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Omnichannel customer service evolves


For several years, Portland, Oregon-based Umpqua Bank has used an omnichannel approach to provide personal banking services to all its customers. Customers can use all of the available physical and digital channels to conduct transactions, get product information and apply for products. The channels are also connected so customers can have in-app chats with personal bankers about their financial needs.

It’s all part of Umpqua Go-To, a mobile app that allows customers to select their own personal banker, based either on that banker’s expertise or location. And if that wasn’t enough, the bank expects to move to a new digital platform that will enable even more personalization by the end of 2020.

Omnichannel strategies have been touted for several years as an on-demand way for banks to allow customers to use their various digital and physical channels.

The idea is to ensure a uniform experience regardless of channel and to allow customers to seamlessly move throughout the channels — this can include beginning a transaction on one channel and finishing it on another.

“Our mission is to provide personalized service for every customer, not just those that qualify for personal service based on their account balance,” says Rilla Delorier, Umpqua’s EVP and chief strategy officer.

Maintaining the human connection

For Umpqua, the key to its omnichannel is finding a way to keep the human connection with all interactions on all channels. “We want to make our human representatives more effective and our digital channels more human and personalized,” Delorier says.

Tiffani Montez, senior analyst at Boston-based Aite Group, believes systems that allow bankers to communicate with customers via chat will become more commonplace. “Financial institutions are starting to rethink the role of employees in the branch,” she says.

“There’s a lot of idle time, and it makes sense to ask branch employees to respond to emails and live chat.”

Umpqua customers can now use elements of this omnichannel communication to evaluate which type of mortgage may best fit their needs, whether they need a home-equity loan and how to start planning for retirement. Programs can also help customers decide whether now is a good time to buy or lease a car and how to best fund it.

Delorier believes there are a lot of ways the omnichannel approach can be further developed to allow for even more personalization. She says there’s a need for advancements in the day-to-day budgeting programs to help guide major financial planning decisions. “Most budgeting programs do not cut across product categories to let customers really evaluate their financial options and trade-offs,” she says.

In the future, customers will also be able to get better help through this channel in terms of making decisions about childcare, health care and their food budgets, Delorier says.

Ross Cosner, vice president of financial services for Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner, agrees that most financial planning tools offered over multiple channels are tied to specific life events, and that future tools will do a better job of helping customers with product decisions.

“Customers want better tools for product decisions. They want to see various product options shown side by side,” he says. This would allow customers to more easily determine which may be better for them without having to click on each product individually.

Technical challenges still persist

While Umpqua has made a lot of progress in creating an omnichannel approach, other banks have been less successful.

“Banks are trying to solve the equation where they can use all their channels to seamlessly reach and serve their customers and potential customers,” says Cosner. “But most of their efforts are still disconnected. It is  hard for customers to be able to start a transaction or apply for a product on one channel and pick up later in another channel.”

Part of the problem, he says, is that a lot of banks still “aren’t sure what customers want to do in each channel.” In addition, some delivery channels need enhancements to be able to play an important role. ATMs, for example, need to be more interactive and offer more information if customers are going to use them as part of a total banking experience, he says.

At the heart of most banks’ problems is technology, says Montez. “Most banks use different systems and platforms for each channel and each product line. As  a result, you might have dozens of different systems and it is difficult to get them all connected.”

And some banks still have not made omnichannel a priority, but Montez believes they eventually will have to. “Over time, consumers are going to expect to conduct all their interactions over the various channels, and banks are going to have to reevaluate what they are doing and come up with a solution,” she says.

Cosner sees more banks providing access via APIs to third-party firms that provide such services as personal financial management and budgeting assistance.

Montez sees digital channels becoming the “hub” of bank activity where most customer interactions begin. But then the digital channel will hand the customer off to a personal banker at a point where more assistance is required.

The goal should be for financial technology to work in tandem with human interaction, not to replace it. As Delorier puts it, “We can’t underplay the value of humans helping humans as they face choices about how  to navigate the intersection of life and money.”

Lauri Giesen has spent more than 25 years writing about banking technology and payments for numerous business and financial publications. In the 1990s, she founded and edited Financial Service Online, a magazine covering Internet-based forays into banking and investment services.


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