Is the branch the newest digital channel?

Is the branch the newest digital channel?
The branch is an important channel is every bank, but the rise of digital raises two questions: what’s its role in with a digital engagement model, and how should banks think about its value? First, consider some of the challenges of the traditional branch for the modern, digital consumer:
  • Branches suffer from lack of talent availability. The best person for the job is not always going to be in the right location at right time. Yet mobile is driving “right time, right place, instant” contextual interactions, and consumers are increasingly expecting this level of service.
  • Many of the frontline staff are underpaid and undertrained, yet are the face of the institution. They often aren´t trained properly or paid enough to care about delivering the kind of customer service banks are trying to deliver through digital.
  • It’s difficult to distribute foot traffic across locations. Some branches suffer from massive queues, while employees at other locations are killing time on Facebook. This adds cost, lowers efficiency, and is incompatible with demand for instant service from consumers as well as modern IT delivery.
Digital has allowed industries to overcome some of the barriers facing other customer experiences. The challenges facing branches are no different. Virtualizing the workforce, aggregating talent, and allowing customers to access them remotely, either in a branch environment or from a personal device, is at least one path forward. Banks need to start thinking about the branch as a digital channel. Some institutions like Garanti Bank in Turkey, ICICI in India, and Umpqua Bank in the US are already starting to think in terms of remote delivery. As video service becomes more mature (i.e. video advisory through tablets), user experiences across devices will begin to blur, and the branch of the future will look even more like a digital experience. In the new environment, the branch becomes another presentation layer. Vendors like Cisco are already starting to move in this direction, combining telepresence, remote signature, displays, and other infrastructure to allow banks to facilitate remote interactions using context information. Others in the market are beginning to follow suite. The branch of the future has been a topic of discussion since the advent of online banking and mobile. While some meaningful progress has been made in branch transformation, some large institutions have launched numerous pilot ideas and concept branches that have amounted to little more than PR stunts. The role of the branch is changing, but it’s obvious that many aren’t exactly clear what that role is going to be. By talking about the branch as a digital channel, institutions may be better able to craft a true omnichannel strategy for customer experience.

Mobility and the Channel Challenge

Mobility and the Channel Challenge
I’ve had several recent conversations about channels and mobility. The discussions often start from different points, but they all are trying to get at how to characterize and address the differences between online, smartphone and tablet. Like many knotty issues, it’s important to frame the question correctly. I’d like to frame this issue by asking, “Is the notion of channels still relevant to consumers?” My response is that not only is the traditional notion of a channel outdated, its continued use can be detrimental to banks. I’ll give you my bullets, and then elaborate a little more. • Mobile is part of the digital channel, which today consists of online, smart phone, text and tablet (and even some elements of ATM) • Devices are ways to access the digital channel; each has distinctive characteristics • Banks should formulate their digital channel strategy holistically; strategies and tactics with respect to one device will affect, and should inform, others Channels originally existed because they were distinct means of interacting with customers for different sorts of transactions. The original channel was the branch. Then came the call center, and ATMs, and then online. Each of these channels had a different group looking after it within a bank. And yes, they ultimately came together nominally under the head of retail banking, but banks were (and still are!) tremendously siloed organizations. That siloed organizational structure has persisted, even with the advent of online, mobile phone and tablet. In the worst case, different channel organizations can work at cross purposes due to their different success metrics (who wants to have their domain shrink, for example?). Consumers, on the other hand, don’t think in terms of channels. They simply think in terms of getting access to what they want, when they want, and how they want it, and generally as easily as possible. Conditioned by great digital experiences from retailers and other service / app providers, they wonder why banks can’t deliver equivalent services. Part of the reason is that the different product organizations in a bank don’t coordinate very well, and as each pursues its own agenda with different emphases, the customer is underserved. Banks are getting to the point where they truly think of the needs of the customer, rather than the needs of the bank, first. They need to think about the customer and her use cases (checking a balance while waiting for the bus is mobile phone; looking at a check image on the couch is tablet; serious bill pay is a PC online, for example). But there’s ultimately just one digital channel. There are different ways of accessing the digital channel, but they should all derive from the same source data, and they should all ultimately provide the same experience to consumers – not the literal experience, but one that’s comparable in terms of general navigation, look and feel, and vibe. And that’s where the art comes in – the experience is visceral, subjective, and unquantifiable — and the customer doesn’t care through which channel the bank deems the experience to have been delivered.