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Personalization and scale are hard to achieve in a single banking institution.
Community banks can develop long-lasting personal relationships that make customers feel right at home, but they can’t scale their customer-friendly attributes.
Big banks, meanwhile, scale their technology with aplomb, but struggle to make thousands of customers feel at home.
Crossing this divide is a high priority at big banks, because the evidence is clear that customers want to be known and valued at the branch. In a recent study on behalf of Samsung, Celent asked banking customers this question: “Thinking of your most recent branch interactions, why did you engage with a banker in-person, rather than using a digital mechanism?” It turns out that even digital natives simply prefer in-person interactions when it comes to getting financing for house and car purchases, getting investment advice and performing other milestone tasks — even if online banking technology is available to them.
Now I’d like to pose a different question to any bank management personnel reading this: Customers clearly recognize the highly personal nature of a bank branch visit … but do banks? Let’s think about that.
How personal is your bank’s customer experience?
I ask because, for many banks, the in-branch experience has hardly changed in decades — except perhaps to become more transactional as the customer base has grown.
If you’re wondering whether this is true of your bank, ask yourself these questions:
Are customers greeted by name, even if they don’t regularly visit the branch?
If you have a greeter stationed near the door, what is that person’s capacity to answer complex questions or serve the customer?
How long do customers typically have to wait to meet with a specialist? Follow-up question: Does your bank track this wait time?
Do customers feel like your bank is listening to them, or do they have to repeat their need and situation to every new representative they speak with?
Creating Personalized Customer Experiences
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Maybe you’re thinking it’s humanly impossible to deliver the level of customer service I’m implying. In a way, you’re right. It’s impossible for humans alone, but forward-thinking banks are discovering that if their staff is equipped with the right expectations, procedural guidelines and banking technology, then personalized interactions with each and every customer will follow.
Making in-person interactions more personal
A good starting point for personalizing your bank’s branch experience is to think about the makings of any great interpersonal relationship.
Maybe your list will include items like the following:
Recognizing the other person’s individuality
Employees don’t need memories like steel traps to greet customers by name. They simply need the technology to recognize who’s about to walk in the door.
If a customer has your app installed on their phone, your network can recognize when the customer is approaching your institution. That can trigger an alert to specified personnel — say, your greeter — to let them know who is about to walk in the door. Wearables like smartwatches can make these alerts clean and discreet to avoid distracting other customers in the area.
Skeptical your customers want this kind of interaction? The Celent survey showed two-thirds of customers liked the idea of their banker greeting them by name even if they’d never met before. Technology can truly turn the hello and handshake into something more individual.
Being there when that person needs you
We all appreciate friends who make time for us. Imagine arriving at a friend’s house, only for them to make you wait alone in the living room for a half hour before speaking with you. And as the Celent study notes, branch visits often coincide with milestone moments such as a home purchase, so it behooves the bank to pay the utmost attention to an important life moment for the customer.
Obviously, a bank branch is a place of business, not a social club, but that’s no reason banks shouldn’t try to treat visitors with the same warmth and urgency a friend would. To cut wait times, you can enable customers to schedule specialty appointments online in order to plan and staff accordingly. To make wait times less isolating and more productive, consider giving each customer a tablet displaying information that’s relevant to their reason for visiting.
The higher touch and more personalized the waiting experience becomes, the less customers will feel like you’re wasting their time. Utilizing customers’ time productively fosters a positive experience and is just another way to build relationships and set your brand apart.
Listening actively and responding wisely
There’s nothing more frustrating than talking to a friend who never remembers what’s going on in your life. By the other token, when a relative stranger remembers important details about your last conversation, it makes a big impression.
Even banks have an opportunity to provide this kind of seamless relationship by standardizing on systems that share information across all channels. Your call center should know what was discussed in your customer’s last branch visit, and vice versa.
Taking it a step further, all branch personnel should be outfitted with the technology they need to fully serve the customer, whatever their position. Customers told Celent that unknowledgeable banking staff is one of the biggest reasons they’ll leave a bank for its competitor. So it’s well worth equipping your staff across roles and channels with the tablets and software they need to serve as a single, knowledgeable unit to provide a truly seamless customer experience.
You’ve put in the effort to build out your mobile banking capabilities — now turn your focus to personalizing the in-branch experience using the right policies and technology. After all, if the branch is the banking channel customers choose when they want personal attention, don’t you want to go above and beyond to meet that expectation?