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Can banks deliver “Simulchannel”?

Today’s customers demand personal—and personalized—service, as well as digital convenience—at the same time

Bank tech trends can make your head spin. So regularly longtime Tech Exchange Editor John Ginovsky does his best to “make sense of it all.” Bank tech trends can make your head spin. So regularly longtime Tech Exchange Editor John Ginovsky does his best to “make sense of it all.”

What do bank customers really want?

Surprise: better customer service!

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s always been true. But leave it to the analysts, observers, and professional advisors to point out just how true it really is.

Take, for example, Mercator Advisory Group which issued a report in February with this headline: “Bank customers want their banks to know them better.”

That might seem like an “obviousity.” But it turns out that customers increasingly mean more than they used to when they refer to banks knowing them better. They want their banks to know them digitally as well as in person.

This goes beyond the omnichannel approach. If there were such a word, customers want a “simulchannel” experience.

What does “simulchannel” look like?

The Mercator study provides some examples:

Mobile meets branch. “Our survey suggests that three in four U.S. adults own smartphones or tablets, and 70% of them would be interested in their financial institution providing more personalized service to them on their mobile device when they enter a branch … or use an ATM if they grant permission.”

Hope of beacons. “Bluetooth low-energy technology is one way that financial institutions can provide personalized service by using beacons to transmit custom message to customers’ mobile devices based on the individual’s location. Mobile accessibility supports deeper customer relationships and offers greater convenience.”

“Consumers are most interested in using this technology to inform tellers or branch personnel of a recent issue or problem when they enter the branch so they can take action…They are next most interested in automatically being offered discounts at retailers when they are in or near a store for purchases using their bank-issued payment cards…”

Shades of Karl Malden’s Amex card. “Half of mobile consumers would simply like to be welcomed by name with recognition of their banking relationship, rather than having to swipe their debit or bank card when they reach a teller.”

“Anticipate my needs before I have them”

Similarly, FIS conducted a survey earlier this year to discern bank customers’ preferences. In short, says Anthony Jabbour, chief operations officer, banking and payments at FIS: “Consumers worldwide generally turn to their primary financial institutions first, but those institutions must be prepared to serve their needs immediately. That’s particularly true of millennials, who stood out in this survey for how deeply they expect their banking services to mesh with their daily lives. The survey shows that, if a financial institution wants to be a customer’s bank for life, it must first become that customer’s bank for living—meeting all the needs a customer may have in his or her daily life, so that customer thinks of the bank first, always.”

Gartner surveyed 501 CEOs of technology and service provider companies to gauge their perception of the importance of providing a good customer experience, which the consensus considered paramount.

“Gartner has long believed that the best product doesn’t always win and that many other factors contribute to success, especially a positive customer experience,” says Todd Berkowitz, research vice-president at Gartner. “Customer engagement received the highest investment from an innovation standpoint with 42% of [technology and service provider] CEOs listing it a one of the top two priorities, ahead of new products and services and significantly ahead of internally focused activities.”

The chorus goes on. Oracle, in April, issued results of its survey of 300 C-level executives across ten industries, including financial services.

“Today, whether shopping for an item, making reservations, examining a bill, evaluating projects, or viewing medical information, the digital age has brought us to a point where we now expect the ability to make real-time decisions, transact, and customize options at the tap of the screen,” says Bob Weiler, executive vice-president, Global Business Units, at Oracle.

The company’s report goes so far as to quantify the benefits of good customer service, estimating that if a financial institution was able to successfully offer customers and employees a highly personalized experience, it would earn an additional 18% in annual revenue.

Knowing isn’t doing

Seems pretty clear, so what’s the issue?

Turns out, most companies don’t deliver, or don’t perceive that they deliver, really good customer service. In the Oracle survey, fewer than 20% of the executives gave themselves top marks in providing personalized service.

Accenture found much the same thing in its own survey. It determined that 52% of consumers have switched providers in the past year due to poor customer service, with banks, retailers, and cable and satellite television providers being the worst offenders.

“Companies have lost sight of the importance of human interaction and often make it too difficult for consumers to get the right level of help and service that they need,” says Robert Wollan, senior managing director, Advanced Customer Strategy, Accenture Strategy.

Anyone who has ever found themselves in voice response hell will say amen to Wollan’s next quote:

“Companies wrongly assume that their digital-only customers are their most profitable, and that customer service is a cost. Consequently they over-invest in digital technologies and channels and lose their most profitable customers—multi-channel customers—who want experiences that cover both digital and traditional channels.”

Building the “simulchannel”

Which gets back to that “simulchannel” concept. Logistically, how does one engage a customer digitally and traditionally at the same time?

The Mercator report explains this in one word: mobile.

Just about everybody has a communications device that they carry with them everywhere, even into a bank branch. So that’s the answer, right?

Well, again, it seems that many companies don’t do this well, either.

A survey by Sitecore—which specializes in experience management software and context marketing—found that when mobile expectations are not met, 93% of customers take some sort of action.

For one in three people surveyed that action is to never purchase from the offending brand again.

When a good mobile experience is achieved, 76% say it has a positive effect on their brand loyalty.

The three top areas of concern, according to the survey, include user experience, continuity between the mobile and web experiences, and adequate customer service.

“People expect businesses to design a thoughtful mobile experience that helps them go through their journey,” says Brian Solis, Sitecore analyst. “They want businesses to understand their intent and design content, paths, and outcomes that align with the context of each moment of truth. They don’t want generic click paths, 1990s websites, marketing-speak, gimmicks, or friction.”

5 Cs of simulchannel

Which leads to the need to reevaluate the connection between the mobile device and the customer who carries it. Temkin Group, which specializes in transforming customer experience, provides this handy list of how mobile is different from other channels:

Condensed. Mobile devices have small screens, and consequently, customers expect communications in this channel to be brief. They don't want to take time to fill out lengthy forms or answer dozens of questions. [Also see, "How to handle mobile disclosures?" on the Compliance Channel]

Comprehensive. Mobile devices allow customers to provide more than just numbers and text in their responses; they give customers the opportunity to include rich media like images, video, and audio.

Current. Because people carry their devices on them at all times, customers can share their feedback with a company as an experience occurs.

Conversational. Customers appreciate that mobile is a medium for instant two-way communication, which means they expect a prompt response when they provide feedback through this channel.

Contextual. Mobile devices provide metadata that can be valuable for better understanding the circumstances that impact customer feedback. This metadata can include geo-location, type of device, browser, and more.

Kevin Quiring, managing director at Accenture Strategy, sums up the simulchannel challenge:

“U.S. companies have reached a tipping point in their customer’s digital intensity and need to rebalance their digital and traditional customer services investments if they want to improve loyalty, differentiate themselves, and drive growth. Companies abandon the human connection at their own risk and are facing the need to rebuild it to deliver the varied and tailored outcomes that customers demand.”

Sources used for this article include:

According To New Temkin Group Research, Mobile Devices Will Disrupt How Companies Tap Into Customer Insights

U.S. Companies Losing Customers As Consumers Demand More Human Interaction, Accenture Strategy Study Finds

From Banking To Living: FIS Annual PACE Index Showcases Consumer Insights About Banking

Gartner Survey Shows Technology Provider CEOs Believe That Customer Experience Provides A Winning Strategy

Bank Customers Want Their Banks To Know Them Better

Businesses See Big Benefits To Offering Individualized Customer and Employee Experiences But Struggle To Deliver, Says New Study

New Research Study Finds Brands Fall Short On Consumer Expectations For Mobile Experiences

John Ginovsky

John Ginovsky is a contributing editor of Banking Exchange and editor of the publication’s Tech Exchange e-newsletter. For more than two decades he’s written about the commercial banking industry, specializing in its technological side and how it relates to the actual business of banking. In addition to his weekly blogs—"Making Sense of It All"—he contributes fresh, original stories to each Tech Exchange issue based on personal interviews or exclusive contributed pieces. He previously was senior editor for Community Banker magazine (which merged into ABA Banking Journal) and for ABA Banking Journal and was managing editor and staff reporter for ABA’s Bankers News. Email him at [email protected]

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