Does Your Digital Agenda Incorporate the Human Touch?

Raquel Lima,

There is nothing worse than having bank customers drop off in the middle of a process as it comes at a high cost to the institution. What’s worse is that it leaves room for the customer to go to another institution that has figured out a way to reduce hiccups in their banking experience.  

As financial institutions gear up for a larger digital presence, how should they start to think about how to reduce friction during the customer journey?  

I recently sat down with leaders in the financial sector, Dr. Hosam Abou El Dahab, Digital Demand Office Head at ALEX BANK and Clare Gambardella, Chief Customer Officer at Zopa Bank, to talk about how and where to incorporate the human touch into digital banking processes. Below are some of the highlights of our conversation. 

Optimizing the Customer Experience in Digital Channels with Human Support 

How and when do banks infuse a human element into digital processes to ensure the best experience at all times for your customers? 

Clare Gambardella: ”Zopa Bank is a fully online financial services institution in the UK and we have seen the boundary blur between digital and human touch points during the pandemic. Banks must have basic service principles in place that provide standards on how they want to service their customers. And I have found that consistency is particularly important when it comes to the brand voice, the company tone, and the spirit the bank brings to both the digital and human touch channels." 

Dr. Hosam Abou El Dahab: ”The need for the human touch in digital processes is not necessarily only needed by GenX and older customers. GenZ, Millennials, and older generations are in need of human support in banking processes from time to time. It’s important for banks to do the research to decide where and when that support adds the most value to the customer journey.” 

To add to their input, I encourage banking leaders to think of the customer journey in a holistic way rather than simply putting human touch on top of digital. The addition of human touch to the customer experience should be more about adding value that is fully integrated into banking processes.  

How do we take a pragmatic approach to removing friction in traditional product origination and customer servicing processes? 

Gambardella: “At Zopa Bank we have three ways to prioritize human resources: the complexity or the mission the customer is on, the sensitivity or emotional value of that mission, and how standard that mission is.  

Zopa Bank customers are already quite comfortable with digital technology, because we are a digital institution. There is lots of customer input early in the digital design process. If a customer has a big problem, the customer is elevated to a special needs case team. Front line employees are trained to recognize when a customer is in need of support. For example, when the customer is bereaved, dealing with technology may prove to be a challenge. Using real life examples like this one allows us to think through the various customer touch points and which ones require human touch.” 

Abu El Dahab: “Where a bank adds digital touchpoints can depend upon the cultural context. For example at a bank location in Nigeria, customers needed support subscribing to the mobile app, so they could do basic online transactions. This required a higher level of human touch as this kind of technology is new for many of their customers. Providing in-person support allowed customers to build confidence in using the app, especially when doing tasks like onboarding and opening a new account. They needed a human to discuss terms and conditions of being a customer at that bank branch. Human touch is an added value component to the digital experience in this context.”  

Here, it is important to note that different products need different level of interaction. There are oftentimes two different types of clients in the banking setting: 

  • Group 1: Self-service. Includes checking account balances, transferring money to family and friends. These are tasks that can be done quickly using technology.
  • Group 2: Complex activities. Includes processes that are done once and usually not again for a while. Opening a new account may be done once every 5 to 10 years. Signing a mortgage requires personal assistance to assure that all steps are completed properly. 

While there are plenty of services that can be done digitally, banks should have a ready option to reach out to human assistance when needed. This is particularly important when a person is being blocked from an online transaction, for example. This can be a major source of frustration for the customer. Human assistance may not be needed for every transaction, but it should be offered just in case.  

A common question I hear is whether banks can assume that young people are more comfortable with digital channels than older customers. I prefer to look at it from a product perspective rather than by an age or group perspective. Signing a mortgage doesn’t necessarily need to be done in-person, however a bank can utilize video technology to host the mortgage signing. This helps the customer to feel confident in the process. It can also depend upon the complexity of the product. Financial institutions should focus on building the best product for the customer no matter the age group. Gambardella agreed. 

Gambardella: ”The level of support given to the customer is more about the product than age groups. We saw more older people become more comfortable with digital products during the pandemic. The age of customers varies across products: savings vs. investment. Older people tend to use savings products due to greater access to funds. All of the savings products are available online. They often transfer large amounts of funds, without problems using the technology.  

How do we create standards for the customer experience in the banking industry? 

Abou El Dahab: ”A customer abandons a process, because there is often a problem with a lack of consistency across channels. The service a customer receives in-person should be the same treatment they get digitally. There needs to be a unified customer journey across institutions. There should be standards of what customers should expect from a bank across the industry, and not just for one individual brand.”  

Gambardella: "It depends on if we think we can innovate and disrupt across the customer experience. Institutions can no longer think of what works today only. And neither can institutions like Zopa Bank, because we must always compete with larger banks across the UK who are more evolved in their processes. We must think of where we can provide better processes for customers – better value, more ease, better experience. An example of this is using open banking data to make credit card decisions, particularly for people who have a lack of a credit history. Zopa Bank partners with another institution that allows them to make real time decisions on whether or not the person can afford the payments. This is different from most other banks. What we find is that customers are willing to participate in these new processes if they can see an immediate benefit. There is no need to submit income verification documents in the traditional way, they can do it online using their bank account information.”  

There is nothing worse than a customer dropping off in the middle of a process. It comes at a high cost, causing the customer to jump over to a competitor. Creating standards for the customer experience would help prevent this. Banks can start by identifying the different sources of friction. Depending on where the friction occurs, it will require a different level of integration. Next, the bank should understand the user's needs. For example, banks that still require a wet signature should start to use digital signatures to make it more convenient for customers.  

Can compliance be automated or are human agents required to align with regulation? 

Abou El Dahab: ”There is no single answer to this question, because the regulations themselves are driving both the human element and automation at once. For example, there is a regulation in Egypt that requires customers to enter a branch to open an account for account security reasons, however another regulation limits the quantity of transactions that can be completed over the counter and levies a penalty for exceeding that threshold. This drives these customers to the digital channel, eliminating the human element.” 

Gambardella: “I’m skeptical that humans could ever be entirely removed from the process. Zopa bank provisions 95% of our loans for customers in under six seconds through their digital channels. That is tremendously valuable for the bank and our customers, but human assistance is required to service the remaining 5%. Beyond errors and missing information, these outlier applications may contain compliance concerns, such as an applicant not having lived at their listed address long enough to qualify for a loan. To ensure compliance, a human agent must follow up.” 

I concurred with Gambardella and explained how the technology can be an asset in ensuring compliance. Through a combination of security and authentication features, such as biometrics, digital ID verification, and audit logs, the technology brings an extra value add by making digital processes even more compliance. You don’t get an audit log from a face-to-face meeting, right? 

Final Thoughts on the Human Element 

Dr. Abou El Dahab summarized the dynamic well in his poignant final thought. Though digital processes have grown in their importance and their greater prominence yields significant efficiencies for the organization, eliminating human interaction and human support should not be the goal. Rather, he describes it as a “journey to delivering the best customer experience.” Human support is a tool, much like the technology making digital processes possible. Rather than one tool or the other, the challenge now is finding where each is best utilized.

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With over 10 years of experience working in technology, Raquel has dedicated her career to creating smart solutions through innovation to solve problems for users from different industries as financing, automotive and banking. As Product Manager she currently leads the Interact Pillar with solutions as the Virtual Room and OneSpan Notary that are shaping the future of human interaction in the digital agreements world.