When was the last time you updated your bank account passbook, wrote a cheque or filled out a pay-in slip at your neighborhood bank branch? Chances are you haven’t used these age-old conventional tools of banking for a long time. Digital technology is changing the way customers are banking globally, with regular conversions to digital-only users who prefer to interact exclusively through digital channels such as Internet banking and mobile banking. There are currently 45 million active urban online banking users in India and the number is expected to more than double by 2020. A majority of online customers migrate between devices before completing the activity. They may start their research on a smartphone before switching to a personal computer or tablet to look up more information.

Such customer behaviour makes a streamlined omnichannel approach imperative for banking services as it ensures a smooth customer experience through several changes in the device.With interconnectivity and consistency of communication between channels, there is a more nuanced view of the customer that allows banks and financial services to tailor their offerings to the individual.

Service as a differentiator

For businesses in the finance sector, it isn’t the product that distinguishes them from their competitors, but the service their customers receive. To keep pace with competition and meet expectations of digital customers around the globe, banking institutions are constantlyworking to improve delivery of financial services on digital channels.To support its aggressive customeracquisition and growth plans, HDFC Securities chose Zendesk Chat. This omnichannel solution provided customers the option of chatting directly with experts to seek advice regarding services and transactions.Thanks toZendesk chat, HDFC Securities has witnessed a huge turnaround in business and ramped up its sales operations within a short span oftime.

As demonstrated by the HDFC Securities case, the key to use an effective omnichannel strategy is to integrate disparate digital and physical channels into a single, seamless experience. With omnichannel support, banks can analyse the activity and choices of their clients and customise offerings to match preferences. A tailor-made and integrated communication system helps to gain a single customer view and provide optimal customer experience for the best results.

The omnichannel mix

The right omnichannel mix for banks and financial services provides a consistent experience across channels, with seamless access to financial products and services. Be it branches, online, mobile, or social media, customers can choose where, when and how they want to bank. The Internet has emerged as the most preferred virtual channel for banking transactions like managing accounts and transferring money. According to a report by The Boston Consulting Group and Facebook, the number of users opting for online banking is expected to touch the 150 million mark by 2020. Another integral part of the omnichannel mix is video chat as it enables trust-building in situations where people are not physically available. With the growing proliferation of social media, banks and financial services companies have also started using it to launch new products, make announcements, and engage customers with new conversations.

Formulating the right omnichannel strategy

As more and more customers access their banks through mobile phones, computers and tablets, the financial industry must adapt its omnichannel strategy in order to gain competitive advantage. Here’s a look at factors to bear in mind while formulating an effective omnichannel strategy:

Determine channels: The first step is to determine how many channels your company has and if they are still relevant to your customers’ needs. Assess existing channels while exploring new channels to capture insights and describe the way ahead. For instance, if a large section of your customers is investors, they would need a lot of hand-holding at every step. In case of HDFC Securities, Zendesk Chat provided instant support to customers to connect with experts and get advice on their investment decisions and choices.

Balance tech with a human touch: With banking customers rapidly migrating toward digital channels, human contact in the finance sector may be diminishing in terms of volume. However, it’s not sensible to discount the importance of human connection as it can play a vital role in building brand awareness. Agents are indispensable to the omnichannel process as they understand the entire customer journey and provide nuance to customer conversations. The challenge for any financial company is to balance technology with a human touch and determine how much of customer support is delivered through digital channels.

Leveraging data: The Internet and smart devices offer copious amounts of data about customers, their investment habits, and service requirements. With the right ominchannel support, banks can leverage this data to gain a 360-degree view of all of their customers’ activities, spending and income patterns and savings profiles. This valuable information they receive from various channels can help them build up detailed customer profiles and improve chances of success when trying to sell relevant financial products.

Going forward, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, design thinking and digital ecosystems can help financial organisations respond faster and better to their customers’ needs and expectations. It’s time for banks and financial institutions to sit up and adapt a digital-first business model. Omnichannel provides financial organisations a chance to use technology as a catalyst to drive their customers towards a digital future. More than just the flavour of the month or the latest buzzword, omnichannel in the finance sector is a long haul. It is a business-focussed solution that can deliver bottom- line benefits, reduce costs of operations, and provide financecompanies with a viable plan to retain customers.

(Views expressed are personal)

K.T. Prasad is the Country Sales Director for Zendesk, India. Since joining the Indian office of the San Francisco based SaaS Company in September 2016, he has been responsible for Business growth with a focus on helping customers transform their customer service into meaningful customer engagement with beautifully simple solutions.

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