Industry News

As everyday banking goes digital, branches need higher touch


Chandrashekar Gopalarao | Wednesday, April 5, 2017

American Banker

Banks are rapidly moving from branch banking to branch-less banking, or at least, less-branch banking. But despite the major technological shift, there are still a lot of customers who want to interact with humans, and their desired tasks are more complicated than the simple transactions — depositing checks, paying bills, etc. — that traditionally defined branch banking.

These more sophisticated branch-visiting customers are more interested in the interactions they experience in person than in everyday transactions. These interactions are often related to a task the consumer attempted online already. And in the digital age, when individuals are used to getting answers online quickly, they also expect quick resolution of the in-person query as well.

To understand the complexities involved in interactions as opposed to transactions, let’s consider some examples:

* John wants to get a home loan. He walks into a pop-up branch — with video kiosks instead of in-person employees — near his office to figure out what kind of loan or line of credit is good for him. He places the video call for a human adviser and is put on hold. After waiting for a few minutes, he hangs up and walks into the nearest branch in hopes of meeting a human adviser in person.

* Laura logs into her bank’s website. She looks around for information about the student loan she wants to take for her graduate course next year. She also enters some of her personal information into the website to see if she qualifies for the loan. She discovers that she is eligible for the loan. However, it’s not clear whether she can combine multiple loans into a single loan in the future. She decides to walk into the branch to find out.

* Scott books an in-person bank appointment using the institution’s mobile app and walks into the branch at the scheduled time. He doesn’t, however, inform the app why he is visiting the branch because the reason falls under “other” in the drop-down list on the bank app.

* Betty simply walks into the branch to understand why her checking account was charged $30 last month.

* Robert wants to open a new account with the bank and is particularly interested in finding out how different types of CD products work and which product is best for him.

The challenges to handling customers’ nuanced problems in the branch are many — particularly when banks are making their branches leaner.

John and Laura have already spent some time trying to find answers to their questions; therefore, they will expect to pick the conversation up where they left off when they visit a branch.

Scott thinks that he won’t have to wait for a long time since he has already booked an appointment. The bank, which may not have the right expert at the branch, will have to find ways to make sure he doesn’t have to wait.

Seeing the $30 charge, Betty is worked up and eager to get it resolved quickly. She is probably thinking about moving to another bank if she is not happy with the answers she gets from the bank. She needs to leave the branch with the feeling that the person she spoke to is genuinely interested in solving her problem — with that personal touch — rather than just explaining to her how the fee is calculated.

Someone who really understands various product variants has to talk to Robert. It is important to create a great first experience for Robert. Otherwise, he may decide to go to a different bank.

To address all of the various scenarios above, banks will have to staff the right set of people in the branches. Obviously, it’s not possible to have experts of every single product and service offered by the bank in the branch when the idea is for banks to have lean branches. However, banks should strive to staff wide-ranging experts in their branches.

As consumers want predictability in terms of waiting times, banks may also need to have different lines or even different areas of the branch to separate walk-in customers and others.

Clearly, the number and nature of human interactions is likely to keep changing as technology continues to mature and machines start handling some of the interactions in addition to transactions. But until then, re-training the staff to handle the interactions is just as important as getting banks’ technology up to speed.

This article was licensed through Dow Jones Direct.

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