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Plotting the CX line of demarcation

The deeper his team dives into the customer analytics at BMO Financial Group, the more Chris Menezes realizes that each customer is bent on charting his or her own unique experience through the organization’s digital and human channels.

“It’s really up to the customers as to the channel that is most appropriate for them,” says Menezes, who heads a rapidly growing, 23-member team of personalization and web experimentation strategists from BMO’s operational headquarters in Toronto.

Determining exactly when it makes more sense for the customer to transact through a digital self-service channel or through a human channel isn’t as simple as paper versus plastic. The customer’s digital self-serve versus human interaction decision is often dictated by the nature of the transaction.

“For example, if a customer is applying for a mortgage, they may want to do things in person versus applying online for a credit card, which is more like a retail product,” he says. “There’s a mix of experiences that have to be informed by data analytics and research.… There could be different touchpoints, different markets, different contexts, different user journeys. So we aim to understand what the customers need.” 

Whatever the digital touchpoint, the personalization team’s goal is to reduce friction for the customer. Its primary focus is personalizing the digital customer journey via BMO’s mobile apps and website. The bank, with $850 billion in assets, operates more than 1,600 branches in Canada and the United States.

Personalization, Menezes says, “is the interaction between data, technology and the user experience, with data as the foundation.” Through digital channels, 

BMO collects a wealth of information to customize experiences. “When customers log in, we have their digital banking history, as well as information about what they’re doing on our website. That presents an opportunity for us to dynamically change the website to create a more personalized experience for them.”

At Wintrust Bank, the tipping point between a customer going digital self-serve versus talking to a human in a branch or call center often used to be generational. “Younger customers were all digital, and generally speaking, older customers wanted to know there is a branch and somebody specific there they can talk to,” says Tom Ormseth, Wintrust’s executive vice president for digital channels and transaction banking. “But we’re not seeing that line of demarcation so much anymore” as older customers have grown more comfortable with digital channels.

Customers at Wintrust, with $35 billion in assets and 190 branches in greater Chicago, now fall into two broad categories: digital only and digital hybrid, according to Ormseth. In the hybrid category, mobile-first customers will occasionally drop into a branch or consult the call center, while branch-centric customers will sometimes use mobile and online channels. The digital vs. human decision is often based on convenience, Ormseth says.

Branch banking will continue to play an important role for Wintrust. “Seven or eight years ago, there was talk in the industry that branch banks were going to disappear,” he says. “But what they’re doing is changing. They’re becoming more digital.”

Wintrust, he says, runs the gamut of banking channels. “We have the digital channels and the call center where people can quickly get an answer, but there are some customers who still say they want to talk to Mary Lou in the branch.”

A customer service mix of digital, branch and call center is essential, says Alyson Clarke, a longtime banking executive who is now principal analyst for e-business and channel strategy for Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “When financial services customers are asked about the best experiences they want, it’s actually a combination of elements from both human and digital.

“But a lot of digital experiences completely remove the ability to engage with a human being through something like chat or videoconferencing,” Clarke says. “There is no phone number. A lot of organizations treat their channels completely separate.” 

Clarke co-authored Forrester’s “U.S. Banking Customer Experience Index, 2019.” In it, she writes: “Conventional wisdom assumes that customers prefer digital experiences. As a result, companies race to create entirely digital experiences to entice customers away from contact centers and branches. That’s a mistake.

“Our data shows that the real situation is more complex. … Part of the problem is that banks’ efforts to date have been largely focused on making tasks and transactions faster and easier for customers as they increasingly push customers to self-service.”

The problem with digital-only self-service is that the experience lacks emotion, which she says is the most critical of the three dimensions of a high-quality customer experience. The other two are ease of use and effectiveness.

“What we see in financial services is that emotion has a much bigger impact on loyalty and revenue than ease or effectiveness,” she says. “Customers want to feel appreciated, valued and respected. But that is not coming through the website and app experience.”

Positive emotions do more than create feel-good moments for customers. A one-point improvement in Forrester’s 100-point Customer Experience Index can lead to more than $120 million in additional revenue for a large, multichannel bank, according to Clarke.

When faced with the choice between guiding customers through a digitized self-service experience or directing them to human-driven experience, the answer should be all of the above, Clarke says. “Banks need to be agnostic about this and fuse the digital and human channels, and let the customers choose.”