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Adding a personal touch to digital self-service

How to effectively close the engagement gap between human and virtual channels persists as an issue for financial institutions.

Aug 31, 2022 / Consumer Banking

When you’re the credit union for the titans of technology—Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, Intel and others—your members have absurdly high expectations for seamless digital self-service.

Michael Upton, chief technology and digital officer of First Tech Federal Credit Union, believes the $15 billion-asset financial services organization is meeting its members’ digital self-service expectations.

“We’ve been good at facilitating transactions,” Upton says from his office in San Jose, California. “But we have the opportunity to do much better in engagement. Where I see digital going in the future is to a much more engaging, much more personalized, much more relevant experience for our members.”

The challenge for First Tech, Upton says, is “infusing the warmth of the branch and the call center experience into digital channels. It’s going to be a challenge in the next three to five years for the entire financial services industry.”

Upton is confident that the 630,000-member credit union will achieve the improbable goal of breathing more humanity into its digital self-service channels. First Tech plans to deploy technology to make the digital experience more personalized, more relevant and more engaging.

According to the BAI Banking Outlook for 2022, bank and credit union leaders are confident about their face-to-face customer engagement, with 35% calling it excellent. But only 9% of leaders said their digital customer experience was excellent.

Damian Warren, senior vice president and head of consumer digital channels for Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank, says about 80% of its customers’ transactions are now done digitally, but the bank’s strategy also focuses on the human experience for the customer.

“You can only take that so far through digital interaction,” Warren says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to show up in person at a branch,” saying that U.S. Bank connects with customers through appointment scheduling, video chat, co-browsing and other services that allow customers to interact in a safe, controlled and convenient environment.

But banking apps and services have become commodities that often fail to provide a point of brand differentiation. The true differentiator and value proposition, Warren says, is the digital customer experience. AI-powered services will increasingly be deployed to close the engagement gap between human and digital channels.

J.J. Slygh, principal product marketer for Total Expert, a Minneapolis-based software fintech, says challenger banks have a leg up on the traditional banks when it comes to digital self-service.

“They have embraced the technology and made the investments in technology to understand their customers right from the start,” Slygh says. “They have done a better job in capturing and utilizing customer data. But banks and credit unions can still thrive on the strength of their human connections because they have the caring staff to support their customer.”

A personal connection is especially important for small-business customers, Slygh says. “Small-business owners are putting all they have into these businesses. Having someone they can trust and see face to face at an organization becomes even more important. They are reliant on the loan and the funds. Having someone they know who is available for support and when they have a question is critical.”


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Digital self-service is simply table stakes for these customers. “Small-business owners want to see a human rather than being put into an endless calling tree trying to find someone to talk to,” Slygh says.

No matter the type of customer, the payoff for a strong customer connection in both digital and human channels is invaluable, says U.S. Bank’s Warren.

“If we do this well, it creates a compelling value proposition that attracts new customers. And by better understanding the needs of existing customers and offering them personalized financial solutions, we deepen relationships over time.

“By doing that, we keep our customer for life, and we lower attrition,” Warren says. “All of that ties directly to more revenue for the bank, and it’s also very important to customers.”

Edmund Lawler is a BAI contributing writer.

Find valuable insights for banks and credit unions as they adapt their customer-service strategy across ever-evolving channels in the BAI Executive Report, “Changing priorities in bank customer service”