Making the case for digital first

Customer service has evolved a great deal in recent years. While there was some initial pushback to offshoring, call centres and the use of automated systems (‘dial 1 for sales’), both the customer services industry and the public at large have generally moved with the times, and embraced new thinking and technologies as they have presented themselves.

This is true today as businesses increasingly look at the value of ‘self-service’ models and adapt to a new generation of consumers who are digitally savvy and are comfortable (and indeed often prefer) to manage their query or complaint in their own time, outside of ‘normal’ office hours, and without interacting with another human voice at the end of a line.

Not every industry has necessarily caught up, a point highlighted in research recently reported in Today’s Wills and Probate. Some of the statistics are surprising: almost two thirds (64%) of financial service professionals manage notifications using mostly manual processes; and more than three quarters (77%) receive less than 25% of bereavement notifications through digital means.

These figures are not only surprising but perhaps even disappointing. It means that hundreds of thousands of consumers dealing with the death of a loved one every year have had to do so using antiquated, inefficient paper-driven systems that have failed to keep up with the times, and so do their advisers.

The lost opportunity is driven home by another statistic that shows that 78% of the bereaved responsible for managing an estate administration were aged between 18 to 44, and age group typically more ‘digitally native’ than their predecessors, and therefore more well-disposed to a digitally-led customer services approach.

Why the average age has fallen is a moot point. It might be that people are older before having children for the first time or having a second family later in life with a new partner. The ‘why’, arguably, isn’t important; what is important is that the data is acknowledged, because the younger age groups have a higher expectation of what customer services looks like in a digital age.

It is not the case, of course, that all of notification journeys are manual. The Estate Registry, for example, recently launched a digital bereavement notification service called NotifyNOW. As reported in TW&P, the service was initially developed in consultation with E.ON Next with the aim of dramatically improving the customer journey for those tasked with managing a deceased’s estate.

Through NotifyNOW, representatives of the deceased can provide information such as their contact details, meter readings, and who is taking over the account, if known. Once the form is completed, and the relevant documents are uploaded, the task is complete, and no other action is needed.

It doesn’t mean that a customer cannot speak to a trained operator if they prefer, but more that it gives that customer a choice, and the choice to manage the process at their own pace and to their own timeframe. E.ON Next experienced a significant uptick in customer satisfaction as a result, and the volume of complaints – which was already low – fell even further. It has resulted in a ‘win-win’ for all sides.

In some ways, a digital solution such as NotifyNOW should not be seen as a revolution. In this industry, however, it is having a positively disruptive impact and certainly our mission and the industry’s goal should be to continue to invest in new digital solutions that address the needs of different parts of the bereavement process and make the most difficult time in people’s lives easier for all.

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