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How one bank is successfully building deeper customer relationships through digital customer engagement

  • Despite the gains in convenience and capability that digital channels offer, bankers and their customers are missing the relationship aspect of banking. People still want to connect with people.
  • Banks are now shifting their thinking beyond simple “digital transformation” toward “digital customer engagement” and how to leverage the digital channel to support more meaningful customer interactions.
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How one bank is successfully building deeper customer relationships through digital customer engagement

Soren Bested, COO Agent IQ

Much attention has been paid to the digital transformation within retail banks over the past few years. Rising consumer expectations for convenience through the mobile channel, increased competition from innovative fintechs, and even the pandemic itself, all accelerated a pathway to digital banking adoption that was already underway, and the net effect is that bankers have invested heavily in developing the technology infrastructure to meet demand.

What bankers – and their customers – are finding, however, is that in many cases, the gains in convenience and capability that the digital channel enables have come at the expense of the relationship between consumers and their financial institutions. Despite the rise of mobile banking, e-commerce and remote work, people still want to connect with people. Particularly for community and regional banks, whose very brand is built on more personal service and deeper connections with their customers, there is an impetus to replicate within the digital channel what historically has happened within the branch.

Increasingly, bankers are now shifting their thinking beyond simple “digital transformation” toward “digital customer engagement” – in essence, how to leverage the digital channel for more than transactional retail needs, and instead maximize its ability to support more thoughtful, meaningful customer interactions. This begins with understanding what resonates most with customers.

First is for bankers to remember that their customers value trusted, personal connections. Historically, this happened through the branch or over the phone, and was evidenced by customers waiting until a favorite teller was available or asking for a specific personal banker to help them over the phone. These established relationships then generated persistent, ongoing conversations that built on information gained over time. This intimate knowledge of the customer’s financial health supported proactive, highly relevant outreach by the bank that was more likely to result in the customer’s adoption of additional products and services.

Compare that to the typical digital banking experience today, one often characterized by impersonal chatbots and a fragmented approach to service where each interaction requires the customer to start from the beginning again and again.

This is the challenge that Omaha, Nebraska-based FNBO ($30 billion in assets) has successfully addressed. The bank has been repeatedly awarded for its customer service, and it wanted to ensure that same level of service through the digital channel. Recognizing the value of personal connection, with the rollout of a new personalized digital servicing app, the bank’s customers were prompted to select a personal banker based upon his or her photo and short profile as part of the setup process. That selected banker then became the customer’s primary point-of-contact through the authenticated app, eliminating conversation context loss over time and the need for cumbersome re-verification processes for the customer.

If the personal banker is unavailable at any time, the customer is provided with the option to speak to a different banker or wait for their personal banker to respond. In FNBO’s case, 65% of its customers elect to wait to speak to their own personal banker – further underscoring the importance of personal connection through the digital channel.

For more detailed customer requests or questions about particular products or specialties like mortgages or wealth management, the personal banker is able to easily bring in subject matter experts to provide additional information and value through the platform. The net result is that FNBO is able to replicate its excellent level of service through the digital channel and do it at scale, with more than 4,500 customers downloading the app in just the first 60 days of availability.

Interestingly, the usage data also shows the variety and complexity of topics that customers are interested in discussing via the digital channel when given the opportunity, with almost 65% of conversations covering topics including applying for new products and loans, as well as more open-ended questions about improving credit scores and retirement planning.

So what have innovative banks like FNBO realized that sets them apart in the marketplace? 

That true digital innovation and transformation is about more than transactional functionality and convenience through a mobile banking app or the bank’s website. Yes, consumers want the ability to quickly and easily deposit checks and transfer funds between accounts from the comfort of their living room. But they also want access to information and trusted advisors that will meaningfully impact their financial well-being – and they want it through that same channel.

Those bankers who see technology not as an automated replacement, but rather as a valuable enhancement for their staff, are the ones who will derive the most return on their digital transformation investments in the form of stronger, more profitable customer relationships over time.


Soren Bested is COO of Agent IQ, a provider of digital customer engagement solutions specializing in making financial services more personal again. His industry tenure has spanned six countries across four continents, and has been focused on fintech services, biotechnology, healthcare, and international strategic collaboration.

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