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How a Blizzard Proved Banking Heretics Right, and How It’s Happening Again

Bianca Huttner
5 min Read
Sep 25, 2020

The year is 2020 (‘huzzah’ I hear you cry, and maybe not a delighted cry), and we take ATMs for granted, in fact, many countries are moving to a cashless society where Apple Pay and the good old-fashioned chip and pin card is relied on heavily. (And to the three people who still believe in Cryptocurrency, you’ll have your time to shine I’m sure). However, there was a time where ATMs were not accepted and went through a similar journey as online banking and mobile banking (which almost 40% of the population still does not trust completely). But how did the ATM win out?

One Bank took a risk, that’s how. (Okay, admittedly, there was also a slightly long blizzard involved)

So, in 1977, 17 years after the first version of the ATM had been launched in the USA, the population was still not accepting this new form of banking. Citibank, however, was pretty certain that there was something in it – self-service banking would after all create massive efficiencies, luckily (but unbeknown) to them, a severe blizzard was going to hit New York City that very year. Citibank spent $100 million to install ATMs all over the city, and that winter, the mother of all blizzards hit, shutting down the banks for days. ATM usage spiked, and Citibank launched there ‘The Citi Never Sleeps’ ad campaign. And thus, the modern era of the ATM was born. If nothing else, this proves that necessity is in fact the mother of invention, or, perhaps necessity is the catalyst for using that invention.

Nice story but… oh, Corona

To say that banks were a little underprepared for the Corona pandemic is mild, but let’s stick with that. From one month to the next, Digital Banking was a ‘Nice to have’ and a ‘We need to do it because all our competitors are doing it’ to ‘Ah, yes, we probably need that now.’ Now, don’t get me wrong, Banks have made an enormous effort to move towards digital, with most digital portals and apps progressing remarkably in the past five years; however, it has been a mistake for banks to think that self-service would require any less manual intervention from banking support staff than in-branch support. In fact, if you visit most review sites, Banks are usually sited for their poor-to-bad digital customer service, most of them scraping together one out of five stars.

No matter how good self-service banking platforms and apps are, they’re not yet able to mirror the in-branch experience.

The digital experience

The truth is, self-service is only ever going to go that far – there are some things that customers will need help with once (think new products or updates to the UI), and things customers will need help with repeatedly (technical issues, which, is usually human-error, but there you are). So how do Banks (and Wealth Managers for that matter), get to a balance of self-service and support? They move away from communicate and towards collaboration.

Your Customer must stay in the driver’s seat

In the bank branch, it was normal for a customer to sit in front of a bank branch staff member and watch them do all the work (possibly whilst watching all the other banking customers lull away in boredom). But there’s something very comforting about a bank branch isn’t there? Personally, I still trust Bank staff more than I trust myself with certain things like international transactions (those IBAN numbers). But there was a massive shift during the peak of Coronavirus in March/April 2020 – that is, just like the people in New York didn’t have a choice but to use ATMs in winter 1977; most of the world did not have a choice but to use online and mobile banking to protect people’s health. Now, ATMs are pretty straightforward, and usually, there isn’t a bank branch too far away if you need something more complicated – but what about online and mobile banking, do we think it’s as easy as an ATM?

It isn’t is it?

Strangely enough, many organisations, even those in other sectors such as Retail and Utilities, seemed to think that the move to digital would require less customer services staff and support – after all, the customers could now serve themselves? Turns out we had our hopes pinned too high with that one. So, cracking on with the point: we need more customer support staff than ever before.

But why? I hear you cry.

Firstly, because life is in fact, sometimes unfair. The good news in this instance, is you can do something about it. I once read a story about how the first automobile owners were forced to drive around with a mechanic in their cars all the time in case something went wrong; and now, we have self-driving cars (okay, turns out we trust ATMs way more than we do those, but they’ll have their time). The point is, with a new generation (everyone under the age of 17), Banks will have clients who probably won’t need as much human intervention, but until then, buckle up for those Baby Boomers and Millennials and provide your customer support and service staff with digital solutions that mimic the in-branch experience.

Please tell me more of this technology I need in my life

There are a range of tools you can provide your customer services staff with, but a word to the wise: try to stay away from selecting different vendors for each one, it will be more of a nightmare than hiring carrier pigeons to do the job. So, select one platform that can mimic the in-branch experience online – be sure to have the following features as a minimum for a seamless experience:

  • Chatbots: Buy your agents some time by helping the customers with little problems solve them in an automated way

  • Live Chat: Help the customers who do not want to talk on the phone (turns out, there are surprisingly a lot of these, 40% in fact)

  • Voice Chat: Support the customers who really cannot be helped with live chat

  • Video Chat: Call in the big guns, customer needs a face to face experience (especially handy for corporate or private clients)

  • Co-Browsing: The mother of all support features, allows the customer to drive while you change the gears.

You can find out more details about this on our Support Suite page.

As always, you can contact any of the Xaleon team for any questions you may have.

Written by

Bianca Huttner
Bianca Huttner

Bianca joined as Head of Marketing for Xaleon in 2020 after 11 years of experience in Software and Consulting. Bianca has worked in a range of markets including EMEA, the USA and Asia and specialised in software solutions for Financial Services. Outside of work she has a passion for Astronomy and History, which you have probably noticed from the content of her blogs.

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