U.S. Bank bets against Zoom fatigue in customer service

U.S. Bancorp is augmenting its communication tools for customers with a technology that is pervasive among consumers in their personal and professional lives but still rarely used by large banks to talk to customers: video.

According to Javelin Strategy & Research, Citigroup and U.S. Bank are the only two of the top 25 U.S. banks offering video connections to retail banking customers. (Citi Client Connect, Citi’s video service, exists nationwide.) Some community banks and credit unions also offer this capability. Many other banks enable video help through their ATMs.

“Video was accelerated because of COVID but because of the comfort level and convenience, this is a trend that is continuing,” says Ankit Bhatt, consumer chief digital officer at U.S. Bank.

The Minneapolis bank has put a few twists on its version of video banking, which customers can use from home or wherever they want to do their banking. It added the functionality to its co-browse feature, which has spiked in popularity during the pandemic, in April, and made video available as a scheduled appointment, in addition to in-person and phone appointments, in May. Co-browsing technology lets a banker remotely view and interact with the customer’s screen — but only by scrolling and highlighting, not by taking actions — as opposed to screen-sharing, which gives an agent control over a customer’s screen.

That means customers can request a video walkthrough for straightforward or off-the-cuff mobile or online banking issues, such as resetting passwords, locking debit cards or navigating the app or site. They can also schedule a video appointment for more in-depth discussions, such as opening a new business account or applying for a loan.

Co-browsing combined with video is not unique. Video banking provider POPi/o, for example, offers this feature and has customers in 40 states. The company declined to give the number of its clients but said they are primarily community banks and credit unions.

But U.S. Bank’s video and co-browse combination stands out for a bank of its size and is a useful enhancement to co-browsing alone. The fact that it connects customers and branch employees, rather than routing video calls to a national call center, is also noteworthy because it creates a more personal connection between the customer and the branch banker, who might be a local employee the customer already knows, said Emmett Higdon, director of digital banking at Javelin.

“We have seen really good feedback both from colleagues and customers,” said Ankit Bhatt, chief digital officer for consumer at the $558.9 billion-asset U.S. Bank. “Generally customers have told us that being able to see who they are talking to on video is reassuring and gives them a greater sense of security.”

This capability is still in a pilot phase. Glance, a digital engagement company in Wakefield, Massachusetts, provides the co-browsing and video capabilities to U.S. Bank.

Co-browsing has existed at U.S. Bank for several years. Generally a banker will suggest that option while already speaking with a customer. The customer can then initiate a session online or through the mobile app by clicking on the CoBrowse button.

Bankers can scroll up and down the customer’s screen remotely and draw a red outline over images or blocks of text they want to highlight, but cannot perform actions on behalf of the customer or peek at web pages that are not U.S. Bank properties. The co-browsing technology will also automatically block a customer’s personally identifiable information, such as a PIN, from view.

This feature became significantly more popular during the pandemic. U.S. Bank did more than half a million co-browsing sessions in 2020, then surpassed one million in the first seven months of 2021. The company expects to have four times the number of sessions in 2021 compared to 2020.

During a co-browsing session, only the banker will appear on video, in a small box in the corner of the screen. (If co-browsing takes place on the app, customers can also move the video box around.) Video is a valuable addition because can be hard to follow for customers, especially on a mobile device, said Higdon.

He has found that co-browsing never gained a lot of traction among banks. But, “being able to see that representative, perhaps gesturing somewhere on the screen, makes the co-browse more of a natural interaction,” he said.

Pre-scheduled appointments are a two-way video stream. U.S. Bank customers have been able to set up in-person and phone appointments for several years, but, like co-browsing, demand grew during the pandemic. Customers booked more than one million in-person and phone appointments in 2020, and U.S. Bank expects to double that in 2021 between in-person, phone and video.

One question for banks that are contemplating the value of video is whether customers will want it even when in-person interactions more fully return to normal.

“A lot of banks [are] sitting on the sidelines with regard to investing heavily in a video capability,” said Higdon, suggesting people may be feeling “Zoomed out.” But he sees strong potential for video to become a permanent part of bank offerings, because consumers find video convenient, as well as more personal and engaging than speaking with someone on the phone.

“I’ve been a little surprised at the slow uptake given consumers’ receptivity to using video,” he said.

Bhatt agrees that video interactions will continue.

“Even though things have been opening up in the last couple of months, customers are feeling comfortable using these tools and digital as a whole,” said Bhatt. “Video was accelerated because of COVID but because of the comfort level and convenience, this is a trend that is continuing.”

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