The mid-aughts were years bankers now look back on wistfully. Back then, generating deposit growth was as simple as adding new branches. But soon the economic downturn and a wave of digital disruption forced banks to stop focusing on their physical footprint and start giving love to their digital presence with more automation.

Fast forward to 2018, and congratulations are now in order. The financial industry has successfully automated transactional activities. Now what?

Research shows it may be time to focus on optimizing a different kind of customer experience: branch banking. Celent recently conducted a survey of U.S. customers to find out what they expect and how they engage with their financial institutions today. And while customers love automation for transactional activities (deposits, transfers, payments), it turns out they still appreciate the human touch for other situations.

When the Call Center Is Preferred

Celent found that 53 percent of consumers actually prefer to use the call center for short answers. It makes sense. Talking to a human is often faster than trying to self-serve, and offers more confidence in the answer.

Of course, there’s another great reason banks should focus on their call center: It holds the institution’s largest cache of data. As we move into the era of machine learning and AI in banking, the call center offers a rich store of customer service data that can be analyzed and put to use across the bank, from programming chatbots to extracting product insights and beyond.

Branches Are Unbeatable for Important Financial Milestones

The call center may have answers to customers’ short questions, but when it comes to bigger financial needs, 77 percent of customers prefer to visit the branch. The most common branch banking scenarios cited by customers include investment advice, financial planning and new account openings — big life decisions that consumers don’t want to make without the support and expertise of their banks.

This is all phenomenal news for financial institutions. Your real estate and human resource investments are going to pay off big time — as long as you can deliver the consultative experience your customers want. But keep in mind that milestone moments happen only a few times in each customer’s life, meaning if you don’t get those interactions right, it could come back to bite you — or more accurately, not come back at all.

Three Pillars of a Consultative Banking Experience

There are three main pillars of a consultative experience that meets customers’ needs and deepens loyalty:

1. It’s born in mobile.

You may think of mobile and branch as two separate service channels, but our mobile devices have become an extension of us. Not only do your customers have their mobile devices with them when they visit a branch — your staff can also leverage mobile devices to make the branch banking experience more cohesive.

Traditionally, lending officers, tellers and other branch personnel have been locked to a desktop machine. But in the same way that retail stores are increasingly outfitting sales staff with mobile devices such as tablets that can help them look up customers’ account details and perform transactions anywhere in the store, financial institutions need to become mobile-centric.

Your workforce should be able to access work portals and information; deliver marketing, product and inventory information to customers; access CRM data; complete transactions; and authenticate transactions by interacting with the customer’s device.

What does this look like in action? Upon entering your branch, your customers should receive a message that enables them to check in. Checking in should trigger a notification on the smartwatch of the most appropriate team member.

As customers wait, your digital signage should display messages and offers that are relevant to them. Soon they should be greeted by a team member with a smartphone or tablet who can take notes and help the customer fill out forms as they relocate to an office for a more in-depth discussion. Once the customer is finished with their forms, the representative can dock the device and proceed with the discussion.

Intelligent in-branch technology can improve operations behind the scenes as well, from smart displays to digital whiteboards and other collaboration tools.

Sound too futuristic? This scenario is less than a few months from being a reality, and since nothing moves faster than customer expectations, you can expect it to become table stakes soon after.

2. It’s intelligent.

When a customer phones your call center, they expect and understand that the rep will have a full 360-degree view of their account at the click of a few buttons.

Your in-branch experience should be the same way. Relationship managers should have access to a dashboard for each customer that makes it unnecessary for customers to provide extensive details that already exist somewhere in the bank’s records.

When your customer walks in, they should feel like you know them — and you should, if you want to have a proactive and productive consultation that truly helps the customer.

3. Security must be high.

In the same way that online banking environments are held to high security standards, the branch will be too. With more devices floating around your branches, it’s vital that you incorporate solid endpoint security.

Customers need to know their data is just as safe on your lending officer’s tablet as it is on your online banking system. That’s why a key part of any security program is communicating to customers how you’re keeping their sensitive information safe.

It’s Always Been About People

It may feel like an oxymoron to focus on technology in order to improve the human-to-human experience, but good technology can help us serve customers in superhuman ways. The in-branch experience should marry the best attributes of all channels — the convenience of online banking, the knowledge of the call center and the personal touch of the local teller — to make a deep connection with your customers when they need it most.

Congratulate your team on all that you’ve accomplished so far, then reset and get back in the trenches. Your digital transformation is far from over.

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