When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, many industries were forced to change business practices, implement work-from-home options, ensure social distancing measures were in place and upgrade internal communication technologies, all while juggling the needs of consumers who were also trying to adapt.
The higher call volumes that have become the norm can lead to longer wait times, unanswered questions and ultimately unhappy customers.
The auto finance industry has not been immune to longer wait times as lenders have grappled with moving entire teams to remote work, a process that continues to affect business. An analysis by the Auto Finance News team last week found that call wait times still vary at the largest auto lenders — with some calls reaching a representative in less than a minute and others taking up to an hour. The team did not provide account numbers or Social Security information when making the calls, a step that could hasten the process.
Our analysis found that lenders have adopted new approaches to improving customer service more than a year into the pandemic. They now rely on a mix of communication platforms, including chat options, email, mobile alerts and text messages, along with traditional phone calls. This omnichannel approach has become best practice across the financial services industry.
American Honda Finance Corp., for one, has customer service representatives on hand during regular business hours and also allows customers to access their account information online 24/7 to make payments, review payment history and update their account information, a company spokesperson told Auto Finance News.
“Balancing our customers’ information security with their need for convenience, we seek to provide easy access to the most-commonly requested account options through our online portal,” Honda’s spokesperson said. “For those customers who need more assistance, our regional customer service offices provide one-on-one help as needed.”
Still, Honda Finance continues to experience high call volume driven by several factors, including new- and used-vehicle sales trends and extreme weather events, the spokesperson said, noting it is “not possible to solely attribute [call volume] to the pandemic.” In last week’s analysis, the AFN team found that the average hold time to reach a Honda Finance representative via the phone stood at about 46 minutes.
Individualizing customer experience
As industries adapt to new ways of communicating with customers, businesses can continue to improve customer service by providing individualized experiences, integrating new technologies, offering cross-channel options and improving call center training techniques, according to a June 2020 study by McKinsey & Company.
Collecting consumer information while monitoring behaviors, interactions and engagements can help companies provide better overall service, according to the study. Monitoring data and analytics allows call center agents to proactively identify opportunities to help consumers before they ever pick up the phone.
Companies can also better equip their employees to answer consumer questions by implementing real-time agent tools like in-moment coaching and problem-solving techniques, the study noted. By 2025, the standard of service will include white-glove customer service for all omnichannel communication, technology that will assist the customer service process.
Some auto lenders have already adopted an omnichannel approach. GM Financial’s virtual assistant “Nanci,” for example, automatically answers consumers’ questions and provides resources on payment details, lease-end information and frequently asked questions. And Ally Financial’s Ally Assist is capable of initiating transfers, requesting detailed information on accounts and transactions, and obtaining information on interest earned and spending patterns. The automated intelligence offers consumers other routes to answer their questions to avoid high call wait time.
Other lenders, like BMW Financial Services, Ford Motor Credit and Wells Fargo, also offer online landing pages that answer frequently asked questions to assist customer questions.
These modern approaches to customer service are expected to lead to more improved customer interactions and agent performance and, ultimately, better call outcomes, according to the McKinsey study. Implementing these strategies can be done on a rolling basis as lenders update practices and prioritize customers.
Auto Finance Summit, the premier industry event, returns October 27-29 in Las Vegas. The Summit continues to bring together the best and brightest in the industry year after year for unparalleled networking and professional education. To learn more about the 2021 event and register, visit www.AutoFinanceSummit.com.