How U.S. Bank, People’s United use tech to predict customer needs

Chatbots typically lurk in the corner of a bank’s website, waiting for a visitor to type in a query. Frequently asked questions can take many clicks to navigate. When customers log in to online banking, the onus is often on them to remember payment due dates, keep an eye on their balances and set alerts.

These are all ways that banks wait for their customers to articulate a need before meeting it.

“For years, the interaction model banks have offered has been very reactive,” said Bob Meara, senior analyst in Celent’s banking practice. “ ‘Come visit us anytime you want, we’re here for you, here’s our number.’ ”

Some banks are experimenting with a more proactive approach to customer engagement to increase revenue and strengthen loyalty. Proactivity could include personalized recommendations, customized insights and guidance that appears only in certain contexts. TD Bank, for example, is trying to read its customers’ moods to find “relevancy triggers,” say, a mobile-savvy customer who still hesitates to deposit checks remotely, that inform marketing campaigns and in-person interactions, while Huntington Bank calls out low balances and unusually high bills in its Hub digital banking dashboard.

Proactive engagement means mining data about individual customers or general behavior to head off problems before they occur, such as getting locked out of an account after too many mistyped passwords, and extend relevant offers such as a credit card that will reward their spending patterns, before the customer has even asked. Banks and vendors like IBM, Personetics and Flybits have talked about predictive analytics, personalization and being more proactive for years. But not many banks have dedicated strategies.

For example, Celent research from September that looked at the status of various digital initiatives found that 25% of the 31 banks surveyed had a customer insights initiative in production, compared with 36% that had no plans. Only 15% were working on personalized recommendations based on transaction data analytics, compared with 33% that had no plans.

People’s United Bank in Bridgeport, Conn., and U.S. Bank in Minneapolis have taken two approaches to anticipate and serve customer needs. People’s started integrating helpful hints on its website in the early months of the pandemic using goMoxie, a digital guidance platform based in San Bruno, Calif. U.S. Bank’s personalized insights and money-saving notifications, which it built with the customer engagement platform Personetics in 2019, has become even more relevant during the pandemic.

Help on the go

Inside the branch, People’s United bankers “know our customers, try to anticipate their needs, and are very proactive in their service,” said James Roy, senior vice president of digital marketing at the $61.3 billion-asset institution. “We’re looking to replicate that in our digital channels.”

People’s United has been using goMoxie to handle inbound customer queries through phone and chat for years. But as the pandemic peaked in the spring and many customers started banking online for the first time, Roy’s team explored goMoxie’s proactive capabilities to alleviate pressure on the contact center and solve problems on the fly.

As one executive from goMoxie described it, the platform is like an enterprising sales associate at the Gap. The sales associates don’t bombard customers as soon as they enter, but swoop in when they notice the customer is confused and needs help finding the right size.

Initially, People’s used goMoxie’s Context tool mainly to preempt questions about branch closings, the Paycheck Protection Program and other matters tied to the pandemic. Now its proactive content has expanded to more general support. Roy and his team start by zeroing in on key areas where customers struggle, for instance providing in-the-moment help to people using digital products for the first time, and decide what actions they want customers to take. They used goMoxie to create notifications and set rules for when notifications will show up.

On the public-facing site, visitors who click on “Customer Support” will arrive on a general landing page for contact information, FAQs, and a library of demonstartions that People’s built with Horizn, a Toronto company that helps financial institution customers become more digitally fluent. But a box floats in the lower left-hand side of the screen, inviting the visitor to learn more about online banking with a hyperlink directly to that demo. Similarly, if customers click on the ATM & Branch Support header on the home page, they will see a box prompting them to learn more about banking from home rather than visiting a branch.

Roy and his team also set up triggers within the account opening platform. When customers pause on one page for too long, the tool will nudge them forward with relevant tips. For example, if a customer has filled out every field on the personal information page but the one asking for a driver’s license number, a pop-up window might inform them that they can scan their ID with a mobile device.

Over the last few months, Roy has detected a noticeable drop in customer inquiries relating to several COVID-19 support and digital product usage cases. From April to August, he found a 58% reduction in daily chats and 37% reduction in daily emails compared with the January-to-March period this year.

The next step will be broadening proactive engagements to other lines of business, including business banking and wealth management.

Financial clarity and key reminders

When banks identify customers who frequently bounce checks, overdraw their accounts or miss credit card payments, they can let the penalty fees roll in or warn the customers in advance so they can rectify their habits.

For banks that do the latter, there is a tradeoff. “If you can put money in your customers’ pockets with a helpful and proactive reminder of when things are due, you give up short-term fee revenue but probably keep the customers for life,” said Meara.

For the last year and a half, U.S. Bank has been serving up insights and alerts that it believes customers want, based on first-party research, especially when it comes to saving money. The $540 billion-asset bank revamped its app in 2019 and created these insights with Personetics, which is based in both New York and Tel Aviv. Customers see snippets of text, such as reminders to pay bills in a scrollable feed when they log into the app or as push notifications when they are not logged in, and U.S. Bank plans to expand them to its website and Smart Assistant virtual assistant. (Personetics also works with Ally Bank, Huntington Bank and Royal Bank of Canada. Clients can choose to disseminate these insights and recommendations as push notifications, by email, through agents in the call center or as a chatbot.)

“As we focused on how U.S. Bank could become more central to the financial lives of customers, it quickly became evident that we needed to move beyond a simple transactional experience and become more proactive with our customers,” said Damian Warren, head of channels experience at U.S. Bank, whether that meant helping customers think ahead, avoid financial mistakes or jump on new savings opportunities.

Insights may dig into a customer’s spending habits and suggest ways they could save more money. The app will also help customers avoid a variety of fees by reminding them when payments are due or past due, or when they are approaching the limit of six transfers on their savings accounts. If the customer’s balance is unusually low, a notification might prompt them to transfer money from savings to cover an overdraft.

To avoid overspending, the app will flag duplicate charges or note that a subscription has recently jumped in price.

As a response to the pandemic, U.S. Bank built custom insights to help customers navigate payment plans, which Warren said alleviated a lot of calls.

“We can play an even bigger role in really helping people establish better financial footing” during the pandemic, he said.

“Helping people understand something before it happens builds a tremendous amount of trust and loyalty,” said Warren. “That was the driving force behind this for us.”


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