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Best practices to improve customer engagement in digital banking

Ambitious financial institutions are constantly looking for ways to improve customer engagement in their digital banking business. Based on our client interactions engagements across Asia, we are sharing some best practices you can apply across the four stages of customer journey.


1. Ideation: Involve early adopters without digital product experience



In this stage of prioritizing the key features of your digital banking products, existing customers of non-digital products can play a significant role. They can share their expectations or feedback on digital banking products.


Involving these customers has several benefits. As existing customers, they already demonstrate loyalty to your brand. When a new digital product satisfies their needs, they are more likely to share feedback. The feedback will usually prioritize a few key features in the initial release. Further, the revised product value proposition based on their feedback could be transferred into product launch marketing content to arouse the interest of new customers. 


Here is an example of our recent engagement with a bank in China. This bank was trying to present its digital banking product as senior-friendly. Based on initial ideas from early adopters among its existing senior customers, a few product features were identified. These included promoting short-term deposit products with lower risk, redesigning a five-module home page into a simpler four-module one, and increasing the size of icons for better visibility. At the same time, the value identified through interviews—providing easy access for senior people—was emphasized in the marketing campaign, with face-to-face onboarding sessions in local communities to attract senior customers.

2. Activation: Build a highly engaging online forum



In this stage, the target is to trigger interest in potential customers and get them to start interacting with the digital product. In digital banking, an online forum is usually a good way to initiate customer involvement since it’s easier to start. It’s also helpful in solving the customers’ problems. 


Based on our experiences, we believe the following steps can help banking institutions build an online financial forum in their digital product:

  1. Position the online forum—identify the right theme 
  2. Warm up and onboard early adopters—a cold start phase by encouraging customers to engage in the forum
  3. Grow the customer base—analyze the metrics and collect feedback
  4. Build the Standard Operating Procedure—put the validated activities into a procedure, then repeat them 


These steps may take a few weeks to a few months. After this forum has been established, a few operational activities can help to build an organic growth mechanism, including UGC (user-generated content)  / PGC (professionally-generated content), product experience improvement, and intelligent recommendations based on user profiles. 


Our team worked with a client—a leading retail bank in Asia, to design and operate an online forum based on a Study Abroad Advisory Application in their digital banking portfolio. We worked with the client to strategically select the theme of studying abroad, as it involves regular financial activities such as selecting a school to enrol in and live  abroad. We selected topics such as foreign currency exchange, overseas insurance, tuition fee transferring, etc. Among these topics, a large deal of content was contributed as PGC including study abroad agencies, insurance companies, and property agencies. In this way, this application successfully attracted the attention of families having plans for their children to study abroad. 


Once customers start interacting with the product, we prep them to purchase in the next stage.

3. Transition: Explore a creative way of referral 



The target of transition is to persuade customers to purchase. The referral program has been popular. In digital banking, there might be a much more creative way.


In our work with a leading virtual bank in Asia, we designed a novel way to acquire new customers for its online deposit product. The rule was simple: existing customers could invite their friends or relatives from social media to join an online group in this digital product. This group of customers were all attracted to enjoy a higher deposit rate—the larger the group, the higher the rate.


A key differentiator made this successful: an interesting and interactive incentive plan for a group, rather than a traditional way of benefiting a referrer/referee pair. The benefits here are obvious:


  1. The larger deposit interest draws the referrers, who are more eager to promote this offer  
  2. The referees are more willing to accept the invitation and use this deposit—not only for the reward of higher deposit interest but also because of the relationships
  3. This virtual bank could improve its product exposure on social media

4. Retention: Enhance customer loyalty with a growth path



This stage is about retaining the customer and keeping them engaged. A practice we have found particularly helpful is to design a growth path to build their loyalty.


It usually starts with four steps:


  1. Prioritization. Specify the activities expected in the client growth journey. Then prioritize and sequence them; 
  2. Rewards. Give rewards when activities are completed. Rewards will define the level in the path; 
  3. Upgrades. Calculate the customers’ growth level of the first edition by combining the total points available to the user with the time required to obtain; 
  4. Optimization. Based on existing user behavior data, adjust the user growth level setting, and design rights and benefits for customers at different levels.


In the example of a bank with whom we worked in China, we designed a UGC forum for sharing investment tips as a part of the digital banking product.  The goal was to keep customers engaged by encouraging them to have interactions in this forum. Therefore, the behavior of raising questions and giving comments was prioritized. The customers who completed these activities were rewarded with points. When the customer’s points reached certain values, they could upgrade to the next level to get more benefits including product discounts, birthday gifts and exclusive financial product offerings. In this way, this growth path promoted the long-term engagement of the clients and finally strengthened their loyalty. 




Improving customer engagement in digital banking is far more than making random activities – it should be with a different focus across stages from the initial product ideation to retention. We hope our primer on best practices inspires you in your digital banking journey.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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