Customer experience adaptations that will likely stick

It is undeniable that COVID-19 has changed the way people live and work. The hallmarks of community banking — the one-on-one interactions and personal touch — have been redefined. How can bankers maintain strong relationships with their customers while lobbies are closed and social distancing measures are in place?

When business could no longer be conducted as usual, technology became the bridge. And though customers may not have been ready for an entirely contact-less approach to banking in the pre-COVID world, the pandemic accelerated their acceptance of digital channels.

By embracing technology, banks have found opportunities to reach their customers in new ways. They can expand access to customers in remote locations and offer more options for meeting with bank staff. Even when physically separated, banks have seen the ways that technology can help them meet the needs of their customers.

Video conferencing. As Zoom has become part of everyone’s daily vocabulary, banks have incorporated video calling into their customer interactions. There is certainly a need: Some communications with customers are better-suited for back-and-forth discussions, such as talking about the terms of a commercial loan or a conversation about wealth management.

For community banks, video conferencing can go a step further. Customers may have had physical limitations in reaching a brick-and-mortar location in a pre-COVID world. This could either be due to a remote location, or trying to fit a visit to their bank during a workday. Video conferencing has removed these barriers.

Appointment scheduling. With social distancing measures in place, banks have needed to control their lobby traffic, including walk-ins. Bank-wide appointment scheduling tools ensure that the right employee is available to help the customer, and offer customers the ability to self-schedule online.

When some semblance of normalcy returns, appointment scheduling can continue. Busy locations may see an influx of lobby traffic at certain times per day and can use appointment scheduling to reduce wait times. Smaller locations with limited staff can make sure that if a potential customer wants to talk to someone about a car loan, the right employee is available at that time.

Online portals. Providing documentation to the bank is an everyday occurrence. From bringing in the latest financial statements to updating authorized signers on an account, there is no shortage of documents circulating in the bank.

The pandemic has emphasized the need for customers to do two things through online portals. First, they need a secure file transfer system to facilitate the electronic sharing of documents. Second, customers need a way to apply for loans or open new accounts online. Both of these can keep the business of the bank moving without the need for customers to physically come to a location.

E-signatures. E-signatures have historically had slow adoption within community banks. However, e-signatures have become another way for banks to offer more options to customers during the pandemic. Limited lobby hours have heightened the need for online transactions.

Even banks that may have had this option previously saw an uptick in its usage as their customers recognized the improved efficiency. This ranged from collecting e-signatures on documents signed within the bank on a signature pad to signatures collected remotely via secure platforms like DocuSign.

Chatbots. Often, customers contact their bank with straightforward questions. For banks that did not have centralized call centers and limited staff in branches, COVID-19 put a strain on resources available to answer a rush of calls related to everything from account holders hurt by the pandemic to PPP questions.

By using chatbots on their websites, community banks have been able to mitigate this increase in call volume. A virtual assistant can solve issues, and customers avoid long wait times. Banks can then leverage the information collected by the chatbot to have a clearer view of customers’ needs. These insights can help banks improve the content on their website or other resources.

For community banks that have not already adopted additional technology in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely on the radar. Customers will expect the conveniences offered during shutdowns to become part of the “new normal” going forward.

Bankers can keep their eyes on the post-COVID world and balance the efficiencies gained with finding more ways to build relationships with their customers.