Better digital care for COVID-conscious customers

As the COVID-19 pandemic spurs greater adoption of digital banking, a number of banks are launching innovative features within their mobile apps and online banking sites to improve customer service.

These features are intended to enhance the efficiency and convenience of the banks’ apps and online channels, with some even leveraging AI-powered insights to aid customers in managing their finances. Aesthetics can include animations and data visualizations, audio cues and more.

Customers are especially appreciative of new digital tools during this time, says Marcus Malcolm, head of digital solutions for New York-based HSBC Bank USA.

“People are now more conscious about where they go, what they touch, and certainly at the height of the pandemic, our branch traffic was lower than normal, increasing the importance of our digital channels,” Malcolm says. “Our focus on enhancing customer experiences and servicing was of top importance.”

Here’s a closer look at several of the customer-centered innovations now being offered by banks:

HSBC Bank: Apple Business Chat

With HSBC’s Apple Business Chat (ABC), customers who have an iPhone, iPad or MacBook can start a text conversation with a live customer service representative via iMessage.

Customers can continue the conversation at their convenience – their chat history is saved and remains open in their messages. Bank representatives will never initiate conversations – the new feature is purely for customer service upon their request, Malcolm says.

HSBC’s customer satisfaction and Net Promoter scores for the new service are among the most positive across different channels, he says. The team is also pleased with the response from the customer service representatives who are handling the conversations.

“Providing excellent customer service and experiences is key for HSBC, and introducing this new channel is one of our latest examples,” he says. “We continue to focus on ways to make banking as simple and pleasant as possible for our customers and we are excited about new innovations ahead.”

Bank of America: Life Plan

Bank of America has also seen significant increases in digital adoption during the pandemic, including customer reception to its recently launched Life Plan, an AI-powered digital tool that enables customers to set and track short- and long-term financial goals, says Evelyn Varner, digital planning executive for the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank.

Customers navigate through the tool via Erica, the bank’s virtual assistant. Life Plan leverages Erica’s “insights and intelligence” to proactively suggest the right resources, education or next best steps for the customer to reach their goals, Varner says. The new tool also automatically detects bumps in the road and can help customers adjust.

“Life Plan is built on a very simple premise: we want to understand what’s important to customers,” she says. “The model is based on the premise that as their life experiences are ever-changing, so are their priorities, and Life Plan is ever-adapting alongside them.”

Most of the interactions within Life Plan have been within the digital self-service feature, while other customers have configured their Life Plan goals with the assistance of either contact center or branch staff.

U.S. Bank: Smart Assistant

U.S. Bank Smart Assistant, which the Minneapolis-based bank introduced in July, allows customers to use their voice to access the bank’s mobile app functions. It uses natural language processing to understand even casual language, such as “Send Sarah twenty-five dollars to cover last night’s dinner.”

“We’re also seeing customers who may never have done things like transfer money into another account using the mobile app, now use Smart Assistant to move money around using just their words, instead of performing the multi-step process,” says Richard Weeks, head of conversational experiences and capabilities.

Customers can also ask about their finances, such as “Give me a breakdown of my expenses,” or “How much did I spend at Target last month?” If a customer wants some privacy while out in public, they can send text messages and receive texts in return.

“We also reinforced the experience by considering diverse abilities and digital experience in the design, so all customers can access the service effectively and efficiently,” Weeks says. “We’re getting a whole new customer base who are joining us in new channels.”

As more customers take to the ease and convenience of digital tools, banks will continue to innovate — leveraging AI, natural language processing and other technological advances to further enhance customer service long after the pandemic subsides.

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a contributing writer to BAI Banking Strategies based in Running Springs, California. She has more than three decades of experience writing about the financial services industry.

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