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The Self-Service Solution to Declining Branch Sales


The decline in branch transactions that has been predicted for the last 30 years is finally happening. Online bill payment and the migration of deposits via image capture to the office, the ATM, and the mobile device have finally moved people out of the branch.

With branch transactions declining and younger consumers increasingly preferring self-service, banks that rely primarily on the branch for sales will eventually see stalled or declining revenue growth. Developing a self-service sales strategy alongside a branch and call center sales strategy will be the only way for a financial services institution to ensure that it is ready when the consumer preference tilts irreversibly toward self-service.

While self-service channels such as online banking, mobile banking, ATMs, and financial kiosks haven’t traditionally been thought of as sales channels, they do have the ability to facilitate sales. How? By integrating customer data with technology to present an intuitive user interface that provides targeted offers, streamlines the customer workflow, and works every time.

The traditional branch sales cycle depends on a teller or customer initiating a conversation about a product or service or a customer walking into the branch with a specific request. The self-service sales cycle relies instead on technology and messaging to attract new customers and to cross-sell to current customers. Here are the primary elements required for success:

Authentication. This type of authentication is less related to the security aspects of verifying identification than to understanding the consumer’s needs and responding with a targeted message. Any advertising or offers should be based on five factors:

  • Consumer status: Is this person an existing customer or new to the bank?
  • Point of contact: Is the consumer reaching the bank online, through a mobile device, at the ATM, or through social media?
  • Existing products: If the individual is a current customer, what products and services do they already have with the institution?
  • Credit quality: Can the bank readily determine the consumer’s creditworthiness? If so, what products and services should be offered, if any?
  • Demographics: Based on factors such as age, household income, and geographic location, what products and services are most likely to be a fit for this consumer?

Identity verification and information security technologies such as third-party databases should already be in place for security-related authentication. However, when it comes to sales, it’s the customer relationship management and business intelligence tools that can make the difference between an offer that is accepted and the many that are rejected.

Financial institutions (FIs) arguably have more data about their customers than do companies in any other industry. They know where customers live, work, and shop as well as what they buy and when. The challenge has been not just to harness that data but also to use it in a meaningful, logical way. Rules-based engines that can apply the five authentication factors mentioned above coupled with robust consumer data, can push the bank’s self-service sales efforts forward to make the right offer to the right person at the right time.

Offer Presentation. Once the product or service to be offered has been determined, the next phase of the sales cycle is the offer presentation. The best offers are succinct and attention-grabbing without being annoying (i.e., steer clear of flashing banner ads and constant pop-up screens) and provide a clear explanation of what the consumer can expect from the application process. The information provided should include the expected timeframe for completing the application as well as what to expect after the application has been submitted.

The user interface is critical to the offer presentation. Both are used to deliver the message, whether the customer sees it passively while browsing the Internet or withdrawing cash at the ATM or is receiving proactive messages from the bank via e-mail or text. A challenge for any FI is to design a user interface that works best with each customer-facing device. As devices proliferate, each user interface must project the bank’s brand image consistently while taking advantage of the unique characteristics of each device such as touch screens on mobiles and tablets or a larger screen on a laptop.

Another significant yet underutilized technology for offer presentation is push communications. No customer wants to be bombarded with e-mails and texts, but occasional communications attached to bank correspondence can have a positive impact and be well received. A bank needs to consider, for example, the offers that it sends to customers who have opted in to electronic statements. Is the e-mail simply a link that directs the customer to the bank’s website, or is it an encrypted interactive portable document format (pdf) that provides the statement information along with the ability to respond to targeted offer messages?

The interactive pdf works well not just because it provides a marketing opportunity for the bank, but also because it provides customers an added service by saving them the bother of accessing the bank’s website to obtain statements.

Onboarding. The account application tends to be where most organizations begin when implementing self-service sales, but a robust self-service sales strategy will actually end with the account application. Once the customer accepts an offer, it is essential that the onboarding process be streamlined and customer-friendly. The application should begin with a list of information the customer will need in order to complete the application and it should be able to recognize existing customers so they do not have to re-key basic information such as name, address, and social security number.

After starting an application, a customer should be able to save it for completion at a later time. Implementing a save-and-return function has the added benefit of enabling the bank to follow up. In addition, the FI should also provide the option to finish the application in another channel such as the branch or contact center. Although the goal of self-service sales is a straight-through, single-channel process, the bank should allow customers to complete the application elsewhere if they wish.

Throughout the process, the customer should have access to help tools such as chat, co-browsing, and frequently asked questions pages. Once the application is complete, the customer should be able to designate a preferred contact method (e.g., text, e-mail, phone call) for verification of application receipt and ongoing status updates.

Although answering customers’ questions is a very basic function at a bank, the sheer breadth of options that customers have for interacting with the bank makes this simple task difficult to manage. Two technologies are vital to giving customers easy access to information and ensuring that the information they receive is accurate.

Unified communications technology is essential because it allows a contact center agent to communicate securely with the customer via phone, email or chat. A knowledge management tool can also be beneficial. Help and training tools have historically been available through various media, primarily massive binders, internal help desks and intranets. A central repository of all offers along with relevant information on who qualifies for the offer, pricing, terms and conditions along with required documentation should be available to anyone within the institution.

The best origination applications will also offer end users the ability to open multiple products with one account application. This saves the customer time because he or she can complete one comprehensive application and the bank gains a customer with multiple products, improving stickiness from the outset.

Ms. Sturgill is research director, retail banking and cards, with Boston-based TowerGroup. She can be reached at [email protected].