When I began working in the financial services industry as a teller 25 years ago, it was ingrained in all of us that customer service was the biggest differentiator. A cordial greeting, good eye contact, a welcoming smile and calling the customer by name would all ensure that we retained their loyalty. A warm customer experience could even inspire non-customers – who may only be visiting my teller window to cash a check – to open an account right away!
Despite the ever-increasing array of products, services and channels, customer service has never been more important. While account opening, account management and payment services can now be conducted digitally, the customer experience can’t be rendered impersonal.
Winners in this space know it’s the merging of digital channels with data and other services that differentiates them and retains consumers. A more contextual experience is something consumers crave more than ever before. This is especially true for the consumer segments that our industry is tapping into for organic growth – millennials and the underserved – who are more likely than ever to engage with alternative providers to get the service they want.
Hitting the Sweet Spot
Financial institutions have been working to strike the right balance between digital and physical channels for almost two decades. Technology has been rolled out to streamline operations and save costs, and financial institutions have eagerly adopted tools to support mobile and online usage. Consumers want the ability to open accounts remotely, plus a safe, easy way to self-service their accounts. But not all digital engagement solutions are created equally. Growing market share in a competitive and crowded marketplace demands service differentiation. How can banks achieve this in a digital world through virtual channels?
While most financial service providers continue to experience a decline in traffic at their physical locations, those sites still serve a fundamental purpose. Migrating to digital is more about a supplemental channel that balances the complete delivery strategy.
In fact, while the most profitable consumer segments currently served by banks and credit unions prefer face-to-face interactions or live phone support, there’s a growing segment of the population that prefers digital engagement that is both personalized and comprehensive, in terms of the range of services offered digitally.
Contextualize the Digital Experience
When delivering digital experiences, proper context is very important. In payments, context means understanding and acting on preferences, external events, entitlements, purchase history and any other customer information that may be relevant to the moment. The goal is to create personalized, impactful payment opportunities and experiences. Success necessitates that products and services be more than just available through a website or smartphone app, they also must be personalized through the addition of data and data analysis.
Historically, the payment experience has been contextually blind – consumers pulled out a card and paid, irrespective of the location, their personal habits or history. The modern payment experience can be agile and the drive toward real-time digital services allows payment providers to consider important customer characteristics, such as preferences, buying habits, purchase history and location of each transaction. By adopting an informed perspective of the customer, financial institutions can tap into more revenue-generating opportunities by seamlessly embedding purchasing opportunities into everyday activities.
A Compelling Digital Mix
With the right mix of in-person services, augmented by contextual and personalized digital experiences, banks can improve their organic growth in a saturated market. Getting the mix right cultivates loyalty, retention and, most importantly, top-of-wallet/top-of-mind status. A strong digital foundation that allows consumers to open accounts and manage their funds with convenience and security is a basic requirement, but context is the key to creating a personalized experience that drives revenue and reinforces loyalty.
Service is still a constant in our business and it remains the most important differentiator.