Digital push and branch closures may backfire for banks

Branches have been closing en masse across the country as banks ramp up their digital offerings. A new study, however, suggests that customers prefer human interaction over digital offerings.

A new study of more than 24,000 consumers in 12 countries identifies a massive disconnect between the digital services that banks and businesses are pushing and what consumers actually want.

The report, commissioned by Verint Systems Inc found that customers want to engage with their bank either over the phone or in the branch more than any other sector, but like most industries, banks are investing heavily in digital customer service.

The Digital Tipping Point: How Do Organisations Balance the Demands for Digital and Human Customer Service? report shows that despite the rise in digital customer service channels and options, 79 per cent of consumers prefer the human touch to remain a part of customer service when engaging with brands and service providers. The biggest influence being speed and depth of insight–both which machines just can’t hack yet. Two in three users find customer service online and over mobile lacking in these areas, citing it needs to be more intuitive and better able to serve their needs.


When consumers have a simple customer service request or enquiry, the phone is the most popular option for 22 per cent, while email and SMS come in second. However, as customer service requests become complex, reliance on human interaction increases. More than a third of customers prefer to go in-store for complex enquiries, while another third prefer to connect by phone. The closest digital channel for complex customer service situations is email, but only 7 per cent of consumers opt for this channel.


Alongside the consumer research, Verint also ran comparative research with businesses, asking 1019 organisations worldwide about the digital and traditional customer service channels they are prioritising and investing in. In contrast to customers’ preferred options, these businesses reported they are investing least in traditional channels, such as the phone or in-store.

According to research firm IDC’s Mary Wardley, this study represents a call-to-action for businesses to better understand their customers’ engagement preferences in order to better serve them. “There continues to be much discussion about the rise of digital and proliferation of mobile. However, as this research shows, human contact is still critical for consumers, increasing the stakes for businesses to strike the right balance in order to effectively service and retain customers, influence sales, and heighten engagement and loyalty,” she said.

Verint’s Dave Capuano believes organisations that tip the balance in favour of digital at the expense of traditional service may risk not keeping their customers happy in the long run. How does this correleate to the 22.9 million banking app downloads in the UK as of January 2016?

It’s all about numbers, according to David Ebstein, head of digital for financial services at EY.

“The British public is voting with its thumbs. Being mobile-enabled is a must, not a maybe, and banks that don’t engage properly with mobile channels risk losing relevance in customer’s lives. The next frontier of innovation will be delivering an exceptional customer experience through mobile, across products and services, and going beyond banking,” he said. While bank branch closures may seem like a step away from face-to-face customer service, ramping up mobile banking could address the very issues that drive consumers away from automation. If mobile banking can work quickly, intuitively, and in a way that can address individual customer concerns, the digital push would make good business sense. Ebstein believes a strong customer service strategy that ties phone, branch and mobile together may be best in the interim.

“The mass migration to mobile banking is an opportunity for banks to better engage with customers and regain trust customer by customer. Competition is intensifying, and successfully joining the dots between mobile, internet and branch banking could make the difference between winning and losing customers.”


Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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Customer Service