I've been fascinated with the concept of "showrooming" since before I knew what it was called. While accompanying my wife on a shopping excursion a few years back, I witnessed her take out her smartphone and scan the item she was interested in buying.
Within seconds, she could see how much nearby stores were charging for the product. The real kicker was that Amazon had the cheapest price on that particular item and offered free shipping. Boom. Done.
I remember feeling just a little bad about taking up a retailer's time (and air conditioning) and then buying the product from Amazon. My wife felt no such twinges of guilt: it truly is a retailing jungle out there.
Over the past few years, showrooming has become even more mainstream. Amazon's recent launch of the Fire Phone had me shaking my head and thinking that things just got real. Its killer app, Firefly, is reported to be the most advanced, seamless showrooming tool to date. CNN Money described the phone as "a shopping device that makes calls."
Folks can debate whether the Fire Phone is truly a game changer. What can't be denied is that modern, mobile technology continues to transform some of our most basic shopping and researching habits.
Bankers aren't the type of retailers most people think of when they discuss the challenges that showrooming presents to traditional stores. But I'd suggest that technology is transforming what customers are looking for in their banker interactions as well.
Not long ago, most people looked to professionals as the unquestioned subject matter experts in their fields. Bankers, lawyers, doctors, mechanics and others had information that others simply didn't have access to.
Today, people carry the collective wisdom of the entire internet in their pockets. Folks can do their own quick (or exhaustive) research on any number of matters. I've joked with bankers that it was never a good idea to "wing it" when you weren't sure of the answer to a customer's question. These days, it's especially perilous.
Customers can and will fact-check you to your face. They either already know all about the products, services, rates and fees offered by you and your competitors, or they can find out in seconds.
When I've made that point to groups of front-line bankers, many have smiled and nodded. Some have spoken of customers who whip out their smartphones to verify the accuracy of information during meetings.
While bankers' reputation as the unquestioned authorities on financial services may be changing, the importance of face-to-face interactions has not lessened. In many ways, it has only increased.
Almost every bank customer has his or her choice of dozens of other financial institutions in our markets. (And competitors can be "in our market" with or without extensive branch networks.) No institution's technology will provide meaningful, sustainable differentiation; as technology gets cheaper, faster and better, it's increasingly table stakes to play the game. And our increasingly commoditized industry will not allow clear "price leaders" for extended periods of time.
If an individual bank won't win by having information that customers don't, or with technology and pricing that's better than the competition's, why would customers choose to do business with it?
The answer is simple. Customers will choose to do (or not do) business with you because of you. Our team members are the human interface of increasingly online operations.
Customers will ask themselves, "Do I know you? Do I like you? Do I trust you?" Their answers to those questions will make or break us.
Reciprocal relationships have been vital to humans for millennia. As our world becomes more technology-driven and seemingly less personal, some of our most basic survival instincts are as powerful as ever.
The instinct to associate with people we know, like, and trust remains a real behavior driver.
The operational details of our jobs will continue to evolve, as will the facilities and settings we conduct them in. But genuine human interactions and relationships remain as important as ever.
Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief development officer at Financial Supermarkets Inc., a Market Contractors subsidiary that offers design, construction, consulting and training services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.