It’s become conventional wisdom in the banking industry to say that the “branch of the future” must evolve from a place where customers primarily conduct transactions to one in which they can seek advice, guidance and professional service on all things financial. That, however, is easier said than done. Our surveys and those of others consistently show that the majority of customers do not view their local banker as their primary financial advisor.
How can this gap be bridged? The answer lies with turning frontline employees into both brand ambassadors and consultants for your institution. A brand ambassador is someone who fully embodies the brand they are representing. They should have a full grasp of your bank’s value proposition as well as be extremely knowledgeable and well-versed on your products and services, defined as being able to answer almost any question that a prospect or customer may have for them.
Attaining this level of proficiency turns your brand ambassadors into financial consultants, a level above that of salespeople fulfilling monthly product quotas. A consultant is honest and upfront about the products and services that will best meet the needs of the customer; establishing a bond of trust that is critical. And a good consultant will be able to skillfully recommend and cross-sell your products and eventually be viewed by customers as a trusted advisor. To develop good consultants, you need to create a process by which your employees can be comfortable and supported in making decisions that are in the customer’s best interest.
Here are some principles for helping you make that happen:
Serve your customers when, where and how they want to be served. Financial institutions have finally acknowledged that customers want control of when and where they bank. And, in today’s economy, we are seeing a greater likelihood of customers switching to another institution when they do not receive the service, convenience and solutions they expect.
To create a fully engaged, loyal customer, you must provide them with an exceptional customer experience as well as multi-channel self-service solutions, including ATMs, online and mobile banking services. You must also ensure that you provide a consistent experience across all of these channels. If a customer typically uses online banking to conduct transactions and always has a good experience, but goes to a branch and receives terrible customer service, that customer will be less likely to return to the branch, thus decreasing their engagement with the bank and the most effective medium of cross sale.
When it comes to consumer expectations and engagement, certain companies (think Apple, as many do!) have set the standard across the board for many industries. They have proven that it is possible to create a seamless and integrated experience across several channels, whether their customers are purchasing a product in one of their retail stores, buying a service online, via mobile, or having questions answered over the phone. ath Power research shows that banking customers who utilize multiple channels to conduct their business are much more engaged than those who do not. Furthermore, those who also hold multiple products or services with an institution are more loyal and less likely to leave. Banks that take a holistic approach and master the ability to align their brand promise across the channels that their customer base finds ideal will have an upper-hand in this industry.
Personalize the banking experience for your customers on all levels. Personalization has become a key element in developing fully engaged and loyal customers at financial institutions. Your customers want to feel special. They want to know that you appreciate their individual business and that they are not just an account number attached to a dollar amount.
To properly personalize the banking experience for your customers, make sure you are gathering information about them at all levels. In order to do so, you must utilize technology that supports a customer-centric approach rather than an account-centric approach. Such technology integrates data, systems and processes across all product lines and channels so that up-to-date customer information is available to your frontline at all times. This allows employees to have a 360° view into the customer’s history of interactions and banking products.
Many financial institutions have this technology in place, yet fail to use it to its full advantage. Train your frontline to properly use it to personalize every face-to-face interaction as well as detect opportunities to offer additional products, special pricing or value-added services relevant to each customer. Specific information can also be used to personalize the customer experience across all other channels, including your call center, online and mobile banking. Additionally, you should send personalized communications to your customers on a regular basis, whether it is in the form of email, mobile alerts or a telephone call. Our research shows that customers who receive a personalized banking experience with regular communication are much more satisfied and likely to stay with their bank than those who do not.
Achieve “Primary Institution” Status. Becoming a customer’s primary bank or credit union is increasingly difficult, but the opportunity is there and the concept of increasing “primary institution” status by even five basis points has a significantly incremental impact on profit. We’ve calculated that benefit for some of our clients as tens of millions of dollars in increased revenue at even slight increases on primary bank status. Do you know how many of your customers would consider you to be their primary financial institution? Tell your staff to ask. Insist on it. Nearly half of consumers say they prefer one financial institution. Start with those customers who call you “their bank.” Customers who hold more products with their primary bank are likely to be the most loyal and unlikely to leave, so make sure you have all of their business and do not stop until you have it or know the reasons why you don’t. Then, keep asking and demonstrating why you believe you are the right choice for that missing piece of the customer’s wallet.
Learn from your current customers. Lastly, make use of all types of customer feedback to consistently improve coaching and demonstrate key behaviors that drive customer actions. Communicate with customers the value you place on their input, making it both easy and comfortable for feedback to be shared at all touch points with the bank, whether it is favorable or issue-related. This will help you to gain a better understanding of which customers are most likely to be your advocates and which customers are at risk of attrition.
Employ this feedback by proactively engaging customers in jeopardy of closing accounts and rewarding those customers who are most engaged.
Mr. Aloi is president and CEO of ath Power Consulting, which is based in Boston and Washington, D.C. and is a full service marketing research firm providing demand-side research to banking and financial institutions. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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