Balancing human and digital: Mauritius Commercial Bank

Digital Reinvention
19/07/2023 Interview
profile picture of Vincent Chatard

Vincent Chatard

Mauritius Commercial Bank

Chief Operating Officer

Vincent Chatard, Chief Operating Officer of the Mauritius Commercial Bank, shares insights on the challenges confronting the bank's retail banking customer experience in an interview for the Qorus-Avanade report titled Balancing human and digital: Are banks losing touch with customers?

What are your roles and responsibilities in the bank?

As the Chief Operating Officer of the Mauritius Commercial Bank, I oversee various departments, such as technology, operations and facilities. In addition to my COO responsibilities, I have been leading our digital transformation for the past five years. Essentially functioning as a Chief Digital Officer, I have played a significant role in this transformation.

What is your top customer challenge right now?

In my opinion, the main issue at hand is the customer experience. There are instances where the experience falls short. With staff turnover and the introduction of new digital systems, it can be challenging to maintain a high level of customer service while also managing changes and administrative tasks. I believe the primary challenge is to improve customer satisfaction and adopt a more focused end to end approach to the customer journeys.

How do you decide the balance between human contact and digital interaction for your retail banking customer segments? Can you give an example of where your approach has created a distinctive service? Do customers ever get lost in the process or experience lower levels of service?

In my opinion, a balance needs to be struck between automation and human interaction. Highly automated processes require self-service and straight-through processing, but human intervention is necessary when things go wrong. We do not view our approach as completely digital, but as digital as possible, with some human assistance available through our contact center or branch network. Some processes can be fully digitized, while others are more complicated and require human interaction, like mortgage origination.

We have digitized the lending pre-approval process and introduced new digital services, such as instant loans and a ‘pay with emotion’ feature, where customers can add customized icons to money transfers. However, the challenge lies in the mix between simplifying the online tools and the complexity of the process, as well as the proper training of staff to handle these processes effectively. Therefore, we need to balance digital automation with human interaction to deliver a satisfactory customer experience.

Do you think there are limits to what banks can do by focusing on digital only, or are the benefits much greater than the disadvantages? 

I believe that there is no limit to how much you can push automation and digitalization, but I don't think that digital-only is the way to go. It's crucial to have a backup plan, such as a call center, because when something goes wrong, customers need someone to talk to.

While some customers may still prefer to queue up and interact with a person, most people now prefer self-service options. However, it's essential to have a human touch available when needed to aid and support.

"A balance needs to be struck between automation and human interaction. Highly automated processes require self-service and straight-through processing, but human intervention is necessary when things go wrong. We do not view our approach as completely digital, but as digital as possible, with some human assistance available through our contact center or branch network."

In the future, how will banks make the most of human engagement? Will such engagement come at an additional cost for the customer or even at a premium price?

The practice of dividing customers into segments based on their financial status and offering different levels of service is not a new concept. This is currently the case, where customers are categorized into mass, mass affluent, personal and private, and those who want a relationship manager are required to pay for it. Additional services can also be offered online as part of a package. These packages can include discounts and free services, but they may not come with the option of speaking with a representative or additional online service. On the other hand, you can opt for a dedicated relationship manager.

As we enter a recessionary period, banks will be keen to demonstrate a greater understanding of and support for their customers. What initiatives are you taking to appear more human and empathetic? Or are you relying on more automated, contextual responses, based on algorithms and avatars?

When customers are in distress and can't pay back their loans, we need to be proactive and offer solutions to help them. For example, during the Covid pandemic, we had many customers who needed to restructure their loans, so we created Covid loans and allowed customers to hold off on loan repayments for a period. Some of these were government-funded, while others were our own. I believe it's crucial to address these issues at the product level, rather than just being empathetic in exceptional cases. We can use analytics to handle these situations, but it's essential to have the right products available for customers in distress. It's not only empathy but practical solutions.

Are you developing any partner ecosystems and how are they integrated into the end-to-end customer process? What issues do you typically face? Can you demonstrate the benefits of adopting this approach?

Yes, we have partnerships for vertical payments, such as with utility companies, where customers can simply click on the invoice and pay. However, the technical integration with API and SLAs can be complex and time-consuming. This process is not only limited to payments but may also apply to other sectors, such as merchants and insurance. Once the integration is complete, the customer experience is much simpler. For example, customers can pay their bills or interact with merchants using one platform, making it easier for them.

How do you collect and use customer data to improve the customer experience? Can you give an example?

We have established a data team that leverages our data warehouse, as well as data lakes. By aggregating data from different sources, such as card data, complaints, and survey results, we have developed a big data infrastructure that provides us with valuable insights into our customers. This enables us to use algorithms, like instant credit scoring, which automates decision-making to offer customers relevant products and services. Additionally, we have implemented account opening with embedded KYC decisions. While it may seem simple to click a button and receive an instant decision, it takes significant effort to aggregate data and develop algorithms to support this technology.

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What collaboration tools do you provide for your employees so they can work more effectively on improving customer service?

Regarding employee collaboration, we provide workflows that allow for the routing of files and virtualized folders, which provides a structured approach to processing information. This approach has been effective in improving customer satisfaction and streamlining the work process for employees. I believe workflows are essential tools for collaboration, as they ensure that tasks are processed efficiently and effectively.

What issues do you face in adopting technology to manage customer interaction? How have you managed the need for legacy modernization, for example? How are you applying AI and analytics to generate better customer engagement?

We implemented significant changes to our front-end systems, including the adoption of a new omnichannel platform. This platform offers greater flexibility and protects our legacy back-end systems from customer interactions through APIs or middleware. While the process was lengthy, complex, and at times frustrating, the benefits are clear. We now have faster turnaround times and increased visibility across channels, including branches and the web. Additionally, we've invested in AI and analytics, leveraging big data to streamline processes and ease regulatory constraints. These changes require both a proper front end to cover our legacy systems and a robust data infrastructure to enable automation, such as loan approval processes.

Do you have any additional comments or thoughts to add regarding these questions? Is there anything else you would like to mention?

I believe implementing self-service and digital automation is crucial. However, it's important to have a human service since not all customers prefer digital options. There will always be a group of customers who prefer the traditional way of queuing at the branch. Nevertheless, this changes with time. In the next 10 years, we will see a smaller branch footprint in Mauritius, mainly for added services such as investments or mortgages. Chatbots and logs can enhance automated responses, but human interaction will still be necessary in some cases since machines aren't always foolproof.

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