But as consumer expectations continue to rise, buoyed by the retail experience in other sectors, banks will need to master increasingly complex queries on these channels in the years to come.

In one sense, FIs have the wind at their backs, with people flocking to digital channels. About 63 percent of consumers are using banking apps to access their information on their mobile device, according to TSYS' 2017 U.S. Consumer Payments Study. Those using the apps a few times a month or weekly have increased to 43 percent, up from 24 percent in 2015.

Consumer expectations continue to rise

Yet the heavy lifting lies ahead for banks. Handling the top-10 basic consumer intents is now a minimum requirement of doing business, noted Rurik Bradbury, global head of communications and research at LivePerson Inc., which sells messaging solutions. These basic tasks include checking a balance, paying a bill or transferring money.

Now it's time for banks to deliver on the next 90 requests, such as disputing transactions, activating a card, changing a PIN and originating a loan. Being able to handle these tasks digitally would save banks in labor costs by covering the vast majority of intents, Bradbury estimated.

The 'why' behind digital

Success in the digital world is defined by more than convenience. The roots of satisfaction run much deeper, noted Liraz Margalit, a web psychologist and head of behavioral research at Clicktale, which helps retailers perform analytics on browsing patterns to make improvements in the experience.

"One of the basic human needs is to feel in control," Margalit said. "If I'm sending you a message, you don't have to reply right away. You can edit it. You can choose when to read it at what time of day. You control the time and context."

"Once we get used to this type of control, we cannot go back," Margalit added. "The brain has made a new association, and has changed its wiring."

Smartphones have been an integral part of this rewiring. "Mobile has become not only a part of our lives, but also a part of us," Margalit said. "Mobile is more emotional, because mobile is actually an extension of our bodies. We know that mobile for us is our connection to a social world."

Be where the consumers are

Against this backdrop, it's important for banks to sell where the buyers are and make the products easy to use, noted Julien Courbe, U.S. asset management advisory leader at PwC. "For banks to be successful, the first thing is convenience and user experience," he said. It's about creating "an individualized and personalized delivery for customers that makes it a very intuitive experience."

Digital Body Language

LivePerson helps banks manage chatbots, using artificial intelligence to analyze text and offer automated responses. Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), a client, uses software that pulls in human agents when needed.

"The next frontier is conversational business," Bradbury said. "Chatbots handle everything they are able to, but then seamlessly hand over a conversation to a human agent if they don’t understand or can’t perform a task."

Banks can also use metrics to monitor and use the data to improve the experience, Margalit added. Clicktale, which serves large retailers such as Walmart and financial institutions such as RBS, uses data to categorize a visitor's behavior. Metrics such as cursor location, the scrolling speed and the time between clicks all give clues on user intent, information that Clicktale categorizes into one of five behavioral patterns: goal-oriented, disoriented, mindful, lack of interest and exploratory.

For example, goal-oriented shoppers know what they want, and shouldn't be interrupted with pop-up coupons. Let them shop. "There are some behavioral patterns that users use to communicate their intent," Margalit said. "This is their digital body language."

For banks, understanding that language and building loyalty in the digital realm gets back to business basics about serving the customer.

"The days of analog banking are long behind us," Bradbury said. "Digital is built around customers’ convenience — and not the brand's."