Amazon is at it again. In 2016 the online giant announced the No-Touch-Go store, and in less than two years the retailer’s best practice of one-click-pay has a physical avatar. It is a classic example of how industry leaders are championing customer delight through a cohesive physical and digital channel strategy.
Amazon apart, leading retailers such as Walmart, JCPenney or closer to home the Future Group are all diversifying their channel-mix, instead of the old school approach of increasing the number of retail outlets. Business leaders across industries are bringing the best of both the worlds together to offer immersive experiences to their customers and to be available for them when they need it on the channel of their choice. Customers can make a purchase on a digital channel and avail the services or products in their physical form.
Digitization is constantly evolving customer experiences and resetting customer expectations in banking. Leading banks are innovating to offer seamless omni-channel banking including banking on new emerging channels. A look at the shift in strategy of a leading Indian bank tells us how banks are no more resting on the laurels of physical presence alone. State Bank of India (SBI) has one of the widest branch networks in the country, with the highest number of branches per lakh customers. But the bank is actively modernizing its channel strategy. SBI’s e-lobbies offer online account services and real-time transactions. Customers can walk into an e-lobby, create an account, feed in the required information and choose from the options presented with. Progressive banks such as DBS Singapore are also going down the digital path for expansion in markets such as India, given certain regulatory limitations.
From all-physical banking where customers could perform transactions only at bank branches to the physical-virtual mix where customers interact with virtual channels such as IVR, we are now progressing towards all-virtual transactions where virtual channels such as Alexa action tasks on behalf of humans. Progressive banks are already preparing for this future by designing services that can talk to smart machines on the consumption side.
Evidently, traditional banks have taken to digital rather swiftly, but the digital natives are not far behind in exploiting the physical channel. Airtel Money, which started as a digital-only wallet is now expanding through physical branches of Airtel Payment bank. The telecom giant has partnered with Hindustan Petroleum to offer digital payments across 14000 outlets of HP. The bank’s services are now LIVE in all the 29 states in India. Another digital native Paytm has launched an online-to-offline commerce platform Paytm Mall bringing all the registered offline stores on a single platform.
The convergence of physical and digital is proving to be a win-win for customers and service providers. While customers enjoy a seamless experience, service providers gain by unlocking value from a variety of data sources by marrying the physical with the digital. So what do banks need to deliver great customer experiences in this new normal?
Banks need an all-encompassing system-of-records stack to be able to offer a standard and consistent seamless experience to their customers across physical and digital channels. Disparate systems for different channels can introduce considerable latency and friction with customer experience taking a hit.
Secondly, to ensure a consistent experience across channels a bank must have a common understanding of customer expectations, business rules and backend IT systems. A bank’s systems of engagement need to be in lockstep with each other, so that the extension of a physical channel to digital to social and beyond provides a unified ‘One Bank’ experience to its customers.
Thirdly, the systems of experience must stretch holistically across digital and physical for a bank to offer its customers the most relevant products on the channel of their choice. It is critical for a bank to invest in the right stack at all the three levels to empower customers with a 360-degree view of their relationship with the bank, and to derive insights from transaction data to improve cost efficiency, income or customer delight.
This ‘phy-gital’ world of banking requires a responsive IT stack, and the nimble processes to go with it. For example, in the age of digital natives that can onboard a customer using a single mobile device, a bank’s conventional form-photo-sign onboarding process is clearly a dealbreaker. As banks modernize their processes, they must tread the tightrope between regulatory compliance and frictionless customer experience.
The author is Associate Vice President & Head – Finacle Product Strategy, Infosys
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