Digital is not optional. Self-service is not sufficient.

“The pandemic has brought 2 things into stark relief about customer engagement: Digital is not optional and self-service is not always sufficient.”

These observations were made by Lee Wetherington, a strategist, speaker and writer in the fields of technology, banking, and payments, on the recent study by Chris Skinner of 11FS into The Ominiaccess Future1 – A survey of the views of banks and FinTechs on the impact of the pandemic.

The highlights of the survey confirm what a lot of us are thinking – “48% believe the change from physical to digital is here to stay; 41% stated the old normal is gone and things will never be the same”. I’m one of these believers too. Changes in employee working practices are spearheading the change as the economics of downsizing offices, the redressing of work life balance and reducing the environmental impacts of commuting, have all created an appetite for businesses to permanently increase remote working.

But what will be the lasting affects on customer engagement? In the same survey 47% believe we’ll get back to ‘normal’ within the next 12 months – so will banks and building societies, insurers and telcos go back to the old ways of doing things? Is there a danger that ‘new’ working practices are seen as a temporary measure – a workaround for Covid? Or has Covid been a catalyst for deep and lasting change?

I believe it’s been a catalyst for change and I agree with Braden More2, EVP & Head of Strategic Partnerships at Wells Fargo, who also commented: “Physical access remains important for advice, convenience and building trust. That said digital has found new converts and engagement is up. There is a lot of inertia in Financial Services, so catalysts matter. My opinion is we have jumped 7-10 years down the road.”

Perhaps we have jumped 3-4 years rather than ten. Banks have had to change. The bigger the bank, the more entrenched the process, the more difficult it has been in the past to overcome inertia and accelerate change. But recent events have accelerated change so fast in customer behaviour that banks have to change even faster to keep up as the “fear of the pandemic drives out the fear of digital services” 3.

The pandemic has fast tracked the uptake of digital services that were perhaps once only considered necessary to provide choice of access for a small proportion of customers – a tick in the box for omnichannel – but were never perceived to go mainstream and become critical “BAU” services for the majority. The question now is are those services fit for purpose?

Those who had already invested in self-service digital services were uniquely placed to continue trading at the start of the pandemic as though nothing had happened and have since gone on to have a stellar trading year.  Those that had already invested in small teams delivering online advisory services have seen those teams double, triple and quadruple to upwards of 400 advisors delivering upwards of 600%4 growth in customer remote sessions providing wealth and mortgage advice. Remote services have become the norm.

So what does the future hold? Covid has seen growth in demand for advisory services: the numbers accruing significant wealth has accelerated (see Smart Strategies and Ideas to Maximise the Investment Potential of the Mass Affluent5); the demand for mortgages is hotting up with the extension of the stamp duty holiday, high household saving and incentives to move to increased homeworking; and at the other end of the scale many have fallen into or have become deeper in debt (see Smart ideas to Transform Debt Collection and Recovery6); all these customers require help and advice.

Will the desire to speak with someone in person or see an advisor in person mean we go back to the old way of doing things? Unlikely.

Will chat bots, robo-advisors and self-service processes on their own be sufficient. Unlikely.

A hybrid of the two is more likely. Mass Affluent customers with a minimum of £100k to invest may need personalized advice, verbal advice and interactions that are so important in building confidence and trust but they also want the speed and convenience of digital – it’s no longer optional.

Mortgage customers absolutely want a digital document portal to submit identity docs and receive offers. Even though customers are voting with their feet by using OTC branch services less and opting to operate their bank accounts remotely by mobile there is still the desire to speak with someone when they need help.

This desire is reinforced by the Qualtrics XM Institute Customer Experience Trends Report 20217 shows that over a range of B2C engagement scenarios, customers prefer people to help directly with more complex queries and transactions. With more than 60% wanting human help opening a bank account it’s clear more complex transactions like taking out a mortgage are going to require personalised advice. So what’s the solution?

  • Digitise the human process

Use technology to increase efficiency by eliminating manual tasks and paper, streamlining workflow end-to-end

  • Humanise the digital process

Enable advisors to step in and help when required, share content remotely to explain complex transactions, increase transparency and promote the high levels of trust required by customers facing significant decisions

  • Record the process

Audit and record critical process steps, including ID&V, T&C’s, content sharing events, video conversations, document exchange and signing. An audit trail creates customer confidence, supports better quality management, advisor training and complaint investigation.

Not one size fits all in customer service. Customers are happier with choice of access and for all but the simplest of tasks consumers prefer human rather than digital assistance. The winners during Covid have optimised their customer journeys for digital but remained human throughout.

Article Written by Tony Heyworth, Head of Marketing at Vizolution


1, 2 & 3: The Ominiaccess Future, Chris Skinner, 11FS: The Omniaccess Future (Free Research Report) – Chris Skinner’s blog (

4: 600% growth in customer remote sessions: Skipton Building Society Case Study

5: Wealth Management: 7 Strategies and Smart Ideas to to Maximise the Investment Potential of the Mass Affluent

6 :Debt Management: 7 Smart ideas to Transform Debt Collection and Recovery

7: Qualtrics XM Institute Customer Experience Trends Report 2021, “2021 UK Consumer Trends

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