Royal Bank of Canada is betting on video as the next step in customer relationship management with its small-business customers.

The bank began offering a video chat service in December, partnering with the technology provider Vidyo, to its small-business customers in Canada and the U.S.

The service is designed to be a win-win. Busy entrepreneurs and small-business leaders get a solution ideal for their busy schedule.

"One thing about these clients is they are very time-starved; they're focused on building their business," said Claude DeMone, vice president of contact center technology at RBC.

Meanwhile, the bank gets a more cost-effective way to serve a business segment that typically needs a lot of hand-holding but often doesn't add much to the bottom line. A typical teller interaction costs a bank $4, while a meeting with a subject matter expert or personal banker in a branch costs even more, said Ed O'Brien, executive vice president of research and strategy for ath Power Consulting.

"A video meeting is much less expensive and you still have that customer experience on par with what they get in a branch," he said.

For banks, video can bridge the gap between the adoption of self-service digital channels and the benefits of in-person branch interactions. The most common way banks are using video is with interactive teller machines, which allows a remote teller do things like cash a check or dispense cash in denominations not typically featured at an ATM.

Essentially, despite the rise in digital adoption among bank customers, most people still want to speak to a banker for more complicated financial needs beyond basic transactions. That's where video comes in, said Eran Westman, Vidyo's CEO.

Take, for example, private banking clients who "are busy working or traveling and don't have time to come into a branch, but still want that personal relationship with a banker," Westman said.

Typically, interactions that happen with a banker in person tend to lead to more engagement, so being able to bring those interactions to customers who can't make it into a branch by video can be valuable, O'Brien said.

"And especially for the small-business customer, who are often very underserved within the banking community," he said. "But they are very loyal, and tend to remember the banks that helped them as they built their business."

Though small-business clients often have a need to speak to a banker in person, they can't always carve out the time to visit a branch, so they often resort to calling the contact center, DeMone explained. Now when they do so, they are given an option to connect by video instead. They are sent a link where they can initiate a video call with a contact center banker who has been trained in videoconferencing.

Besides the benefits of face-to-face interactions, the video chat function has capabilities not available on a regular phone call, DeMone said. For example, customers can share charts, graphs, spreadsheets and other critical documents with their banker in real time from right within the video call.

RBC may look at embedding the video chat function within its business banking app, so a customer can engage in a call with a few taps rather than with a call first, DeMone said. But the bank wanted to first get the product out to market as fast as possible and customers seem to like it.

"It's quick, simple and has worked incredibly well so far," DeMone said.

The bank is considering expanding the service to other parts of the business in 2017. But DeMone said RBC will be judicious in how it deploys video chat.

"Not every action lends itself to video," he said. "Some are better served by text chat, some by in-person interactions, some by phone. We're going to look at what offers the most value to our different customers."