Reflecting on the changes that have occurred over the last few years in the banking industry, it’s no surprise that customer communication preferences have completely shifted. Gone are the days when visiting a local branch to complete a transaction or calling in over the phone to ask a question of a representative were the norm– today’s consumers simply reach for their mobile device to visit an app or a browser when they need to engage with their bank or credit union.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced many banks to accelerate their digital transformation plans, evolving customer preferences finally began to take center stage. According to a recent survey of banks and credit unions by Harland Clarke, before 2020 digital banking adoption was viewed as a cost-cutting initiative, and not as a means of building a resilient, innovative business model that supports growth. However, over the last year the pandemic has shown that digital banking is here to stay. According to Bank of America, 40 million of its 66 million customers are now using digital channels. As consumers continue to expect digital experiences to be equal to if not better than in-person experiences, financial institutions must develop a strategy for digital transformation that is focused on building collaborative ongoing relationships with their customers.

Indicative of the lasting shift to digital communications even long after the pandemic, credit unions and banks are recognizing the need to improve their communications technology. But as organizations take the first steps towards acting on a digital transformation agenda, they often face a number of challenges.

Why It’s Hard to Get Digital Transformation Right

Despite the urgent call to digitally transform, many banks and credit unions are finding it difficult to actually do so. From locating a solution that is the right fit to what can be a slow and arduous process in receiving adequate funding and approval from an IT department, deploying new communications technology is a complex process for a bank or credit union. Oftentimes the mindset that executive leadership or IT has is one of ‘don’t recreate the wheel’ – meaning that if the current technology is sufficient, going through the process of deploying a new solution isn’t a priority.

The last year of the global pandemic drastically shifted this mindset, shaking up consumer expectations for communication and the employee experience in serving customers. Where items on a bank or credit union’s digital transformation agenda were merely a ‘nice to have’ feature before COVID-19, they became urgent ‘must haves’ almost overnight. In the early days of the pandemic, many organizations scrambled to send their employees to work from home while lacking the technology needed to efficiently and effectively serve customers through solely digital experiences.

Because of the complex coordination of technology and the security considerations that are required in order to provide the seamless, integrated experience that today’s consumers demand, it’s no wonder why the actual process of transforming to create next level digital experiences is hard to get right. It is simply no longer enough to offer basic digital channels to help customers solve problems in a very transactional manner. Consumers are also looking for a human connection to help them accomplish larger goals.

The Branch Goes Digital but the Human Element Remains

Much can be lost from the experience when the human element of banking is removed. As mentioned, today’s consumers expect digital experiences to be equal to (if not greater than) the in-person experiences they had in the past. And, despite the growing preference for convenient digital communications, consumers still crave personal relationships with their bankers. With the right technology in place, consumers can truly have it all.

Consider the scenario of a customer that filled out a loan application online from their laptop at home. Upon reviewing the application, the loan officer notices that a file is missing from the application. Instead of trying to reach the customer by phone and starting a never-ending series of phone tag or sending the customer an email that will go straight to their junk folder, the loan officer sends a text message to the customer that includes a one-time token to connect securely online. The consumer can quickly share the file without any concern over the security of their sensitive data. Not only does the SMS communication facilitate the interaction much more rapidly than another form of communication, but it also reduces wait times and helps the bank or credit union coordinate meetings more efficiently.

To fully embrace customers in today’s digital environment, banks and credit unions must align their communications strategy to solve for the ability to facilitate collaborative digital banking relationships.

From Digital Customer Service to Digital Customer Collaboration

Today, customer service often extends beyond simple transactions and single activities like assistance with resetting a password or transferring funds between accounts. As more consumers rely on their mobile devices to accomplish their banking tasks, it is imperative for banks and credit unions to be able to digitally collaborate with their customers through a variety of channels (such as chat, video, messaging or co-browse) to foster fruitful, long-term relationships.

In order to create successful digital collaboration, banks and credit unions now have an urgent need to centralize their communications to enable both customers and employees to easily switch between modes. Digital collaboration requires organizations to meet new requirements for speed, turnaround and efficiency for tasks not previously measured – all while providing a great experience for the customer and critical employees who will rely on technology for their daily operations like never before. When these pieces are all working together, organizations will meet their digital customer service requirements while improving the bottom line.

Technology should enable, rather than limit, banks and credit unions to collaborate with customers. To meet today’s digital customer collaboration requirements, the communications technology that organizations deploy must be able to replicate the requirements of in-person experiences while satisfying the goal of the interaction. Banks and credit unions should seek out solutions that provide for quick and thoughtful experiences that help to retain customers while deepening relationships.

At its core, banking is a very human centric activity. Today, people have more choices than ever, and if credit union and banking organizations do not adapt to where and how customers want to do business, they will be left behind. With the right strategy and technology in place, they can achieve productive collaboration with customers across all virtual platforms while creating efficiency and savings for the organization.

Perry Price is Co-Founder and CEO of Revation Systems, a leader in cloud-based, compliant messaging and communications.  Perry Price co-founded Revation Systems in August of 2002 with the goal of developing the next-generation cloud solution for real-time communications for the finance industry,

Before starting Revation, Perry was vice president at Aravox Technologies, a company that creates VoIP security, where he was responsible for sales development and jointly owned Aravox’s business development relationships. During his time there, Aravox’s Intellectual Property was acquired by Alcatel, a relationship that Perry managed.

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