have the same or a similar tool

The main concern of most businesses is the bottom line, so part of your advocating should focus on how any new tool you invest in can pay for itself — and then some.

For example, if you wanted to add Help Scout, you might talk about how a Docs knowledge base could empower customers to find answers to commonly asked questions, improving their overall experience and giving staff more time to focus on complex issues.

Research shows we’re more sensitive to losses than we are to gains, so it might also make sense to point out a case where not having access to a certain tool caused some amount of damage.

For example, you might show how not having access to a good shared inbox tool meant you missed out on potential new clients because you weren’t able to respond quickly enough.

You could also point out a competitor that does have the tool and how they use it as a competitive advantage. Financial services are extremely competitive, so showing how you’re not stacking up with a competitor could be very motivating.

Tip #14: Be upfront with customers about limitations

As frustrating as limited access to technology may be, you’re not the only one it affects. Clients can also be impacted. In those cases, it may be tempting to talk around the issue, but that’s generally not the right move.

The best thing you can do is be upfront with your clients about any limitations that exist.

Providing a reason — even if it’s not the most compelling — is almost always preferable to saying it’s “policy” or something similar.

In the case that your company is simply slow to adopt, you can be honest about that, but you need to be careful of how you word it. You might say, “There aren’t any regulatory or legal issues, but we try to be very diligent and thorough any time we invest in new technology. Though that’s good in the long run, it can make the process a little slower.”

Pain point #6: Balancing service and selling

Some roles in finance are solely focused on customer service, and others are focused solely on sales. However, there are some — like financial advisors and loan officers — that sit somewhere in the middle.

They need to provide great service to retain customers, but they also usually have a component of their pay tied to signing up clients for certain products or services. Our suggestions below could help you find that balance.

Tip #15: Focus on consulting, not convincing

We’re all familiar with the cliche of fast-talking salespeople who’ll stop at nothing to close a deal. At the core of the cliche is always someone who is completely and totally motivated by their own self-interest.

Selling in the “do whatever it takes” manner can produce short-term results but hardly ever works in the long term. The primary reason is that once someone figures it out, they don’t trust you anymore, and if they don’t trust you, they won’t do business with you.

Many modern companies — and salespeople — have started taking a consultative approach. Instead of trying to force an agenda, they take time to get to know their clients and to learn their goals and needs. Based on that information, they can make relevant and helpful recommendations.

For example, if you’re a financial advisor, you could have potential and incoming clients fill out a short questionnaire to better understand their goals in order to tailor future communication around those goals.

Tip #16: Align sales and service goals

Selling and service both take a decent bit of time. If some part of your pay or performance metrics are tied to sales, it can be hard to justify time away from selling activities. There will always be some tension between the two, but there are ways to ease that tension.

The best way is to align sales and service goals. For example, if you do customer satisfaction surveys, you could give bonuses, extra vacation time, or something similar to those with the highest ratings in a quarter.

You could also consider raising the commission rate for agents who retain customers for longer periods of time. For example, let’s say you pay advisors 0.5% of assets under management (AUM). You could make a sliding scale where, after a client has been with an advisor for 5+ years, the rate moves to 0.7% AUM for that account.

Providing the incentive does two things: First, it shows that it’s a business priority, which is very powerful on its own. Second, it could help ease any worry staff has about spending extra time on service and taking some time away from selling.

Pain point #7: High staff turnover

Finance is a competitive and demanding industry. Add in the additional pressures someone faces as a customer service professional, and it starts to become clear why it can be difficult to retain talent.

That said, there are a few things you can do, like promote self-care and work-life balance. Beyond that, you can actively invest in your staff by following some of our suggestions below.

Tip #17: Offer support for additional learning

For many, working in customer support is a starting point. It can be a great way to get a foot in the door at a company and also learn about various aspects of the business. Since customer support sits at an intersection of many teams, they tend to learn a little about a lot.

Through that exposure, support professionals may find an area within — or outside of — support that piques their interest that they’d like to explore further. Providing opportunities to do that can be a great way to help further develop skills and keep them around for the long term.

In one study, nearly 20% of millennials listed additional skills training as one of the top three benefits they were interested in, along with other benefits like paid time off and flexible working hours.

If you know an agent is interested in learning more technical skills, you might be able to get them plugged in by doing some sort of quality assurance work for your product team. Or perhaps they want to work toward an HR career path: You could get them involved in team hiring or onboarding.

There may not always be a perfect fit right away. Be sure you’re keeping track of people’s interests, continue looking for opportunities on their behalf, and encourage them to bring their own ideas to the table.

Tip #18: Create clear career paths

If you look at almost any list of highest turnover positions, customer support is always near the top. Though there are a number of reasons for that, one common one is a lack of advancement opportunities. Though there’s no one answer to solve that, creating career paths is a good place to start.

Building out a career path plan isn’t the simplest of tasks, and it looks different for every team, but there are two things you should focus on:

  • Clarity: Having clear-cut markers and milestones for people to achieve and aspire to are critical to measure where they’re at. For example, you might have someone lead a project on their path to leading a team.

  • Flexibility: It’s easy to think about career paths only as they relate to the area of the business someone is currently in, but it’s possible they may want to grow into a different discipline, so you need to account for that. You can also create paths for people who want to become people managers as well as individual contributors. Both are key to the success of your business.

If you’d like to learn more about career paths and how we approach them on our support team here at Help Scout, check out this article.

Investing for the long term

There are certainly challenges when it comes to delivering a great customer experience in the financial industry, but it’s absolutely possible to do. As long as you’re being proactive and present, you’ll be on the right path.

Just as it is in finance, there aren’t any shortcuts to delivering great service — it takes time, energy, and commitment. But when you do commit to providing great service, you’ll find it’s an investment that pays dividends for years to come.

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