By Walt Albro
Many banks are talking about transforming their branch experience. But too often the focus is on new technology, notes Raja Bose, who is the vice president of Diebold’s Global Advisory Services.
“The answer is not always technology,” he says. “There are other things you can do to create meaningful change.” Bose spoke at the recent ABA Bank Marketing Conference in Denver.
Banks are concerned about customer experience because they are aware that good customer experience is positive both for the customer and for the bank. Banks have heard of companies such as Apple, Costco., Walt Disney, that are noted for their outstanding customer experience and are, as a result, rewarded with high stock prices. Bose observes that a survey of corporations that are noted for exceptional customer service showed that their stock prices were outperforming the market by 77 percent.
Good customer experience also helps to differentiate a bank brand. Unfortunately, fewer than 10 percent of consumers differentiate a bank by brand. On the other hand, 80 percent of consumers differentiate by brand on a common, everyday product such as toilet paper.
About 71 percent of consumers think of banking strictly as a transactional experience. Few think of banking as a relationship-driven experience, Bose says. Not surprisingly, nonbank entities are stealing portions of the bank’s business because of this.
The best opportunity to boost the bank’s customer experience lies in the branch, Bose notes. The largest portion of customer interaction with the bank still takes place in the branch—34 percent.
For community banks, the branch is their most visible form of advertising. Unlike national banks, community banks do not have the resources to engage in frequent television brand advertising. For most community banks, their branches represent the brand. “Banks spend a great deal of time making sure that their website reflects this brand, yet they ignore their branches,” Bose says.
So what are some simple, easy steps you can take to improve your customer experience today? A few tips:
Upgrade your staff. This is the single most impactful change you can make. You don’t need to replace your staff. You can retrain them or reconfigure their environment. The goal is to move from transactional to relationship banking. An excellent traditional teller is not the same as a teller who can greet and converse with a customer and do discovery.
“Some people can make that leap,” Bose says. “But a good relationship teller is a different type of person.”
At a Texarkanna bank, the best sales person is actually a former bartender, he says. Bartenders have experience relating to customers. When a financial institution in Austin, Texas, hires someone new, the company interviews the prospect six times—with the last interview conducted by a panel. “They spend a lot of time hiring and training the right people.”
At Barclays in the United Kingdom, they have “digital eagles,” that is, staff who are certified on 27 technologies, such as online banking, mobile banking, and can answer questions about technology from the customers. “The goal is to increase customer digital engagement.”
Change the environment. One bank has placed a semicircle of tiles on the lobby floor. Once a customer touches that line, they are greeted. The greeter stays with the customer throughout the visit. This bank is completely self-service. Near the self-service kiosk is a desk for holding sales discussions. Every customer visit is a high-value engagement. In the first year since the change, the sales are 67 percent higher.
Focus on creating relationships rather than cross-selling. The likelihood of a customer walking in off the street with a need for a checking account is very low. But, if you have the right staff, and they do the right thing—that is, if you create a relationship—the next time the customer has a financial need, he or she is going to think about coming to you.
Use your branches as complements to your digital channels. Too often, branches are isolated islands in a sea of digital. In today’s world, people buy things online and pick them up at the store. Banks can do the same. For example, some hair cutting salons offer an app that finds the nearby salons and tells you the wait time at each place. You can click and put your name in line for the desired salon. If you can do that for a haircut, why can’t you do that for a $250,000 mortgage? “It a simple thing, but it makes a difference.”
Don’t forget about your small-business customers. Develop a customer-experience for them as well. Create a small-business center where business people can come in and use WiFi or a conference room. Think of your branch as a place where you can promote small businesses. You can develop easy, low-tech approaches.
One financial institution allows small-businesses to leave their cards in a plastic rack. The facility has trouble keeping the rack stocked since so many customers take the cards.
The point is that, while technology is important, it doesn’t have to be your focus in order to achieve a successful branch transformation. “You can get pretty far without it,” Bose adds.
Walt Albro is the content editor of ABA Bank Marketing. Email: Walbro@aba.com.