I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Bank Customer Experience Summit in Chicago, which is devoted to all things branch transformation. While there, I had the opportunity to attend quite a few insightful sessions and wanted to share my most salient takeaways with you.
The definition of customer experience is changing
Doug Stephens of Retail Prophet kicked off the conference with a provocative thought: the definition of customer experience is shifting. Brands such as Sonos, Tesla, adidas, Nordstrom, and Amazon are offering exciting new formats and raising the bar on what defines a customer experience. Doug posited that stores are a new type of media, providing immersive and emotionally-charged engagement for customers. As store designs are morphing into these new experiences, their importance and relevancy in building brand loyalty is undeniable, despite initial predictions that they would be replaced by online sales. This major shift has been caused by a renewed interest and demand by Millennials for a new level of experience for all types of retailers. This learned behavior setting the bar high for customer experiences in bank branches, which remain a critical cog in banks’ brand loyalty ecosystems. Although the relevancy of the branch network is no longer in question, the experiences offered will need to evolve quickly to stay in step with customer shopping expectations.
Tablets can be a key part of the branch experience
Tablets, such as the beginners drawing tablets, were a core element of their bank transformation programs and where primarily driven by wanting branches to remain cool and relevant. Their programs, through both successes and failures, identified real world insights bankers should keep in mind when considering tablets as customer engagement tools. Namely:
- Staff training is critical to ensure ease of familiarity and depth of knowledge..
- Tablets most effective as part of a staff service experience; the screen is to small for most self-service applications.
- Tablets must be placed in ideal locations with adequate seating.
- Content is critical and should not be a scaled version of the website. If used for self-guided experiences, the content needs to be curated to meet the knowledge needs of customers and well beyond the notion these devices will be used for customer banking (mobile devices are the customers preferred choice).
- Ensure adequate operational processes are in place to ensure content is refreshed, confidential customer information is wiped after every use, and access to other non banking websites is curtailed.
- Ensure a separate banker tablet versus customer self-use tablet wifi networks to ensure a high degree of security and network speed. There is nothing more annoying for both staff and customers than a painstakingly slow network.
Ultimately, tablets are best used to drive better interaction and mobility between front-line staff and customers, allowing the seamless integration of sales and transaction available for sharing anywhere in the branch. A secondary benefit of tablets is their ability to track usage and behavior by the staff, thereby helping identify areas for further training and improved sales choreography. Sergio Magalhaes also noted tablets are best used in paperless branches, thus ensuring staff do not migrate back to old paper habits. When asked if both retailers and tablet providers had any potential ROI data that would support the use of tablets, it was noted that not much is currently available due to the early stages of development of this technology.
Branch relevancy demands the right places, spaces, and faces
I learned a lot from another breakout session, moderated by Reginald Jones of Samsung, with Dena Roten of Citigroup and Charles Liu of Bank of America. Citigroup has embarked on a branch transformation program under the CitiGold branch program, empowering smaller more nimble branches with a higher level of technology and customer engagement. The new branch program is part of their three pillar initiative, focusing on:
Interest in the latest technologies has overshadowed the role staff plays in driving customer loyalty and net promoter scores
The right places: location strategy plays an important role in determining the type of branch being built, based on the trading area’s customer demographics and business needs. No longer is Citi providing one-size-fits-all service; their channel strategy is working to better align the branch size and layout to the specific needs of the given community. In addition, Citigroup identified a focus on on infilling urban locations in tune with the explosive population growth of major cities around the globe.
The right spaces: in support of aligning the right services to the surrounding business area, Citigroup has also explored a new branch layout that is nimbler, more digitally savvy, and engaging. This has allowed for a shift from over the counter transactions toward more consultative elbow-to-elbow sales interactions. The use of digital is now playing a more pivotal role in creating stickiness in the customer relationship. This is a fair warning to all those financial institutions that have been siting on the fence when it comes to adopting digital signing and immersive technologies.
The right faces: Personally, I think Citigroup misordered these priorities. To me, identifying the right faces is the most critical dimension of building brand loyalty. Why else do customers actually visit the branch? Citigroup is ensuring that the right staff with the right experience is engaging with their customers. This was one of the key points raised by Charles Liu – as part of their branch strategy, they are creating three distinct banking experts in each of their branches: loans, small business, and investment experts, each with a depth of experience and knowledge to help customers feel secure about their financial future. Although the conference featured great insights and speakers, I thought there was a lack of discussion of staff on-boarding, training, and brand engagement. The interest in the newest technology has overshadowed the role staff plays in driving customer loyalty and net promoter scores. Both Bank of America and Citigroup share the reduction of banking processes occurring in sight of customers and the introduction of technology to provide greater focus on the time staff spends engaging with customers.
I believe Citigroup’s position – “Make it here” – is very appropriate for keeping banks relevant. Other banks should consider these helpful tips:
- Your staff needs to understand the new digital platform and sales choreography.
- Customers are deeply rooted in ritualistic banking transaction behaviour and front line staff are pivotal for demonstrating the full power of the bank.
- Technology is there to help increase time for “enabling opportunities.”
- Centralize or eliminate non-customer facing activities by optimizing the work flow.
- Enable more experts in the branch to provide advice to customers.
- Lobby managers need to triage self-serve and full-service customers, as both are equally important.
More and more FIs are going paperless
Another common theme was the drive for branches to move from paper-driven transactions to paperless experiences, eliminating yet another process. Paperless was also seen as a way to eliminate customer experience friction points while allowing greater interaction between the staff and customers. In addition to moving to a paperless world, banks are also exploring more expedient on-boarding processes to reduce time and remove the burden of documentation from customers. Opentext presented on the importance of moving toward a digital platform for both security and efficiency reasons. Millenniumbcp mentioned that they had transitioned to a fully paperless experience in their prototype branches and the challenge was to ensure staff were fully embracing the new approach.
If you haven’t attended this conference in the past and are involved in managing the branch transformation for your institution, this is definitely a go-to place for industry insights. If I could make one improvement, it would be including a greater focus on staff on-boarding and engagement because, ultimately, staff members are the pivotal factor in delivering a great in-person experience for customers. Much has been shared regarding technology and design, and staff training isn’t a sexy topic, but the rewards of adaquately training, monitoring, and supporting front-line staff can make or break any transformation program.