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Our Vanishing Bank Branches
This was the title to an article I read in the Daily Mail (a somewhat fluffy British newspaper) by Victoria Bischoff on 7/30/14. There were several interesting elements to this article that are different from the usual emphasis on design and technology. Here is what I read:
This article takes the customer's viewpoint, and I find numerous enlightening insights in it.
The reporter focused on the entire experience and feel of the branch and the devices. There was very little said about the functionality. It basically stated that the machines and self-service can do anything that has to do with withdrawing and depositing money, as well as bill payments (the machines scan the barcode of the bill and then walk you through payment). We sometimes forget that functionality is assumed by the customer, and it is the experience they find most differentiating.
Several mentions were made regarding efficiencies and the motivation behind these moves, but even this reporter saw the value in this transformation to the customer. Lines move faster, she said, and the transactions are easier. My takeaway is, it's OK to achieve staffing and other efficiencies if the customer gains value from the end result. As the reporter said, after visiting five different high-tech bank branches there is value in this new concept.
On-site technical support is essential to improved experience and adoption rates. Those "Digital Eagles", the British banks' answer to Apple's Genius Squad, is key to success. Economizing on that aspect of the staffing is a mistake. Further, the Techies also assist customers in non-bank matters, thereby giving them a reason to come to the bank beyond their immediate banking needs, which is a good thing if you're an effective cross-seller. Last, it build trust and creates value-add.
In one paragraph the reporter described the branch as feeling like a hotel not like a bank. That's another interesting aspect that many banks have worked on. Our ultimate goal, as the reporter wisely points out, is to get people to the branch for cross-selling activities. The welcoming atmosphere of the branch and its comfortable surroundings facilitate listening to pitches and product information. It is amazing what impact the perception of comfort has on the amount of time spent in a location. Starbucks is a perfect example of that. Having a welcoming facility staffed with people who aren't connected to a desk or a screen is an important step to achieve an atmosphere transformation.
Achieving a seamless digital experience is another element to the transformation. I thought it interesting that the reporter noticed that the remote adviser worked in a facility that looked just like the branch she was in - a small but significant detail. She reported favorably on the mortgage application experience, something that is not easy to achieve, especially given the importance and complexity of the transaction. The availability of the scanner and two screens was crucial to the seamlessness of the experience as well.
The Daily Mail article was another affirmation that banks worldwide are struggling with the same question: How do we sell to customers who don't come to the branch? And how to we serve those who do come to the branch for routine transactions more efficiently without losing the special connection we work so hard to establish with them? The elements of the "experience," efficiency, comfort, atmosphere, and seamless functionality mentioned above are part of the story; however, the first step toward success is to clearly define the desired end result both in terms of the customer experience as well as the economics. Only then can one move forward in creating a branch experience customers will want to return to again and again.
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