HOME

Customer Service Mistakes Financial Institutions Should Avoid

2020 was a tumultuous year for financial institutions (FIs), whether regional and national banks, or credit unions and commercial banks. But it did bring customer service back to the forefront of the business planning agenda for 2021 and beyond. As you plan and prioritize your initiatives, it is important to avoid mistakes. Here are some to consider.

1. No pandemic, no digital

When the pandemic hit us all in early 2020, many financial institutions had to shut down their branch offices or reduce their operating hours due to lockdowns. Consumers and many banking employees, too, opted for contactless interactions (aka digital) to avoid getting infected.

In a survey conducted by Dimensional Research, 80% of consumers said that they had increased the use of digital customer service since the pandemic hit.

This megatrend has forced financial institutions to shore up their digital customer service capabilities.

  • A BAI research study found that more than 50% of consumers have increased the use of digital channels even for more complex transactions such as loan applications since the start of the pandemic,
  • and 87% will continue doing so after the pandemic.

FIs will do well to remember this, as they launch customer engagement initiatives for 2021. As Forrester says, “that digital genie ain’t going back into the bottle.” In fact, Forrester predicts that digital customer service interactions will increase by 40% in 2021. The answer? Keep pressing that digital gas pedal!

2. App for this, app for that

Despite sustained evangelism from industry experts, many FIs still take a piecemeal approach to implementing customer service channels. Some of them rushed to add a chatbot to handle the spike in customer service traffic related to Covid, without making sure they are connected for context and continuity with other touchpoints. Others have been deploying messaging silos.

While banks have been good about offering channel choice to its customers, the silo syndrome is only going to get worse in 2021. For example,

Forrester predicts that businesses will increase the number of customer service channels they deploy from 8 to 11 to encompass a broader range of asynchronous messaging channels, introducing more silos than before.

Having to repeat information across touchpoints continues to remain one of the top hassles in getting good customer service.

  • What customers want is a true omnichannel banking experience that will allow them to switch seamlessly between physical and digital channels—60% of consumers surveyed in an Accenture study said so.

Go with a unified hub approach for your customer service initiatives to break down the silos.

3. We hire smart—no need for a knowledge-base

Connecting with customers is only the first step in customer service. In fact, it is better not to connect with customers than to connect and not offer the solution or advice they are looking for.

  • 67% of consumers in a Forrester survey said that bank customer service agents either gave inconsistent answers or didn’t know the answer.

As self-service systems get smarter (which requires knowledge, too), agents are getting more complex requests for resolution or advice from customers. Which is why a rich knowledge management (KM) solution is vital.

Make sure the solution goes beyond just dumping raw content on the customer to include easy findability of answers and conversational guidance for both customer self-service and human-assisted service. It is equally important that the same knowledge base is leveraged across all customer touchpoints for consistence and regulatory compliance, which is often not the case.

  • In the above-mentioned consumer survey by Dimensional Research, 44% of bank consumers complained that they got different answers from chatbots and human agents, reducing trust in the customer service capability of institutions.

Once you solve customer issues with knowledge, make sure to optimize your service operations and knowledge base with analytics!

4. Customer service is one-and-done

Yes, many customer service interactions are one-and-done, but forward-looking financial institutions are starting to leverage personalized, proactive, lifetime engagement with customers to help them achieve their financial goals and expand wallet share. A great example is our Virtual Financial Coach™, a solution that helps banking, financial services, and insurance companies deliver personalized wellness advice at scale and proactively motivate them to stay on their wellness track through automated messaging over time.

5. Toolkits are good enough

Some vendors check all the boxes in the RFP response, but look under the glossy covers and you will find that you have to build capabilities from scratch with a toolkit! This takes time and resource you can ill-afford as the pressure to accelerate digital transformation gets ratcheted up. The answer? Look for solutions that offer rich capabilities out of the box and quick time to value.

6. Business value is a nice-to-have

According to McKinsey, less than 15% of companies can quantify the impact of their digital initiatives. Beware of providers that can’t measure the success of their deployment. And stay away from big iron vendors that promise to solve world hunger in 5 years, while putting your wallet on a radical weight-loss plan!

Take AI to illustrate the point. Gartner says that it takes an average of 4 years for enterprises to get their AI solutions up and running, let alone get ROI from them.

Ask: What is the vendor’s approach to digital value creation? What is the typical time to value? What ROI can they sign up for? Can they provide client success stories?

7. The answer is only technology

As you evaluate solutions, look for vendor partners with proven domain expertise in customer service. Technology is clearly important but so are best practices for quick business value and deployment success. You don’t want a solution partner to learn on your dime!

8. On par with the usual suspects

Financial institutions often make the mistake of simply benchmarking their customer service operations against peers in their industry. However, today’s digital-first consumer expects you to be as good as digital CX leaders such as Amazon and Uber in delivering smart, easy experiences.

  • In fact, only one financial institution made it to the top 5% of the 13 leaders in the Forrester CX Index, 2020, and direct-to-consumer digital banks dropped slightly in performance in 2020 versus 2019.

Plan to match digital giants in customer service before your peers do!


2021 is a transition year and experts predict a return to normalcy only by the fourth quarter of the year. Taking a digital-first approach, while avoiding the above mistakes, will put you in a strong position to retain and grow your customers in 2021 and beyond.