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How To Improve Customer Service in Digital-First Banking

by Fred Decker

Banks and credit unions have a lot of experience at fine-tuning customer service in physical branches. It’s tangible stuff, easy to see and act on. Do you have enough windows open and staffed, or are users waiting? Are your staff smiling and courteous? Did you run low on coins and small bills for your retail clients during a heavy shopping week? 

It’s unfortunate that those skills aren’t transferable to the digital banking environment, but the underlying mindset certainly is. Customer service in banking remains a core competency; the only thing that’s changed is how you’ll go about delivering on it. 

Double Down on the Customer Journey

In digital banking, the “customer journey” — the path a user takes in order to complete a task on your digital platform — is the bedrock level of customer service. If you don’t do this well, nothing else will matter. 

Realistically, this is the digital equivalent of the in-branch service you used to rely on. Are your users being served quickly? Are they smiling and happy? The difference is that you can’t see their reactions with your own eyes, so you need to build that accountability into your platform. You’ll need to map out the journey, tracking how many steps it takes to achieve each task on your app and website — opening an account, depositing a check, getting a loan — and how long it takes to accomplish each one. 

More to the point, you’ll also need to track how many users you lose along the way, and at what points you lose them. That’s the information you’ll need in order to take corrective measures. You’ll also need to be in regular contact with your users (by phone, in-app surveys and even formal focus groups) to ensure that they find your app and site intuitive and easy to use — and if not, why not. 

Make Mobile the Center of Your Strategy

Another foundational piece of customer service consists simply of being where your users are. Today, mobile devices are that place. In a recent survey by Business Insider’s business-intelligence division, 89% of U.S. respondents reported using mobile devices to access banking services and 70% described mobile devices as their primary method of banking.

That’s not to say that your website isn’t important anymore. It is, and it should be every bit as quick and intuitive as your app (and ideally, the interface should be as consistent as possible between the two). But mobile use and mobile users are the present — not the future — of customer service in banking, and your entire user experience needs to be centered around them. 

Improve Your Handling of Multiple Income Streams

Banking’s core function is the care and management of clients’ money, and that has seen a sea change in recent years as well. A growing percentage of Americans derive at least some part of their income from self-employment, freelancing or some other form of gig or “side hustle.” 

The problem is that many banks haven’t adapted well to this, and sometimes struggle to fit the “square peg” of contemporary gig income into the “round hole” of legacy banking practices and software. If your policies for granting credit still revolve around pay stubs (for wages or salaries) and tax records or bookkeeping records (for the traditionally self-employed), you’ll fall short of meeting the needs of people living this new reality. 

This is not explicitly a “digital banking” issue, but digital banking can provide the solution. Your platform sees all of a client’s income from all sources, and should be able to report it in ways that enable you to account for it in your credit decisions (and every other banking decision, for that matter). If your current policies or current digital platform aren’t flexible enough to cope with the lived reality of your users, you’ll need to change them or be left behind. 

Uncover, and Anticipate, Your Users’ Needs Through Technology

Customer service in banking means meeting your users’ needs, but in the ultra competitive banking marketplace that’s just the table stakes. The best digital banking platforms now have the data-gathering, data-analytics and AI tools to actually anticipate users’ needs in real time. 

That combination of new technologies opens up an entirely new range of customer service opportunities. Consider one of the “gig economy” clients discussed in the previous section. It’s new territory for many of them, too, and the financial routines of a salaried employee don’t work well in that context. But suppose your app could provide alerts when their expected income and payments get out of sync? That’s a whole other level of service. 

It’s especially powerful when you can offer a solution to needs they haven’t anticipated or recognized yet but which show up through your analytics (often described as “the Netflix effect”). A potential downside is that clumsy use of analytics and AI can come across as creepy rather than helpful, so it’s a good idea to seek out feedback from actual users before delving into uncharted territory. 

Personal Interaction, Delivered Digitally

One of the bigger challenges with digital banking is maintaining a personal connection between the user and the bank. It’s relatively easy to feel seen and recognized when you’re standing face-to-face with a real human at a branch, but — to reiterate — most interaction between users and their institution now takes place on a mobile device. So how do you keep things personal

AI-driven customer service “bots” can make up some of that ground for you, handling routine inquiries and seamlessly shuttling more-complex ones to a real human. Live chat using in-app messaging works well, enabling individual bank employees to interact efficiently with large numbers of users. 

Live video chat is better yet, and something that most people have become familiar with since the start of the COVID pandemic. It’s resource-intensive in terms of tech and staffing, so it’s best reserved for high-value, high-complexity interactions such as mortgage applications or meeting the requirements of high-value business and personal clients. That being said, it can also play an as-needed role in de-escalating especially thorny customer service issues for any user. 

Focus on Financial Wellness

Much of customer service focuses on the here and now, but delivering service in a deeper sense requires institutions to focus on their users’ long-term financial success as well. This includes saving and retirement planning, of course, but in recent years it has also come to mean a focus on users’ financial health in the intervening years. Borrowing from the lucrative health industry, the term that’s come into favor is “financial wellness.” 

It’s a powerful tool when done well (Bank of America’s Life Plan has been highly successful, for example), and it incorporates several of the themes we’ve already touched on. The data gathered by your digital platform should give you deep insights into each user’s individual circumstances, if your analytics tools are up to the task, and AI-driven reporting can isolate specific opportunities to intervene. The demand is there: in its 2021 Consumer Banking Survey, middleware provider EPAM found that over half of young adults 18 to 44 wanted their banks to provide better financial education

You might push an in-app message to a given user suggesting that they’d save money by centralizing their insurance (through you!) rather than their current multiple vendors; or offer opportunities for painless saving through behaviorally sound tools such as “rounding up” expenditures and diverting those dollars to a predefined savings or investment plan. Your platform might also offer in-app coaching about spending habits, or provide regular opportunities for live discussions with a human about the insights you’ve gleaned from their money habits. 

You could think of other customer service initiatives as tactical, and financial wellness as strategic. Not only does it help your users develop good financial habits, it creates a strong personal bond with your brand. 

How To Improve Customer Service in Digital Banking

At the end of the day, there are two prerequisites for delivering superior customer service digitally. One is your institution’s own experience, creativity and commitment to customer service as a principle. The other is a digital platform that arms you with the necessary tools, power and flexibility to keep up with offerings from deep-pocketed fintechs and megabanks. 

It’s not easy to keep up with the pace of change. A survey by The Financial Brand found that most institutions’ assessment of their digital transformation actually declined from 2020 to 2021, despite the resources that had been thrown at the problem. User expectations — to put it bluntly — are evolving more quickly than banking platforms can adapt, highlighting the need for software that can bridge the gap on a drop-in basis. 

Lumin Digital’s platform is exactly that. It’s a fast, powerful, cloud-native product that can free you from the shackles of legacy software and empower you to achieve your customer service (and retention!) goals. Contact us today to request a demonstration, and learn just how quickly and seamlessly you can move to the forefront of digital banking. 


Choice Hacking – How to Create a Journey Map

Insider Intelligence – The Disruptive Trends and Companies Transforming Digital Banking Services in 2022

Financial Health Network – Assessing Customer Financial Health Goes Beyond Product Offerings

Bank of America – More Than 5 Million Bank of America Clients Use Life Plan in its First Year to Prioritize Financial Goals and Establish a Path Toward Achieving Them

EPAM – 2021 Consumer Banking ReportThe Financial Brand – 6 Digital Banking Transformation Trends for 2022