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Keep your mobile moving and your customers clued in


In just a generation or so, banking by phone has gone from punching square keys on a handset device to tapping the glass screen of a wafer-thin gadget. And for those who enjoy banking via swiping (not the bank theft kind), the curve has progressed at rocket speed since the birth of the iPhone in 2007. 

Acting as though it’s always been a financial fact of life, people now use their smartphones to check account balances, pay bills, send money through Zelle or Venmo, or deposit checks just by taking pictures of them. Imagine forecasting all this at the turn of the millennium, with the asterisk that you’ll be able to listen to music on the same device at the same time.

And yet, it’s easy to forget that all of this involved a cultural learning curve as well as dispelling fears about high tech run amok. (“Depositing a check by taking a picture? Is that safe? What if the bank loses my photo?”) So don’t be surprised to learn that in 2018, customers might be—in fact, will be—reluctant to try new mobile-banking technologies they don’t trust or understand.

Some might not even know such options exist—and clearly, banks understand they have much at stake. The BAI Banking Outlook found that “improving the omnichannel experience” for customers ranked in the top five priorities for financial institutions. Part of that involves making sure customers not only get the help they need to adapt but also hear the bank’s message that help is available. 

To rise above the noise, fear and knowledge gaps, “Find people where they are,” says Robert K. Elder, president and publisher of Blockchain News, and former executive director of digital product development and innovation for Crain Communications.

“Educate people at a level where they’re comfortable and come to the channels that they’re most likely to use,” Elder says. “For example, someone might not want to sit and watch a [YouTube] video, or they might skip past it. And for some people, a text or an email or a traditional TV commercial might be the most effective.”

Banks can launch campaigns to announce new mobile-banking features through methods high tech (direct messaging, social media ads, Facebook pages, web videos) and low (billboards, bank branch signs, radio spots).

But with so many different kinds of customers receiving information across multiple media, “You can’t just do one campaign on one platform,” Elder says. “You’re not going to have penetration.”

At Chase branches, floor-to-ceiling signs communicate with clarity and economy that consumers can send one another money through their smartphones. “Gina paid Rachel for a cab with a tap,” the large-lettered copy says next to a photo of two young women laughing together in the back of a taxi. At lower right is an image of the Chase banking app on a smartphone screen, showing that $20 for the cab ride is being sent to Rachel via Zelle, a P2P payments network that includes more than 100 banks and is a part of many of the banks’ mobile apps.

“Customers are looking for banking experiences that are integrated into how they live their lives, which is often online and on their phones,” says Elizabeth Seymour, executive director of external communications for JPMorgan Chase and Co. in New York City. “We’re continually making updates to the customer experience on Chase.com and our mobile app, and regularly communicate those enhancements to customers through email, on our website, in the branch, and through social media, including online videos, demos and step-by-step guides.”

Even on the websites of some top banks, information about mobile apps and how they work can be hard to find. For all the times the late Steve Jobs lectured about the “three-click rule,” banks too often bury the vital content that teaches customers how to use the latest mobile innovations. And when customers do track the information down, it’s too often vague.

‘A hard sell’

To communicate with customers about new mobile tools, “Make it personal, make it timely and make it relevant,” says Anne Marie Mitchell, associate chair of the communication department at Columbia College Chicago.

Mitchell, who teaches public relations writing and has worked with banking-solutions providers as clients, suggests that banks try this: When customers check their online accounts and a new feature might apply to them, send a personal message or have a chat pop up.

“The question is, if I’m going to have a digital chat with a bank representative, will it be useful to me?” Mitchell points out. “Banks have a hard sell in helping the consumer believe that. But if they can convince me it’s a new day and they’re about convenience and improved services to my benefit, maybe I’ll take the time for an online chat or to actually read the ad that flashes at the ATM before I withdraw my cash.”

Mitchell also advises that banks run ads before the content their audiences consume. “Or when the consumer comes into the bank for a meaningful event, there could be a printed ‘Did you know?’ communication on these new tools,” she says.

The motion of emotional connection

With new technology in general, financial institutions might fall prey to the assumed knowledge trap—acting as though everyone already knows (or will figure out) the latest features and how they work. For their part, consumers might be embarrassed to admit they don’t know, or get aggravated when they can’t find something as simple as the right instructions.

“You want to be informative, but you don’t want to insult their intelligence,” Elder says. “Show them the benefit rather than tell them what the benefit is. They need to see how this is going to improve their lives. Otherwise, they’ll find another bank or another service that fits their life better.”

But a fine line exists between drumming up new information for your customer and hammering them with incessant advertising, he says.

“Adoption rates are tough, especially when you’re educating a public that’s already bombarded with all of these different products and services and digital assets,” Elder says. “But once it reaches a cultural saturation point, then it’s much easier.”

Employees can help banks reach that critical mass, through becoming trusted “brand ambassadors” for the bank.

When they share information with peers, friends, family and social networks, “it quickly cuts through the clutter with authenticity, because it’s coming from people they know,” says Adam Keats, a digital marketer and vice president of Dynamic Signal.

“Customers only visit a bank’s website when they have a specific, rational need,” Keats says. “A friend or former colleague who works at that bank and shares information on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter has the chance to connect with that customer emotionally—and that’s often more powerful.”

Banks can also communicate more effectively about new digital tools in these three ways:

  • Regardless of the communication channel used to inform customers, “Always tell a story,” Elder says.
  • Banks should “Find a way to humanize themselves and not make people feel like every interaction is about selling a new product or service,” Mitchell says. “When the customer comes to you with a need is always the best time.”
  • Most important: Develop mobile tools that are useful for customers in the first place, Mitchell notes. “If you build it and it matters,” she says, “they will come.”

To be sure, banking isn’t about to move back to the touchtone era. Yet for banks to hang on to customers through the next tech leap forward, it’s going to take just the right touch, and just the right tone.

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Greg Beaubien is a Chicago-based writer and editor. The author of three books including a novel, he has written for the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Travel + Leisure, Yahoo Travel and for the petroleum company BP.

If you enjoyed, this article, check out our recent Executive Report: Raising the customer experience bar.