Build Warmer Relationships with Your Bank Customers

Banking has traditionally been a serious experience, and for good reason. Customers want to be able to trust that their money is safe in a professional institution. Yet, this emphasis on credibility and authority has a potential downside. In an effort to increase trust, the overall feel of a bank may become cold, intimidating and sterile. These perceptions are not ideal since they can lead to negative emotional associations with your brand. Customers that develop these associations with banking may dread the experience, and only develop a surface-level, transaction-based relationship with their financial institution. So, how can this outcome be avoided? How do you create a sense of authority while maintaining a welcoming, warm brand experience?

Answering this question is challenging, and is all about balance: balancing corporate seriousness with human empathy, and credibility with playfulness. The tools to perform this balancing act are branding elements. First is branch and service design. How does your branch layout and design invoke the right feel? How do your staff and processes facilitate your ideal brand experience? Second is corporate identity design and strategy. How does your identity speak to who you are as a brand to better connect with your customers? Do your initiatives support your identity? These elements of branch design, service design, corporate identity and social responsibility can all work together to create a warmer relationship with your banking customers.

Branch design

Branch design sets the tone for the banking experience. Is the lighting harsh and the seating uncomfortable? Does the bank feel like a place or simply a space? Design cues such as decor and materials influence customer perceptions of a bank, and can help create a more welcoming environment. Financial institutions such as Capital One and Tangerine are testing this approach with their café style branches in an attempt to create warmer banking experiences. Branch layout can also affect perceptions. For example, a bank that is difficult to navigate may come off as overwhelming and confusing. One that is too open may lack privacy and make customers anxious. These negative emotions are obviously not ideal and can lead customers to despise in-branch banking. And yet, well-designed banks have the potential to positively influence customer emotions and help create better experiences.

Service design

Facilitated by branch design, service design looks at how brand touchpoints fit into a whole experience, including digital channels. It’s important to consider this big picture view because it is how customers will remember their interaction with your brand. For example, uncoordinated efforts between channels and handing off customers between different staff roles and departments may result in an impersonal or fragmented customer experience. In SLD’s design of Regions Bank, the customer journey was carefully considered to create a holistic brand experience. How staff interact with customers is also an important factor. Staff are able to offer a personal connection and humanize the banking experience, therefore staff training is integral to service design. Furthermore, process barriers, such as administrative paperwork, unnecessary requirements, or inflexible appointment times can leave customers frustrated, intimidated and feeling misunderstood. Creating a seamless, friendly customer journey with fewer barriers and pain points can remove negative emotions in the banking experience and help customers feel less like a number.

Corporate identity and social responsibility

Corporate identity design provides a platform for specific associations, characteristics and expectations. It communicates who you are, which creates a human-like persona that will form a relationship with your customers. Visual elements that make up your corporate identity include brand messaging, logos, signage and graphics. Strategic elements include brand positioning, brand values, personality, mission and vision. These elements construct a representation of your brand for your customers and also align thinking within your organization. Corporate social responsibility is part of your identity since it is what you do and translates talk into actions. It could include initiatives such as community support, commitment to environmental causes, or improving financial literacy. For example, Bank of Montreal (BMO) uses the tagline “We’re here to help,” provides “banking with a human touch” and supports community and environmental causes to show they care. Creating a warm, caring brand identity will help customers feel more emotionally connected and loyal to your financial institution.

Through branch design, service design, corporate identity, and social responsibility, financial institutions can build a warmer relationship with their customers. With an increase in more convenient digital and automated methods, and potential distrust in major banks, the industry is facing a future of impersonal and skeptical customer relationships. Therefore, there is a real opportunity to put more heart into banking experiences. Bank advertising seems to be currently recognizing this need. The TD Thanks You campaign, for example, shows customers that they are valued in a personal way. If branch experiences, financial services, and corporate identities and initiatives follow this approach, there is potential to create strong, positive emotional connections with financial institutions and to make banking a more enjoyable experience overall.