In the third and final live webinar in the series "Stop Thinking Channels, Start Thinking Journeys" from gateB and Thunderhead, we immersed ourselves in the banking and finance industry. Our guest Béatrice Sidler, Head of Multichannel Management at Zurich Cantonal Bank (ZCB), shared valuable experiences and strategies in dealing with digitalization in multichannel management. The focus of this session was less on the technology itself and more on the organization, processes, customers, and employees.

Here are the key takeaways from the webinar. Learn more about the changing customer relationship in banking as a result of digitalization — and which strategies organizations can use to keep banking relevant for their customers.

Multichannel management in the financial sector

Sidler opened her presentation with a short description of Zurich Cantonal Bank as an organization and their multichannel management tasks. At the heart of their multichannel management success lies a focus on the customer and their journey across all touchpoints. ZCB divides their efforts between served channels and self-service — more precisely, between human-human channels such as their telephone lines, (video) chat, and the physical bank counter and human-machine channels such as ATMs, e-banking, or chatbots.

Ideally, multichannel management ensures consistent customer experiences across all integrated channels. However, according to Sidler, this is precisely where the challenge lies: to guarantee the customer consistent experiences, security, and access across all channels at all times. "It always comes down to how you do it and if you do it well — and that's what ultimately makes the difference," she said. According to Sidler, the financial industry is "far from being at the end of the road, especially when it comes to channel convergence and data support — and there is still a lot of potential there."

Different customer journeys, different approaches

Customer channel usage has changed dramatically in recent years. "It's just not as easy to 'channel' as customers move. Rather, the customer should be able to decide when, how, and where to contact us. Although we use AI and data to see how customers behave in the channels, what they prefer, and where we might have interruptions, the whole thing is still much more complex than before," Sidler says. This change is also reflected in the rapid increase in online traffic over the past few years.

In retrospect, major changes 15 years ago were barely noticed when they actually happened. Sidler cites the first cell phones with high-resolution cameras and the founding of Facebook as examples. Looking to the future, trends such as intelligent systems and assistants, individualization, and seamless commerce are moving into focus, trends that will play a major role in addressing customers. Trends like these should be not just considered but acted on today.

One thing is certain: digitalization is changing our world and companies must change with it in order to keep pace. "If we can manage to be highly relevant for our customers at all times in their everyday life, then banking will also remain relevant," Sidler emphasized. "Banking would then be indispensable and we would not lose the customer experience."

Rethinking is the be-all and end-all

To achieve this, a rethink is necessary. Customers should feel valued, understood, and cared for. In fact, the experience of added value and relevance increases the chance that they will later return this added value to companies. Ideally, the company anticipates the needs of its customers even before they themselves recognize them.

According to Sidler, relevance is the key in relationship management. All marketers know that the content, context, and timing must be coordinated when addressing the customer. The challenge is to really hit the right time and context for the respective customer. Those who accompany the customer across different touchpoints as best as possible through their daily routine will have the best shot at making a positive, lasting impact on their customer. 

The key? Strategic focus and clarity

Next, the experienced multichannel expert shared various strategies that ZCB is already using to meet the challenges of digitalization in multichannel management. These include, for example, the recording of existing and potential customer types — the basis for being able to anticipate customers' needs and to have access to customers exactly where they are. Only those who know their different customer types and their channel preferences can provide the appropriate offers there.

But where to start? Sidler advised organizations to structure the different customers, target groups, and needs and to cluster them into segments. It is important to understand the customer journey through the different channels. The trend shows that we are continuing to move away from physical interaction and towards digital touchpoints. Brands need to be ready to do more and more online.

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

Beyond strategy, there is still the hurdle of the corporate culture, Sidler admitted. "You can do everything right, but if the culture and mindset are not right, it will be difficult." The multichannel expert also had helpful approaches to this challenge, starting with personnel selection and task allocation. As experts in their field, employees should have the necessary trust and be given the freedom to solve problems. The balance between alignment and autonomy is also important. A shared understanding is critical among all employees, but it's merely the basis for going in the same direction. The art is to achieve a high degree of autonomy at the same time so that everyone works independently toward a common goal.

Do you want to reach your customers at the right time and at the right touchpoints? We'll gladly assist you.

Banking must be uncompromisingly relevant

Finally, Sidler summarized the most important takeaways: The raison d'être of modern banking lies in its relevance to the customer. In the spirit of "fail fast, learn faster," it is important to allow mistakes to happen and to live an agile mindset within the organization. Last but not least, as is often the case, it helps to be patient and give any changes the necessary time.