Last year, the pandemic put millions of consumers and businesses in a position where they needed reliability and support from their banks more than ever. Banks that were adaptable and flexible throughout multiple lockdowns, delivering excellent service despite the challenges they were facing, will now be the banks that consumers trust in years to come.

It wasn’t an easy road, however. Back in early 2020, the first hurdle was figuring out how to serve customers while adjusting to a new, Covid-safe way of working remotely. During this interim period, customer service took quite a hit in many banks.

“When customers tried to contact their bank, there was limited to no call centre. Everything was down because the bank had not yet moved to voice over IP and remote working,” recalls Wim Geukens, Managing Director, VeriPark Europe, a solutions provider dedicated to transforming banks’ customer experiences through innovative digital technology. “There were some big issues in Europe where the VPN hardware capacity was so low that, in one example, out of a few thousand employees at a bank, only a few hundred could connect to the system.”

As scenarios like this ensued around the world, banks began quickly investing in the technology they needed to work effectively from home, leveraging the solutions of financial technology providers like VeriPark and Microsoft to transform their operating models. From there, things got back on track. Now, Geukens believes many banks will continue remote working in some capacity, whether it’s permanently or for a few days a week, utilizing the emerging hybrid model.

At the same time, branches are transforming too. During the pandemic, many consumers learned that it wasn’t necessary to go to the bank for every single servicing request, as many actions are now easier and quicker to do over telephone or via a digital channel. There was already a strong trend towards this modern way of banking, but the pandemic has only heightened it. And as the future of the branch is rewritten, so too is the face of customer service.

A new era of customer service

“Before Covid, banks were investing a lot into digitizing their transactional capabilities, but they weren’t investing too much into the servicing capabilities,” explains Bohumil Hyanek, Managing Director, VeriPark Germany. “They could still rely on their branches for servicing back then. That has all changed. Right now, banks understand that they need to pay much more attention to the sales and servicing parts in other channels than just the branch.”

Recently, for example, Amazon Germany and Barclaycard started offering customers the option to pay for higher-value products in instalments at point of sale, by using the APIs from VeriPark’s omni-channel banking solution. This increased sales for Amazon and brought also new customers to Barclaycard.

When it comes to servicing customers, however, digitizing can be much more complex. Hyanek suggests banks get started by automating the simpler servicing requests first. He believes the best customer service can only be achieved if employees are given access to key customer information, across all channels, in one synchronised view. VeriPark has answered this need with its VeriLink solution, a way of linking the backends of various channels in order to provide 360° views of customer interactions for seamless servicing.

In many regions, video conferencing has risen as an alternative way of servicing that is safer and more convenient for the customer than in-branch conversations. These days, video can be embedded with additional functions and features, adds Geukens. “We can use it for customer onboarding. You open the video, you show your passport next to your face, and machine learning compares the real you to the picture of your passport,” he says.

The branch, meanwhile, still has a key role to play. “The branches will need to move to higher value services,” explains Hyanek. “They are still a very important contact point for the customer to solve the things that cannot be solved in other channels. It will be advisory, investments, mortgages – the more complex products that you cannot automate so easily.”

“Bank advisors need to change in that direction as well. Instead of handling cash, they need to be a partner to the customer, helping them with their financial life. All this change will need to be supported by the right tools to break the silos across the banks and have access to all the customer information needed to add some value into their lives.”