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The digital-first challenge is hidden costs

To drive efficiencies, financial institutions should focus on tactics that optimize self-service experiences and improve their first-contact resolution rate.


The way consumers expect to interact with businesses has drastically changed. Consumers desire instant gratification and service from curbside pickup to reservations and appointments, to greater expectations for self-service and do-it-yourself.

It is imperative that banks and credit unions invest in the digital customer experience to meet customers’ changing behaviors and demands. There are, however, hidden support and opportunity costs of a “digital-first” strategy are often overlooked by financial institutions. So how can these digital technologies enable greater engagement between customers while reducing support costs?

Digital-first service strategies are likely costing banking institutions more than meets the eye. More likely than not, adding more channels for your customers to interact and transact increases the cost to serve even as these technologies come with the expectation of greater self-service for consumers and lower support costs. Investments in digital channels provide the tools consumers need, but the reality is customers still have questions. This often requires additional human assistance to answer queries regarding self-serve technology.

In a recent study, Gartner followed more than 8,000 banking customer interactions and identified a disconnect between digital customer service and consumer expectations when customers had questions or needed help.

The study found that 30% of the customers who used a live or agent-assisted channel to get help were able to get resolution in that channel, compared to only 9% of the customers who used only self-service. More than 60% of customers who first attempted self-service eventually switched out to a live or agent-assisted channel. Those using multiple channels had to communicate with two or more bank employees to resolve their questions or problems.

Human assistance can be costly and inefficient and puts unnecessary strain on contact centers.

On the other hand, self-service assistance empowers customers and increases success rate of self-service interactions. If they still need help, they can be referred to the right channel and banking professional to answer their specific questions by way of live chat, video, appointment or phone call.

Financial institutions should focus on tactics that optimize the 70% of self-service initiated experiences and improve their first-contact resolution rate to truly enhance the digital customer experience and reduce costs.

One way to do this is by reducing customer friction and support costs by providing self-service assistance that guides customers from question to answer and helps them achieve digital adoption. Another option is to make self-service assistance so good that customers don’t need to rely on human channels for basic answers to questions like, “What is your routing number?” and “How do I transfer funds between accounts?”

A 2020 BAI study found that the digital banking enhancement most desired by consumers was 24/7 customer service. But, as the Gartner study found, 24/7 customer service does not always mean human assistance. It means providing self-service assistance that answers the common questions or routes to the right channel when additional assistance is required.

The missing piece from digital customer-service strategy is self-service assistance that guides customers from question to answer, and finally to adoption. With self-service assistance, customers are empowered with the knowledge they need and if they still need help, they are referred to the right destination.


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In creating a sustainable digital-first strategy, banks and credit unions should first consider their current support information. This information should be easy to find, use and access, and it must be consistent across all channels. Relevant and helpful FAQs can also be valuable. The more robust and helpful the information is on guiding customers through specific transactions or adopting certain technology, the simpler it is for customers to initiate their desired action.

Sometimes live help will be required, and banks should consider what the customer experiences are when it is. Customers want a seamless transition from automated to human-assisted support, meaning the ability to easily move from a chatbot or self-service interaction to a live chat or scheduling an appointment with a relevant professional. The ability to schedule appointments online is an important factor for customers—financial institutions can support their staff through this with appropriate tools.

A digital-first strategy can transform a bank or credit union in many ways, including by driving them forward into the all-digital future that is clearly on the economic horizon. But with those opportunities come costs that institutions should not lose sight of.

D.J. Haskins is the senior director of marketing at Engageware.