Retaining a personal touch in a digital age

For businesses, the digital revolution has opened up a world of opportunity for reducing costs, achieving new efficiencies and engaging with customers. But it’s important to remember that the growth of mobile, online and digital channels doesn’t render traditional methods of profitable consumer banking obsolete.

During 2016 we heard financial executives acknowledging that face-to-face contact, reliable knowledge and personal service remain extremely important across a wide demographic spread of customers, both for complex and simple product purchases.

The importance of the personal touch

There are key reasons why customers continue to value face-to-face engagement with bank staff when managing their financial affairs. These generally polarize around the reassurance of ownership, depth of knowledge and decision-making agility, none of which can be advertised as benefits of the self-service channel.

In January 2016, the Social Market Foundation published the findings of a survey of over 2,000 consumers in the UK, which showed that nearly two-thirds of people (63 percent) preferred to speak to someone in person when making a big financial decision. The majority of consumers (70 percent) were happy to complete day-to-day tasks such as checking their balance or paying bills online, but at least half expressed a preference for going into a branch to get financial advice (57 percent) or take out a mortgage (50 percent). Less than a third (32 percent) of people said they would consider using a bank that had no physical branches as their main financial services provider.

Striking a balance

As Larry Augustin, chief executive of customer relationship management software firm SugarCRM, wrote in an article for Global Banking and Finance Review, banks should always be looking for the optimum customer experience, whatever form it might take.

“Is a digital solution always the best way?” he asked. “It is of course right that businesses are investing in digital technology to make their customer experience as streamlined as possible. But businesses, in their rush to take advantage of all-things-digital, need to not lose sight of the value of human connections.”

Given that significant levels of UK asset wealth are held by non-millennials, the need to deliver a consumer engagement process that cost-effectively merges physical and digital journeys, giving the right experience to the right customer, at the right time, is critical.

Traditionally, the person-to-person engagement experience has been siloed to take place either in branch from 9-5, or more flexibly, up to 24 hours a day, but restricted to phone interaction only. Digital migration effectively only emulates the routine human service of a branch or call center, where newer technology now allows financial institutions (FIs) to deliver human interaction anywhere, anytime, on any channel.

Combining self-service convenience with the ability to control ATM business rules at the touch of a tablet, enables FIs to operate cost-effective, boutique, relationship-driven branches, easily distributed to take advantage of the customer’s preferred locations. Video tellers, using ATM remote control technology, expand the location and service hours of routine face-to-face banking. When the same technology is used to bring complex mortgage or investment interviews to the customer on their tablet or mobile, remote-controlling signature capture and other functions, the power and reach of the branch is suddenly brought into sharp focus.

Digital is alive and kicking, but branch isn’t dead. The winning FIs will be those that harness the most innovative technology, to deliver the most basic of services, as the customer wants it to be. Using a core strategy of delivering the branch experience wherever, whenever, harnesses the very best of new consumer experiences, while retaining long-term loyalty.

Written by Martin Shires

Martin Shires is a global evangelist for branch transformation strategy, based out of NCR’s R&D center in Dundee, UK. Martin has held a number of senior regional management roles in European retail banking.

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