Branches are evolving alongside the burgeoning digital bank experience. They’re in a transitional period, climbing out of the primordial ooze and standing on their feet. The ABA Banking Journal highlights how some banks are rethinking the branch experience with a “laser-like emphasis on cross-selling”.
The Mighty Morphin’ Branch Experience
[Branches will evolve] away from focusing on the low-value, day-to-day transactions at the teller window, to a place where customers can get the one thing they can’t get anywhere else: face-to-face interaction with a person.
Branches’ once-predicted demise assumed they wouldn’t adjust to cater to the changing needs and preferences of customers enamored with all sorts of digital channels, as well as the economies and efficiencies brought by electronic systems that banks themselves embraced.
But that assumption failed to recognize that even the most gadget-addicted customer still goes into stores. At times, such customers still want to meet eyeball-to-eyeball with human beings to talk about big decisions, to get financial advice, to apply for business loans, and even to clear up some error or misstep by the bank. [Emphasis mine -Ed.]
“The role of the branch in the future is really going to become more of a customer service advice center,” says Sean Keathley, president, Adrenaline, the experience design agency recently spun off from NewGround. “The role of the branch is a place for human connection. That’s what can’t happen in the other channels.”
In short, when there’s a big decision to be made, people are at the branch. You don’t order a mortgage online through Amazon, so to speak.
The branch should be used in service of important events in customers’ lives. Don’t ask your customers to come all the way down to your branch just for a day-to-day transaction. Day-to-day, low impact decisions should move to digital spaces while big decisions continue to happen face-to-face.
Banks need to change how the branch is perceived, refiguring its image around technology, passionate people and appointments.
Technology – Automated Experiences
Most banks use tellers to handle boring day-to-day transactions. Typically this costs about 22 times as much as a digital transaction! Branch employees should be there to engage customers and help with specific needs while kiosks or ATMs expedite simple processes.
An unlikely analog can be found in grocery stores. Many grocery stores offer self-checkout where customers scan, bag and pay for items on their own. The store gets more open checkout lanes operating at a reduced cost.
Simple transactions should be moved to digital as much as possible. However, the human element of the branch should absolutely not be eliminated. When the customer has a need there should be someone knowledgeable who can help.
Passionate People – Personal Experiences
The #1 differentiator of physical branches is that they’ve got people in them. Banks need to leverage these face-to-face interactions while including a digital component.
Think Apple Store. You go in, you can mess around with an iPad. If you need help there’s someone there. Apple has created this perception that their employees know a lot and can help. That’s what banks need to do.
Employees should be able to engage the people who have come all the way down to the branch. A customer should come to the branch knowing that someone is going to help them. Not with a basic transaction, with something more important. Passion drives positive branch experiences.
Appointments – Relevant Experiences
With more digitization and a refined human element in the branch, banks need to make branch appointments a priority.
As the ABA Banking Journal notes, customers want to meet “eyeball-to-eyeball” when they’re facing an important decision. Technology is an “enabler” allowing us to connect in new ways. Digital experiences should lead people towards appointments where they can get help from passionate people.
By targeting big, important life events, people will come to you to learn and talk. Everyone’s looking for answers and most don’t want a product offer upfront.
All of us are constantly assailed with different rates and offers, each with a novel-length asterisk. Banks should start off by letting their passion show. People buy from answer providers. The most important thing you can tell you customers is “we can help”. That’s what will drive in-branch appointments.
The Reimagined Branch
These ideas won’t sound so futuristic for long. Chase Bank, for one, has already begun moving in this direction. As an industry, we need to rethink the branch. It should be leaner, helping digital to do what digital does great, while maintaining face-to-face engagement with customers around the issues and products that are important and relevant to them.