Human Interaction in a Digital World

By Joe Salesky

More consumers are tuning out digital advertising. Can the branch compensate by delivering personalized conversations?

Banks are facing new opportunities—and new challengesas more consumers choose to bank through digital channels. In fact, PwC’s 2017 Digital Banking Survey found that today, nearly 46% of consumers use only digital channels, a substantial increase from the 27% doing so just four years ago.

With this shift to digital banking, the value of branches has been put into question, prompting record branch closures.

Since the financial crisis, more than 10,000 branches have been shuttered, an average of three per day. In the first half of 2017 alone, a net 869 brick-and-mortar entities shut their doors, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

But despite the move to digital, consumers still crave personal interactions from their banking providers. A TimeTrade consumer survey revealed that all ages—and perhaps surprisingly, younger generations—value the option to visit an actual, physical branch. Even as we look to the future, consumers will still be using branches. According to Accenture, 87% of consumers plan on using their branches in the future—and want human interaction when they go there.

As digital banking has moved to the forefront of consumer’s minds, financial leaders have turned their focus to digital marketing. But is that what consumers want?

Nine of the top 25 overall digital ad spenders are financial services companies, according to Kantar research. The truth is, however, consumers don’t just value brick-and-mortar entities. They also value personalized marketing. They want conversations, not ads.

According to an Accenture survey, consumers actually expect a more personalized experience when it comes to product and service offerings. Despite the fact that 82% of 18 to 24-year-old smartphone owners use mobile banking, consumers do not like mobile advertising. When it comes to mobile marketing, 70% of people dislike it according to a 2016 study from HubSpot.

Consumers want it all—deals and incentives, convenience, relevance, and banking experiences that combine the latest in digital banking with human interaction. To adapt, branch layout and size will have to change. And more importantly, the front-line staff will have to become product advisors, not tellers and transaction assistants. Successful organizations will be the ones that remove friction and collaborate to make branches a place that customers will want to visit.

3 Branch initiatives required to deliver better financial marketing and foster stronger relationships.

  1. Organize Shockingly, many banks do not have an effective way to track leads or referrals across their departments. Data compiled by HubSpot revealed that:
  • Less than 45% of companies are using some form of CRM to store lead data.
  • 40% of salespeople are still using informal lead tracking spreadheets in
  • 18% of salespeople claim they don’t even know what a CRM system is.

In response to the digital shift in financial services, banks must adjust their priorities and speed up their digital transformation efforts. Banks must organize prospective customers’ contact information into one, unified platform, enabling them to both measure their marketing effectiveness and also begin to foster relationships through strategic engagement. Discussions and referrals must be captured and managed in order to ensure reliable follow-up and avoid missed opportunities.

  1. Unify – In addition to having an effective way to track leads and referrals, banks must also invest in making the branch experience frictionless—and the lives of branch staff and customers easier. A collaborative, engaging, and transparent environment is needed to ensure that customers’ experiences are consistent across all channels—whether face-to-face or digital.

Currently, only 27% of consumers say they receive a completely seamless experience from their bank’s branch, online, and mobile channels. That’s down seven percentage points in just one year, according to Accenture. By automating internal processes, banks can avoid customers being put on hold for unnecessarily long amounts of time or waiting for simple tasks to be completed.

One key to removing friction is the ability to streamline onboarding. As actor Will Rogers once said, “You will never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Banks should carefully balance marketing needs with effective user flow design, and wherever possible—keep it simple. Fixing friction in the branch also allows associates the ability to spend more time growing their knowledge of the customer and the products they offer and ultimately, better serve customers over time.

  1. Transform Last, but certainly not least, banks must learn to transform from transactional centers to sales and advisory centers. The majority of consumers (79% as of 2015) continue to view their banking relationships as transactional, not advice-based, according to Accenture. This perception must change as consumers see themselves using the branch more in the future. In order to truly transform, systems need to be intuitive so that teams can focus on product knowledge instead of systems knowledge.

Before blindly adding new technology, banks must assess end-to-end processes within the branch that need improvement. True transformation is not something that can be simply checked off of a to-do list. Banks must take a granular look at each touchpoint along each customer’s journey and understand the breaking points causing delays. Technology can then be applied in the right way to help transform both simple and complex customer journeys. Ultimately, the branch experience should ensure a human touch is blended tightly within a savvy, high-tech environment.

This shift to digital banking has come in many forms—mobile banking apps, mobile advertising, and even the replacement of branches with digital-only banks.

But in spite of this shift, branches are still necessary and more importantly, preferred. According to Accenture, the bank branch of the future will be different—not dead—because every dollar of advertising realizes a 5x increase in impact in markets with a branch footprint. The mission is in finding the perfect number of branches per market to retain this effect. Branches of the future will be vital destinations where digital banking and human interaction meet.

To achieve this reality, branch marketing strategies must change. Banks must refocus branch strategies ensuring superior customer experiences while working to enable staff to better market products and services while forming strong relationships. To do just that, banks must organize, unify and transform their branches from mere transactional centers to sales and advisory centers.

Joe Salesky is CEO CRMNEXT, a leading global CRM solution provider in financial services. With more than one million bankers and one billion customers globally, CRMNEXT effectively recalibrates banks’ potential to grow engagement, quality, profitability, service and innovation. For more information, visit:, or follow them on Twitter @CRMNext or LinkedIn and Facebook.