Ben Nichols
Head of Product

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic sparked a seismic shift in how banks approached customer service. In-person visits to branches drastically decreased and digital adoption catapulted to the forefront. But while bank lobbies echoed with emptiness, contact centers buzzed with activity, and the retail financial services industry found itself navigating the challenges of an increased need for remote services.

This behavioral shift left banks with a set of cascading decisions:
1. Scaling customer service teams.
2. Being where customers are.
3. Reduced human dependence.
4. Specialized agents availability.
5. Integration and automation with conversational artificial intelligence (AI).

With branch visits down 80% and the need to make appointments for visits, customers flooded contact centers and retail staff with all manner of requests. The humble phone call, previously thought to be on the decline, once again took center stage. Banks faced the challenge of scaling up their customer service teams to cope with the surge in demand.

But the job market, still reeling from economic uncertainties and increasing labor costs, presented a formidable hurdle in nearly every community. Attracting qualified personnel became an uphill battle, leaving many institutions grappling with understaffed contact centers. Bank operations pivoted to diversify their communication channels. The rapid adoption of messaging, web chat, video banking, document sharing and interactive teller machines (ITMs) between 2020-22 tried to provide customers with alternative ways to connect. However, this diversification came at a cost: additional strain on contact center teams.

Unintended Consequences
These additional modalities, intended to ease the burden on retail staff, paradoxically created more strain. The various disjointed and siloed platforms often led to an increased workload for customer service teams. Each channel demanded attention, but without unified system integrations and orchestration, staff was left to prioritize communications ad-hoc or through self-imposed scheduling. Representatives found themselves navigating a labyrinth of disparate systems, causing inefficiencies and delays: sometimes three or four monitors running more than eight applications. integrated via control-c and control-v.

In an environment where versatility is prized, the disjointed nature of communications and financial services platforms hindered the potential for specialization or proactive service campaigns. Instead of becoming experts in specific areas, representatives became generalists, exclusively handling inbound communications. This unyielding service burden is most noticeable in the vicious cycle it created: Training is brief and involves inefficient workflows that cause retention issues and result, once again, in navigating the difficult job market.

Navigating the Future: A Call for Automation
The post-pandemic customer service expectations are here to stay, so banks face the imperative to streamline their communication and service platforms. The goal is clear — integrate and automate. By fostering cohesion among various technologies and automating routine inquiries using conversational AI, banks can enhance the customer service experience, reduce strain on representatives and enable specialization, ultimately paving the way for a more efficient and customer-centric future.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the evolution of customer service in banking is not just about weathering the storm but about embracing a digital era that demands seamless, integrated and specialized solutions. The journey ahead beckons innovation and adaptability as financial institutions strive to redefine customer service in a post-pandemic world.

If a community bank answers “yes” to any of these questions, they would benefit from orchestrated automation with conversational AI.

• Are the top 10 customer inquiries transactional or routine?
• Are customers unable to reach a representative in a timely manner?
• Are customers provided with inconsistent results to their requests?
• Is there difficulty in hiring, training and retaining customer service staff?
• Is customer service unavailable during nights or weekends?


Ben Nichols

Head of Product

Ben Nichols is the head of product at Directlink, a voice banking platform which empowers banks and credit unions to serve their customers with resources to achieve financial success with an emphasis on personalized customer self-service. In his career, Mr. Nichols has worked at large, medium and small organizations building products in the varied domains of machine-learning, communications and financial services. Some of his previous companies include Morgan Stanley, IBM, CB4 (a Gap Company) and ChatID (acquired by Salsify). In addition to his experiences in technology-product management, he serves as a professor of Data Science at Syracuse University.