BANKTHINK

How to Keep Customers Returning to Your Branches

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After having tried unsuccessfully to complete a transfer from his home, a businessman visits his local branch to handle the slightly complex transaction in person.

He enters the nondescript building and walks toward a teller who comes out from behind her desk to greet him. She leads him to a concierge located towards the back of the bank. After a brief conversation, the man is introduced to another bank employee, who escorts him to a private office. As they walk, the man mentions the failed remote transaction and the employee agrees it can be frustrating to complete some transactions remotely. The topic is dropped.

In the office, the bank employee sits at the desk and begins working on a computer; the man sits idle on the other side of the desk and takes in his surroundings. Reading racks stand empty. The room feels sterile and devoid of any character. The branch in general has this same feeling. The employee leaves the office and the man is left alone. To pass the time, he pulls out his iPhone. A short while later, the employee returns to the office, the transaction successfully completed. The man thanks the employee and leaves the bank.

Another happy customer? Actually no.

While the bank branch managed the transaction, it mismanaged the customer experience. This caused the customer, who happened to be me, to leave the branch unsatisfied. I also questioned my decision to bank there.

After 20 years as a consultant to banks, helping ensure the customer's perspective is reflected in the branch design, I found the experience at my own bank eye-opening.

So, what did the branch do that was terrible? Nothing. But at the same time, outside of handling the transaction, it did nothing particularly well either.

Today's reality is that all branches, regardless of whether they want to admit it, are subject to the litmus test of "am I relevant to my customers?”

The answer is quite simple. Relevancy is determined by the customer's experience at the branch – if it's positive and productive and offers something not attainable elsewhere, customers will see the branch's value and return.

A quick review of my branch visit, serves as a mini-tutorial on missed opportunities, or touch points, which could have been used to engage, inform, educate and impress.    

It starts with the failed remote transaction: Ideally, the data entered at home would have been saved in the system; so the employee could have picked up where I left off. Instead he started from scratch, costing me time. (Website navigation and a bank's online brand are for another column.)

The bank's lobby looked like any other building lobby – from 20 years ago. That's not the impression a branch wants to make. A customer should "feel” the bank brand as they walk through the doors. The lobby area is critical – it needs to be appealing and engaging. Digital signage is key. For on-the-go customers, the lobby should offer self-service technology.  

Welcoming should be friendly and efficient.  Greeters should be near the door and able to quickly triage customers to the best available resource within the branch. In my experience, a bank teller came from behind a desk in the back of the bank to greet me and then I was handed off, twice.  

Bank employees add value when they serve as advisers. While the bank employee who handled my transaction was knowledgeable and professional, he didn't attempt to connect with me.  He should have turned the computer screen toward me – showing me what he was doing and also asking about my other banking needs.

Optimize wait time by informing, educating and entertaining. This was probably the most glaring missed opportunity. I was a captive audience as I waited in the private office with no brochures to read, no tablet or touchscreen to explore and no bank personnel stopping by to tell me about the latest bank service. At one point, I thought, "Did they forget about me?"

Branches would benefit by looking at themselves through their customers' eyes: examining every touch point and asking "What will the customer be doing here?" and "Is this an opportunity to engage, inform or educate?"

Bank branches most likely will be surprised at the opportunities identified through such an exercise – one that would be smart to do sooner, rather than later. Otherwise that man who walked into the bank branch may never come back again.

Eduardo Alvarez is the managing director of Brand and Retail Strategy for NewGround, a design, brand, and implementation firm. He specializes in helping clients translate their financial brands in the retail marketplace.

 

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Comments (1)
Good piece. Good points. The only point I would challenge is whether or not being "wowed" by the branch experience would indeed increase your visits there. It definitely would increase your satisfaction in your choice of banks and may improve that bank's chances of getting further business from you (both good things). But it's unlikely to increase your branch visits. You were only there because you had to be. If (when) their technology gets better, you'll be happier still not making a branch trip at all.
Posted by My 2 Cents | Monday, January 14 2013 at 3:58PM ET
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