Implementing Omnichannel: Best Practices for Community Banks

Implementing Omnichannel: Best Practices for Community Banks

By Josh Botnen, Director of Digital Strategy and Client Experience, First Interstate Bank (NASDAQ: FIBK) And Kade Peterson, Chief Information Officer

Josh Botnen, Director of Digital Strategy and Client Experience, First Interstate Bank (NASDAQ: FIBK)

There’s no questioning customers’ demanding digital offerings, but it’s difficult to imagine the community banking industry ever providing a 100% digital solution without losing its competitive advantage. There will always be customers that value in-person interactions and even our younger customers want the ability to go sit down with someone to ask questions about more complex products.

That’s why an omnichannel approach is critical. Today’s customer expects to be able to start an application in a branch, continue where they left off using a mobile app, then finish the process at home with a phone call to the contact center. Most customers won’t know what omnichannel is; they want the job done in a way that is convenient for them. It’s why more than half of banking tasks are completed using multiple channels. If a branch banker can’t bring up an application a customer just made online, it hurts customer satisfaction and makes closing that business more difficult.

Community banks know that they must update how their sales channels are built and managed. It’s why 88% of banks and credit unions say omnichannel is one of their most crucial retail banking technology priorities. But only 11% of institutions are executing an omnichannel strategy. The gap is in implementation. As First Interstate has digitized its processes, we’ve identified ways to ensure that our omnichannel strategy is effective.

Outside-In Approach

First and foremost, an organization must take a step back and take an outside-in approach. View interactions through a customer’s lens to understand the needs and challenges that a digital solution should address. It’s easier to think of what data the bank needs from interaction, but that doesn’t capture the customer journey. An outside-in approach takes more time, but better maps out the communications and customer touchpoints where cross-channel interaction may occur. If there’s an understanding of where there might be friction, an organization can take steps and address it before it interferes with customer onboarding.

Build the Right Team

To map out the customer journey, you need the right people involved. Banks should have every stakeholder involved to find a process that works, including operational, technology, retail, and client management personnel. Our teams get everyone in the same room to whiteboard out all the customer touchpoints of a process and collaborate to solve for any friction. Remember, focus on the customer perspective. Team members can get stuck on promoting their silo’s objective at the expense of advocating for the customer.

"View interactions through a customer’s lens to understand the needs and challenges that a digital solution should address"

Agile Development

Adopt a more agile development approach. The initial goal should be a minimum viable product, with plans to develop and enhance in smaller increments over time. It’s about continuous improvement, versus putting together a massive launch and then not touching it once it’s out there. Solutions should be iterative so that they are more quickly implemented and can be adjusted to best-fit customer behaviors and needs.

Capture Feedback 

Kade Peterson, Chief Information Officer

Iterative, customer-centric development relies on feedback. Make capturing user feedback critical. No single method is comprehensive, so use as many as possible to get the most precise picture of what can be improved. Client surveys, feedback forms, interviews, even social media, are all viable. Don’t forget to capture feedback from frontline and operations staff; they always know what can make an offering stronger.


Componentization breaks the development of a software system down into smaller, repeatable pieces that can be used across a bank’s digital solutions. As an example, a software component could be used for online mortgage applications that capture personal information and does some minimal fraud checking. That component can be reused across many different product solutions, saving development time and resources. If we find an error or something that adds value to the experience, it’s easy to change that in one component, and apply it to those repeated pieces quickly across the entire platform.

Just as important, if the same components are used across the organization, clients will see the system acting consistently. Authentication will be the same every time, and it won’t re-ask them for information they’ve already shared. Reducing development costs is essential, but providing a consistent, positive customer experience is the priority.

Elegant Off-Ramps

No system is perfect. Clients’ needs may not fit what the current digital platform is designed to do. We pride ourselves on having elegant offramps. If a customer situation is unique enough to where our system can’t be completed digitally, we don’t want the client to think that they’ve ‘crashed’ during the process. We’ll let them know that the next step will be a call from our team to finish the process over another channel. That framing is essential to preserving the positive experience for our customers.


A community bank platform is only as secure as its staff’s ability to use it, and that is especially true of omnichannel systems. Assisting clients as they switch seamlessly between channels is dependent on employees who know how to pull up customer information, no matter where they are in the process or what channel they previously used. It requires training and communication with our front-line folks; if they don’t know that the capability is there, how can they use it to help customers? They should also be able to guide customers to a digital channel if it improves the customer experience.

A good education program educates without alienating. It’s why we are working on how-to videos for our bankers. It’s critical to think of different ways to engage staff so they can best guide customers through new digital platforms.

Driving Towards Digital Transformation

As community banks continue to digitize the customer experience, they must also remember to emphasize the high-touch, personal side of service. Our customers do not bank with us for the coolest user experiences available, or best-in-class mortgage, credit card or online deposit solutions. It’s because of the close relationships they have with our bankers. To support that, community banks should create digital, omnichannel ecosystems so that customers have even better ways to interact with bankers.

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