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How will you deepen customer relationships and build trust in 2019?


Customers continue to value relationships with their banker at the branch. It’s where they experience the warmth of the human touch: a handshake, eye contact or the sharing of a personal story. Familiarity, of course, builds trust.

But here’s a key question: How do you maintain trust and deepen customer relationships when people are not visiting the branch as often in an increasingly digitized world? Heading into 2019 and through 2020, customers expect 68 percent of their channel usage to be digital, according consumers surveyed in a recent BAI Banking Outlook report.

What’s the right balance between maintaining strong human connections in the branch or leveraging the convenience and efficiency of digital channels? It’s one of the challenging decisions financial services leaders will have to make in 2019. BAI Banking Outlook findings also show that banks, when asked to rate the area of their biggest customer experience gaps, named “omnichannel experience” as number one.

I had the pleasure of hosting a session at BAI Beacon 2018 titled “Humanizing the Digital Experience in Banking.” The speakers were two of the best minds in banking: Jim Marous, owner and publisher of the Digital Banking Report, and Rilla Delorier, executive vice president and chief strategy officer of Umpqua Bank, based in Portland, Oregon.

One of the nation’s most customer-centric financial institutions, Umpqua may have found the perfect hybrid model that personalizes a digital channel. Its recently launched mobile app called Go-To borrows concepts from popular dating apps. Delorier explains: “Go-To helps customers select their own personal banker that they can chat with on their terms, at their pace.”

Rilla, who oversees Umpqua’s creative, product and technology teams, believes that digital should not be used to separate banks from their customers. Rather, technology should help build deeply personal and relevant relationships.

The bank’s Go-To app is designed to do just that. It lets customers scroll for a banker based on their profile that includes their photo, professional background, area of expertise and even hobbies. Once there’s a match, the customer and banker can communicate via secure text or chat to resolve financial issues, explore opportunities and get advice.

Rilla believes the new app, which combines digital and human in a convenient channel, gives customers access to someone they can trust and with whom they’ll feel confident about receiving financial advice. It will be interesting to see how this unique initiative in personalization plays out over the course of its first year.

In the meantime Umpqua, like many of the savviest financial institutions, continues to personalize all its digital channels to foster a sense of one-to-one banking. Umpqua is taking banking well beyond the chatbot. Regardless of whether the technology is a mobile app, artificial intelligence or predictive analytics, it should lead to a more personalized, relevant offer for the right customer at the right time.

Another outstanding example of a financial institution leveraging technology to better connect with its customers comes from USAA, recently named Most Innovative Finserv of the Year at the BAI Global Innovation Awards.

After Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm, pummeled Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast in August 2017, USAA Labs developed a tool to help its members assess the damage to their homes. Because of flooding and inaccessible roads and highways, evacuated homeowners could not get back to their residences.

Using mapping technology to take data from aerial photography, and information from government databases, USAA rolled out an online portal to help members—as well as everyone from the storm-ravaged communities. They could view before-and-after images of their homes and surrounding neighborhoods; nothing like this technology existed previously. Remarkably, the USAA team developed the portal within 24 hours to bring some peace of mind to its traumatized customers in that region.

Earlier this year, Zachary Gipson, USAA’s chief innovation officer and head of USAA Labs, explained in a BAI Banking Strategies podcast that innovation is not just technology. At USAA, he said, innovation is driven by a spirit of caring and empathy that “allows us to know our members better than anyone else.”

USAA enjoys an astronomical Net Promoter Score (NPS), which essentially measures the likelihood of someone recommending a brand or product to a friend or colleague. USAA’s NPS is 75, more than double the 36 average for the banking industry at large. You can credit its combination of empathy for its customers and smart technology.

Rilla Delorier also believes empathy is key to building relationships in the digital age.  She feels banks need to “invest in training empathy and connection as much as products and solutions” to deepen trust with customers.  Empathy is an essential element for improving customer experiences whether they are human, digital or a combination of the two.

Banks that make the right decisions in 2019 about the appropriate balance between high tech and the human touch, with empathy as their guide, will continue to build trust with their customers. We all know that 2019, thanks to technology, will give us plenty of chances to go faster. Here’s hoping that keeping the human connection in mind, it moves us to go deeper as well.

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Holly Hughes is the chief marketing officer of BAI.

For more insights  like these, check out our recent executive report: Decisions bankers need to make in 2019. And our recent podcast featuring Holly: The top decisions of 2019 with the BAI Leadership Team.