Meeting Customers Where They Are

Online banking finally overtook branch banking in 2018; by July 2022, mobile banking overtook online banking as customers’ primary banking channel.

It is easy to assume that banks have successfully transitioned from a branch-centric model to “meeting customers where they are.” But is that true? My hypothesis is that banks that focus purely on transactional data are being misled, creating major gaps in what customers truly need and want, and ultimately leading to less profitability and financial sustainability. Building successful banking relationships centers around providing your customers with three fundamental services:

  • Facilitating financial transactions.
  • Providing support when needed.
  • Offering guidance on how to better financial lives.

Have these services succeeded, considering the digital preferences of today’s consumers?

No More Bankers’ Hours
It’s reasonable to conclude that banks have done a fairly good job of facilitating financial transactions for retail customers, like transferring funds, paying bills and depositing checks. While there is still room for improvement in areas like account opening, digital loan applications and the like, overall an A- seems warranted.

But when the coronavirus pandemic isolated customers experiencing unprecedented uncertainty in their homes, call center wait times at banks tripled. Meaningful, available customer support is still not where it needs to be. Banks must understand that their customers have banking needs that may fall outside typical banking hours and sometimes cannot be resolved with their existing mobile app. In this area, it seems like a barely passing grade of C- is a fair assessment.

What’s more, financial guidance and advice offered over digital channels remains largely limited to offers and marketing promotions. That’s in contrast to customers who would appreciate if their bank provided advice that could improve their financial situation. The most important aspect of receiving that financial advice is having a personal experience — but few customers can say they’re able to work with a dedicated personal banker today. While banks say they are committed to their customers, they are failing to “meet them where they are” when offering guidance and advice.

On Customers’ Time
Banks need to prioritize treating their customers as individuals with specific channel preferences based on activity — rather than categorizing them as digital customers, mobile customers or branch customers. That means transitioning from a channel-centric service delivery model to a customer-centric model.

Providing support in this context means customers are in the driver’s seat for determining how they prefer to resolve an issue: on their own or with assistance from their banker. And banks can continuously analyze customer behavior to greatly improve both the customer experience and their support efficiency.

It is imperative that banks recognize their customers’ preference for working with their own personal banker and interacting with this banker through virtual consultations, even though the majority of interactions could revolve around service issues or tactical support. Just consider the major events in people’s lives like marriage, divorce and children, and how much this need for bespoke advice can significantly impact revenue opportunities for banks.

Over the past 12 months, case studies from institutions like Rockland, Massachusetts-based Independent Bank Corp., Waco, Texas-based Extraco Corp. and Omaha, Nebraska-based First National of Nebraska have showcased the benefits of letting customers select their own personal banker and allowing digital engagement to flourish naturally through communication initiated by either side. Typical chat requires both banker and customer to be available at the same time; these implementations allow customers to reach out to their personal bankers conveniently, at any time, and receive a notification when the banker replies.

Banks can augment these preferred personal relationships by enabling simple queries to be resolved by virtual assistance on the website or within the digital experience, freeing resources for higher value engagements. Providing this human-AI hybrid model ensures that your customers are never stuck in a siloed experience, because they have the control to choose what is best for them at the time.

Banks may have taken promising first steps in enabling financial transactions and tactical support. Now, their customers expect that they leverage existing advanced tools and platforms to translate the relationship branch banking of the past into meeting them where they are, when they need it. Banks that don’t adopt this philosophy and strategy risk losing customer loyalty and, ultimately, their own ability to survive.