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How Banks are Shifting Their Communications Strategy Amid the COVID-19 Crisis: The Search for Humans in the Surge of Digital Banking

May 5, 2020 By Pat Reetz
  • Pat Reetz
  • May 5, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep the nation, it seems as though nearly every industry has taken some sort of financial hit. As of April 30th, 2020, the U.S. had reported over 1 million confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 and more than 30 million Americans had filed for unemployment benefits in the last six-week period. With most states still under stay-at-home orders and a high percentage of businesses still closed, the pandemic has not only altered daily life, but has had a significant economic impact on our nation.

As stay-at-home orders began to ripple across the nation in March, the banking industry began to shut down branches or significantly limit their hours of business to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. However, foot traffic in bank branches had been declining prior to the pandemic, indicating that consumer preference for mobile and online banking were already on the rise. According to the 2019 Future Branches Consumer Study, only 31 percent of consumers preferred the in-branch experience – compared to a 42 percent preference for the digital experience via mobile banking. Branches that are still open have eliminated the ability for customers to walk-in and receive service, now operating by appointment-only.

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Though the timeline for when businesses will reopen remains unclear, social distancing measures are here to stay for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, banks are shifting their communications strategies in response to the ‘new normal.’

Higher Call Volumes Coupled with Limited Staffing or Remote Workers

Because of this radical shift in the daily operations of bank branches across the country, consumers are more heavily relying on online and mobile banking than ever before. And, although digital platforms excel at managing routine banking transactions quickly (and, sometimes, more efficiently than in-branch transactions), consumers with more complex banking matters are relying on calling into the bank’s customer service center to assist them in the meantime.

Since the stay-at-home orders went into effect, banking contact centers have been inundated with increased call activity as a result of mass layoffs and furloughs. In fact, J.D. Power found that nearly a third of consumers felt that they are “not prepared at all” financially for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In combination with the increase in contact center activity, banks have either limited the number of staff at their physical contact centers due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus or they have sent their contact center agents to work from home altogether.

This flurry of change in the banking industry over the 6-8 weeks has resulted in customers facing painfully long wait times to speak with a representative – many of those who are now facing serious financial concerns, such as being unable to pay their mortgage or credit card payments. Customers now expect long wait times when calling a customer service number and access to a live representative is harder to come by. Banks are beginning to utilize other technologies to help solve customer issues before they reach the point where it becomes absolutely necessary to speak to a representative.

Video Collaboration for Complex Scenarios

Where speaking to a bank representative over the phone can work in many common banking scenarios, it does not always suffice for more complex banking matters. And, as consumers are staying in their homes as much as possible, many banks have begun conducting video visits for more complex matters instead of scheduling them as in-person appointments at a branch. When a representative and consumer are able to connect face-to-face over video the collaboration is enhanced. Not only do video interactions help to solve problems more effectively using a lower cost support structure, but they also reduce case research and resolution time for representatives, giving customers a better experience with the institution. 

AI to Streamline Routine Tasks

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘digital transformation’ was buzzword that was on everyone’s lips. And though the use of artificial intelligence technology in banking contact centers was on the rise, the pandemic has made AI even more appealing to banks as they aim to keep customers satisfied. The power of customer engagement is having the ability to seamlessly pass from a self-serve channel on a mobile banking platform to a human-to-human connection.

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Banking contact centers are turning to unified communications technology as it enables their representatives to work virtually out of their homes amidst the pandemic, but also for its ability to quickly and easily deploy AI, chatbots specifically, to provide customers with fast, 24/7/365 service for common service-related questions. This frees up time and resources within a banking organization, which is now critical as more customers are in need of support than ever before at the very time when banks are experiencing the stress of limited staff in a contact center.

The Post COVID-19 Banking Landscape

While much remains uncertain as we look ahead to the second half of the year, it is likely that social distancing will remain in effect across the nation for quite some time. The impact that social distancing will have on banking contact centers in the years ahead is significant. It could result in major limitations of the number of agents that work in a contact center, the shift to more agents working remotely out of their homes and the permanent closure of a great deal of bank branches. Whatever impact that the pandemic may have on the banking industry long term, banks are likely to continue to adopt digital communication strategies in the coming months and years.

As you think about your company’s own response to the current evolving situation, we are here to talk about your specific your communication needs – whether they be self-serve channels or quickly connecting your consumers from any channel to your team members that may now be working remotely.

Read More: Providing an Omnichannel Experience →

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