The roadmap to digital customer onboarding

How banks can create an ideal customer experience in their onboarding processes while opening the door to innovation and success

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The onboarding landscape: What is the industry standard?

There’s a feeling of comfort and friendliness that comes from walking into a coffee shop, being greeted by name, and having an order waiting. Knowing how important that feeling is to their customers, coffee shops have begun to extend this feeling in the digital realm by allowing customers to order from their phone before they arrive. These businesses recognized that they must deliver the same level of service for customers regardless of platform or method of communication, and embrace every opportunity to build a relationship. 

According to an American Banker article, “Customer experience in financial services continues to lag significantly below other verticals, and the opportunity to invest in the underlying infrastructure is massive.” Banking institutions are racing to keep up with an increasingly mobile and multi-device customer base. Customers have become accustomed to a higher level of customer service and expect service to be fast, easy, and seamless. 

While many banks have made improvements in customer experience, the customer onboarding workflow is still one that is often disruptive and unlike all other digital touchpoints. For example, checkbooks have been replaced with tap-to-pay, yet pen-and-paper and fax continue to play a critical role in receiving and processing a new customer application. 

How are you building your customer relationship from the beginning?

The first step to fully embracing a thoughtful onboarding customer experience is to align your perspective to that of a new customer. Set aside the complexities of regulations, back-office workflow, and organizational structure for a moment and view the experience from the customer’s perspective. 

  • What workflow is required to become a customer?

  • What tasks and challenges must someone overcome before they can be your customer? 

  • Are there areas where you ask the customer to make a leap of faith or complete a disruptive step to an otherwise seamless digital experience?

Let’s take a look at the customer onboarding experiences across these channels:

  • Branch approach

  • Branch with pre-work approach

  • Transitioned channel approach

  • Digital approach

  • Omnichannel approach

More often than not, a customer’s workflow involves several hoops across multiple channels as shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1:  Typical Customer Workflow

What can we observe from these approaches? What goal is each step looking to achieve and is the customer’s need appropriately prioritized?

Branch approach

Onboarding processes that focus on getting customers to a branch, as illustrated in figure 2, are not fully leveraging a digital-first strategy. The customer is left to find reference material online that is frequently hidden behind tabs and nested menus. The emphasis on leveraging the branch preserves the personal touch but is dependent on the customer making it into a brick-and-mortar location. While this legacy process has worked over the years, often the institutional processes outweigh the customer’s experience.

Figure 2:  Branch Approach

The emphasis on directing the interaction to the branch, as seen on US Bank’s site2, may deflate the momentum of interaction.

While product information has provided context, there is no immediate path to resolution. There are additional flavors of this approach that incorporate conversations, including impromptu chat and scheduled phone call, as demonstrated on TD Bank’s Small Business checking site.

These hybrid approaches begin to incorporate higher-touch digital customer service. This is the baseline of designing a product around customer need. It shows thinking in the right direction, while not having fully crossed over to embracing a digitally inclusive onboarding approach

Driving product development with business context alone often delivers these experiences. Incorporating customer research will demonstrate where you can drive efficiency and insure your potential customers successfully navigate your onboarding process.

Branch with pre-work approach

The onboarding experience varies by business type and size. Chase addresses this problem with their Online Switch Kit, including a printable checklist that guides you through the process. They help to minimize the burden by providing as much context online as possible, including specialized checklists for various business types. While you cannot complete the forms in advance, additional checklists, provided by business type, eliminate any back-and-forth trips to a branch.

The addition of pre-work streamlines the transition from digital to the branch, as shown in figure 3, but is another opportunity for the customer to disengage.

While product information has provided context, there is not an immediate path to resolution. This is the power of an end-to-end digital onboarding experience. The customer seamlessly navigates from learning about services, to providing the necessary information, to completing the process and successfully onboarding.

The customer’s journey includes all channels—digital and print—and even the trip to the branch. By mapping the customer’s journey you will better understand the burden that onboarding places on them, and will identify ways to evolve the product to better serve their preferences and needs. Leverage data from analytics to remove guess work and iterate confidently on your onboarding process.

Figure 3:  Branch with pre-work approach

Figure 4:  Transitioned channel approach

Transitioned channel approach

The progression to improved onboarding could be delayed by complexities in internal and external processes. Rather than waiting for these to be resolved, create experiences that approximate a fully digital approach as shown in figure 4. The ability to submit information digitally, in advance of a branch visit, preserves momentum gained from the decision moment of the customer to invest time and energy in your services.

PNC approaches this by beginning the application online, getting the customer invested, and initiating a call that concludes with them in the bank’s branch for the final paperwork. While this is not a fully digital experience, it builds a relationship and positions the institution and customer as partners early in the process.

Transitioning customers across channels requires a higher-touch level of service. Digitally minded customers will expect a seamless transition from one step to the next that does not require them to restate or revisit information they have already provided. Demonstrate that you heard and understand the information they have provided and leverage your expertise as an advisor to fully take advantage of this onboarding approach. Consider also offering a concurrent digital experience leveraging dynamic form processing and application of your business rules to move from this transitioned experience to a fully digital onboarding approach.

Digital approach

Capital One provides digitally focused onboarding through its Spark Business offering. The company’s responsive web application walks users through its registration process with large, friendly icons and includes only the most vital information on a page. These digitally focused experiences have already fully taken root in many service industries but are still finding their way in the finance world. By building a robust front-end that a customer can encounter on any device, banks provide an improved overall experience without necessarily having to revisit all back-end systems. 

It’s important to keep in mind that strong digital experiences extend beyond the desktop as well. Many customers have digital wallets on their mobile devices that are a collection of digital versions of their physical cards and applications that help them manage and access their funds. The same people you will be onboarding will also use popular applications such as Mint, Prosper Daily, and Venmo for the digital management of their finances. Apply learnings from researching these related applications to springboard your own onboarding process to the digital landscape.

Omnichannel approach

Elements of the different approaches, when combined effectively, create an omnichannel approach that embraces the customer’s experience over the bank’s processes

Figure 5:  Omnichannel approach

Regardless of how a customer might find your business, they are able to navigate a sign-up process. The customer knows their information lives in a single, reliable place and can seamlessly navigate between mediums to accomplish their goal, as illustrated in figure 5.

The strongest onboarding experiences understand the customer’s goals and validate their understandings through research.

The driver behind these innovations, in what essentially is an application with common information, is the need to deliver a full experience to your customer. The coffee shop on the corner with the long line is easily disrupted by a new shop with an efficient operation. People want to move on to the next task in their day, and will follow the path of least resistance to accomplish their goal. 

When evaluating your bank’s onboarding experience, consider if it is set up for the ease of the business, or the delight of the customer. The strongest onboarding experiences understand the customer’s goals and validate their understandings through research. You can leverage data-driven decisions to inform your priority and efforts. By having a cohesive technical approach, you can determine small, valuable releases. These iterations will allow you to effectively deliver a service-driven customer onboarding experience.

Continue to:Onboarding strategy and design: Creating the ideal customer experience