Cross-selling and customer loyalty have always been keystone elements of a digital strategy for the financial services industry. In the past, bank customers would go into their local branch, where tellers and officers might personally know them. Investors often had a primary broker with whom they would regularly speak on the phone. Although these traditional interaction channels still exist, the digital age has made it possible to conduct almost every kind of financial transaction remotely: Customers no longer need to take time away from work or rush home to get to the bank by 6 pm. Checks can be deposited remotely, loans can be applied for without a nerve-wracking face-to-face meeting, and automated investment advice is available 24 hours a day. Some disruptors, such as peer-to-peer lending startup Puddle, bypass the banking system altogether.

One outcome of these digital conveniences has been that customers are fragmenting their banking needs across an array of different companies, rather than seeking all the products and services they need through a single hometown vendor. Financial institutions face new challenges in their effort to retain customers, build loyalty to their brand, and expand individual engagement by cross-selling. While these challenges have resulted from the digital revolution, financial technology is also the key to solving them.

Cross-Selling and Customer Loyalty are Integrated

In the digital age, customer experience is king. Instant communication portals have erased the location-based advantage of hometown branches, and successful cross-selling now depends on pleasing customers in a whole new way. Banks need to reach out and delight their customers through a wide variety of digital channels, but this is not simply a matter of assembling a bag of digital tricks. Instead, financial institutions must provide a warm sense of personal interest in their customers and a strongly pro-customer branding throughout all touchpoints. A customer who strongly agrees that their primary bank looks out for their financial well-being consumes 25 percent more products than a customer who does not think their bank looks out for them. The same survey also suggests a broad untapped market: Even the customers who stated that they are most satisfied still place only about one-quarter of their household assets in their primary bank.

According to a recent report by eMarketer, 42 percent of financial institutions view using a cross-channel approach to upsell as the most important element of their digital strategy. On the other hand, 36 percent state that improving customer trust and loyalty is their highest priority. To Centric Digital, this is a false dichotomy. A correctly-handled cross-channel approach will naturally result in increased customer loyalty, and loyal customers are likelier to use more products and services from the brand that they feel identified with. To clarify the unified approach that is now the lingua franca of today’s financial services industry, Centric Digital offers five recommendations for developing relationships with banking customers:

1. Understand your Customer Journey

Alice Milligan, Chief Customer and Digital Experience Office at Citi Global Cards, puts it this way in a recent eMarketer interview: “We’ve learned that customers have four key expectations: They want us to know them, value them, make it easy for them and protect them. These principles clearly manifest themselves when we speak to customers about their expectations.” Banks need to map out exactly how customers interact with the company and use that information to start building their digital strategy. This is becoming more widely recognized: an extensive survey of over 500 financial institutions worldwide asked each one to list their most important digital priority for 2017. The second-most mentioned priority on the survey was “enhance data analytics capabilities to identify customer needs.”

Big data makes this process easier. All touch points across channels can be measured, including customer service calls, mobile app interactions, web interactions, and in-person branch visits. Looking at each of these stages in isolation is no longer sufficient to provide effective customer service. A customer service rep who does not know that a customer recently visited a branch or submitted a digital deposit via their app will not be able to adequately serve today’s customer. Large customer relationship management platforms (CRMs) like Salesforce allow integration and record-keeping across the entire customer journey. The platform follows each individual user through initial point of sale, product choice, use patterns and customer service issues. When companies invest in solutions that allow them to use and integrate all of this information into a well thought-out digital strategy, they also increase the effectiveness of their human staff.

2. Personalize the Customer Experience

Once a company understands and integrates their customer experience, they must then personalize it. This means going beyond simply knowing what a customer did recently: instead, it includes maintaining a deep predictive awareness of each customer’s needs and wants. Appropriate use of behavioral data means that a customer service rep or a mobile app or a website can easily tailor content to the individual. Research shows that customers respond favorably to this personalization: Polling organization Gallup writes “We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating — finance is personal. Partnering with customers on managing their finances, making them feel confident about their financial future, and taking the lead when necessary helps them believe you are on their side and looking out for their best interests.”

One well-done example of what personalization looks like in practice can be seen in the practices of USAA, which individualizes its landing pages based on each customer’s previous omnichannel interactions.

3. Utilize Mobile to Cross-Sell

Banks must invest in mobile and make this a priority in their digital strategy, full stop. However, mobile should not mean a reduction in service offerings or a constraint to merely being a way to deposit checks. Mobile is the fastest growing touch point, according to Citi’s Chief Experience Officer Alice Milligan, and there’s an obvious reason for this. Customers’ smartphones stay with them 24 hours a day, and a digitally savvy bank recognizes that this allows unprecedented access – and outstanding cross-sell opportunities to further support that digital strategy. Furthermore, the ongoing migration from desktop to mobile access organically leads to new forms of communication – specifically, the use of speech instead of typed text.

Ally Bank provides an app that proves this point. It goes well beyond just giving customers access to their basic checking and credit accounts. Instead, it leverages the continuing contact with its user base to allow them to manage to trade and consider buying CDs, IRAs, and various other types of accounts. Most notably, however, its mobile app uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to allow customers to initiate spoken interactions. Using only speech, customers can transfer funds, check interest rates and account status, pay bills, make deposits, and ask for individual statistics. Carrie Sumlin, Digital Deposits executive at Ally Bank, puts it this way: “We recognize that consumers often find themselves in situations where it’s much more convenient to speak a request as opposed to typing it in a text field.” As customers voice their requests, the app integrates past behavioral patterns to anticipate each individual’s needs. It then automatically indicates products and services that will meet those needs.

4. Don’t Violate Customer Trust in Your Digital Strategy

In the age when unprecedented quantities of personal data are flowing through cyberspace, financial companies must work hard to maintain customer trust and make it a point to embed this within their digital strategy. Regardless of how much pressure an institution feels to upgrade its digital services, they must not put any new conveniences in place without a robust security architecture protecting the data flow. Equally importantly, the company must make sure their customers know that their information is well-protected. The more a customer trusts their financial institution, the more likely they are to provide personal information and branch out into using more kinds of products. This does not mean inserting screens full of massive User License Agreements. Instead, it means reaching out in a personal way to educate customers early and often about how their data will be used.

In this endeavor, banks can take lessons from other industries. For example, music company Pandora realized that by articulating to their users the link between the data they were collecting and the value they were delivering, they were able to get customers to provide more data.

5. Stay on Top of New Technologies

New digital functions are arriving at an increasing rate, and this makes it challenging for companies to keep up with what customers expect. This challenge is especially intense within the banking sector, because regulation, legacy systems, and sheer size can cause new technology rollouts to be arduous and costly. What’s more, investing massive resources in a new digital solution, only to see it become irrelevant soon afterward, can seem more harmful than doing nothing. To prepare for this, financial companies need to include a plan for agility in their digital strategy. They must be aware that no single solution will be permanent, and instead must rebuild their corporate culture with an eye toward becoming adaptable within the evolving digital ecosystem. It is important that financial institutions embrace an agnostic approach to analyzing themselves, their competitors, and the overall technological landscape. Once a reproducible methodology is in place for evaluating innovation, companies can be confident in the technologies they choose.

Interestingly, the digital age has actually increased the value of deep customer engagement. The more financial institutions engage their customers via digital channels, the more data they can collect and the more they can personalize each customer’s experience. The data itself also becomes a valuable artifact in its own right, as a way of facilitating agility and as a potential product that can be sold to other businesses.