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Optimizing the human-digital mix in customer service

Give banking customers excellent service across evolving digital and in-person channels with the goal of increasing revenue and retention. Get actionable insights in the latest BAI Executive Report.

Jun 27, 2022 / Consumer Banking

The pandemic-fueled growth in digital self-service by banks and credit unions is almost certainly an irreversible trend, given ever-improving technology to enable its adoption, the clear financial and operational benefits of making the investment, and the competitive need to meet consumers’ rising expectations for anytime, any-place banking.

While digital channels are used to deliver more products and solve more problems, BAI research conducted during the pandemic finds that customers and members still want face-to-face interactions with bankers, and they still rely on call centers. From a customer service perspective, then, both digital and human capabilities are in high demand.

How banking institutions should look at the evolving role of customer service and how they can move toward optimizing their human-virtual mix is the theme of this month’s BAI Executive Report.

Our lead article, from contributing writer Ed Lawler, examines efforts by some institutions, ranging from giant banks to modest-sized credit unions, to provide a personalized touch in their digital self-service offerings to increase engagement, and then to smoothly shift to a human helper when warranted.

“Digital will make commoditized activities and transactions much easier,” a California-based credit union’s chief technology officer tells Lawler. “But there has to be an elegant handoff to somebody who is knowledgeable and nurturing.”

A shrinking ability for banks to differentiate their product set from those of their competitors adds to the urgency of connecting with customers by other means.

For many institutions, the key is an enhanced customer experience rooted in tailored services. As a high-ranking executive at U.S. Bank puts it to Lawler, “It just can’t be transactional. It must be connected to somebody’s life if we expect to help customers navigate the financial complexities in their lives.”

Call center representatives, of course, play a critical role in helping banks connect with their customers, but over the past couple of years, how and where they do their work has been in a state of flux. Contributing writer Lauri Giesen focuses her article on hybrid models. With both in-office and work-from-home employees, these models are emerging as a long-term solution to increase worker satisfaction and reduce attrition.

Hybrid call centers can present challenges for both customer service representatives and their managers. For the former, there are fewer chances to consult with co-workers on vexing customer issues; for the latter, maintaining security can be trickier; and for both sides, training programs can be more difficult. Giesen writes about how institutions are contending with those challenges.

With the rise of digital banking, customers now expect speed and convenience when they conduct transactions. For many, those same expectations hold true when they have to visit a branch. As a result, more banks and credit unions are offering customers the option of scheduling an appointment.

I spoke with Matt Hertel from UKG, which has conducted several studies to identify trends in appointment setting. It should probably come as little surprise that, since the pandemic, customers have enthusiastically embraced video chat as a way to meet with bankers.

Also in this month’s Executive Report:

Does your contact center measure up? Terri Panhans from Vericast writes that banks and credit unions need to make the most of the diminishing number of personal interactions with customers. In her view, a good way to do that is by focusing less on contact center call volume and efficiency, and more on call quality and value.

Service as the differentiator in banking looks different now: Kelly Horn from Salesforce tells us that the accelerated adoption of digital banking during the pandemic has shifted customer expectations in significant ways. To stand out from the pack in this evolving environment, she says, banking institutions need to provide omnichannel service proactively and probe their data troves for meaningful insights.

Humanizing your digital channels is all about empathy: Benoit Malherbe from Genesys stresses the importance of putting customers first, and this means knowing what they need, what they are trying to achieve and how you can best help them. The operative word is “empathy,” with a key goal of connecting with customers on an emotional level.

Mapping your banking customer’s journey: Matt Lombardi and Anne Bakstad from ServiceNow make a case for a customer journey map as the most effective way for banks and credit unions to keep pace with the rapid changes in customer preferences and behavior. They cite research suggesting that companies with journey-mapping experience higher growth rates than those without it.

We hope you find value in this Executive Report focused on customer service. Feel free to email me to let me know what you think.

Terry Badger, CFA, is the managing editor at BAI.