The future of the branch: What can banks learn from luxury retail customer experiences?

It may be time to start looking at branch locations as modern customer engagement centers, fully integrated with multiple connection channels offering consistent and seamless customer experiences.

By Jackie Hudson

The bank branch has traditionally been a customer service center. But as digital transformation has changed the way consumers interact with their financial institutions, the purpose of the branch needs to continue to evolve.

Digital banking has significantly reduced the need for many transactions to be carried out in person. Verint’s VXI Banking report found that 53 percent of consumers use digital channels to conduct transactions, compared to just 23 percent who visit a branch.

But in-person banking is not dying. Our research shows that having convenient locations is the fifth most popular factor when choosing a new bank. In fact, when it comes to opening an account with a second financial institution, a local branch is the number one reason consumers give for choosing a bank. People still need human interaction, whether it’s for resolving more complex issues or advice and expert guidance.

It’s simply time to reinvent and redefine the local branch by finding ways to blend digital and in-person banking, providing the digital services that their customers want, while still having access to a branch.

Evolving the branch

Convenient locations are clearly still important to bank customers. No matter where consumers start researching a new bank account, 37 percent of those journeys still conclude in-person. The branch is still popular among older generations. It is the first port of call for more than a quarter of Baby Boomers when they need to contact their bank. However, what customers need from face-to-face interactions has changed. In-branch banking did not even feature in the top 10 factors for choosing a bank in our VXI banking report. So how can the branch be repurposed to fulfill bank customers’ needs?

It may be time to start looking at branch locations as customer engagement centers: a place that is fully integrated with other engagement channels and offers a consistent and seamless customer experience.

The branch can also become an important hub for younger generations, who can benefit from assistance with more complex financial management, citing cost cutting, subscription management and creating a budget as issues they need help with. Digital tools and apps are obviously integral to assisting Generation Z and Millennials with their banking needs. But coupling those with other forms of face-to-face customer engagement, whether in-person or via video chat, would provide a much more complete support system and help to build long-lasting relationships with an age group that is not as brand loyal as older demographics.

Providing a luxury customer experience

Customers of high-end retailers have an expectation of the kind of experience they’re likely to receive: one-to-one appointments, personalized communications and expert purchasing guidance. Consumers are receiving this kind of experience when buying luxury items so it’s not unreasonable to expect a similar level of service from a bank when making large financial decisions around loans, investments or money management, which involve far larger sums. Banks could consider creating a location that offers appointment-only, non-transactional support and guidance as a way to treat these major financial decisions with the same importance as their customers do.

To provide a luxury experience, banks can offer the convenience of online appointment booking, which helps ensure the right employee with the right skills is available to address the customer need — regardless of channel. For walk-ins, banks can better orchestrate their in-branch experience by offering the ability for them to digitally check in and reserve their place in the queue. This respects their time and provides transparency into wait times, while also alerting bankers of the topics to be covered. Bankers can now take a few moments to prepare before meeting with the customer.

Most financial institutions are not set up to achieve this level of service. We found that when people visited branches, nearly 40 percent ended up waiting for assistance for longer than expected. If the branch is going to become a customer engagement center, a vital step is to make them part of a connected ecosystem that offers consistent experiences no matter what channel customers are using to interact.

In addition, real-time access to customer data, giving branch personnel a holistic view of customer transactions, history and value to the bank, can optimize in-person interactions. The banker will be seen as “knowing” the customer and can quickly personalize the discussion, perhaps seamlessly picking up on a process started in a digital channel. All these capabilities enable prepared, personalized conversations that focus on customer needs.

Three steps to creating customer engagement centers

Reshape the bank workforce. As banks transition to being engagement centers instead of service centers, the staff will need to be retrained to support the growing needs and preferences of their customers, including understanding the full suite of digital capabilities. As well as being able to help manage customer interactions across multiple channels, they will need to provide expert advice and guidance.

Determine exactly what your customers want. To create a customer engagement center, banks need to understand how consumers feel about the modern branch experience. Creating a continuous feedback loop that collects immediate responses from customers will help to evaluate specific interactions in real-time. With the ability to recognize where branch services are falling short or receiving positive reactions, banks can refine their model to ensure they’re providing the best services. As well as spotting issues that occur at a branch, region or organization-wide level and make changes before they become a larger issue.

Tie the journey together. The advantages of a reimagining of the bank branch will be lost if the customer journey is not connected across every touchpoint. As mentioned earlier, more than 60 percent of customers opening new accounts began on digital channels, but 37 percent completed the action in-person. Modern journeys are complex. Banks need to remove data and organizational silos that prohibit a customer’s data from being available to staff working across every channel, especially the branch. It goes hand in hand with reshaping the workforce and creating a “luxury” experience for customers and opens the door to creating a high-quality digital experience.

With silos removed between channels and customer facing teams, banks can start to rival luxury retail brands in the kind of experience they deliver. Customers can use their mobile app or private messaging channels to book appointments, receive reminders ahead of meetings or speak to an adviser who has access to all relevant information.

With connected journeys allowing the blending of physical and digital experiences, banks can provide the personalized and seamless CX loved by luxury retail customers and rebrand the branch as the bank’s modern customer engagement center.

Jackie Hudson is the leader of Verint’s branch workforce solutions business.