Is the branch dead? Not quite yet.
In a recent study from market intelligence firm Mintel, 38% of consumers reported they felt that brick and mortar locations are no longer necessary. Yet nearly the same amount (37%) responded that branches are still a vital part of their banking experience.
Much like checks, branches will still play an important part in a bank's operations. Many customers prefer face-to-face interaction when they have complex questions about their finances. Others prefer coming into a branch because of the personal service they receive. Knowing someone is handling their needs directly brings comfort.
On the other hand, online channels have the benefit of being faster and more convenient. Users can access them from anywhere at any time. This convenience drives the rapid adoption of digital banking by tech-savvy consumers.
More consumers have also turned to digital banking during the pandemic. BAI reports that more than 50% of consumers have used digital banking apps more since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those, 87% plan on maintaining their increased usage after the end of the pandemic.
The next generation of customer experience marries the best of the digital world with the personal experience of the branch and the call center. Typically, the digital and personal experiences take place in separate channels. A cost-effective digital solution is expected to gradually but inevitably replace the expensive, high-touch personal experience. However, a better path to follow is to marry the two to create the best of both worlds. This brings the loyalty and human connection that comes from a person-to-person interaction into the more cost-effective digital world.
Personal Experiences via Digital
The in-person connection is the lifeblood of the branch. To enhance digital banking experiences, banks must weave the branch’s key advantage – personal interaction – into the digital channel. They must include personalization at every level of the online banking process. This creates a stronger connection with customers without requiring face-to-face interaction and expensive brick and mortar branches.
A strong customer experience begins with the workflow. Users need to have an intuitive workflow for every online task. Whether they are opening a new account or applying for a loan, customers want to easily navigate the process and have access to bank employees if they have questions.
The second step to a strong digital experience is supporting customers. Achieving this in the digital channel means having easy access to resources to solve issues. This may take the form of online live chats, video instructions or chatbots.
AI-driven text chats have become very popular. With more than a third of customers valuing face-to-face interaction, a video chat feature could be even more helpful to customers. A live chat gives customers peace of mind, answers to their questions and provides the information needed to complete their task.
This chat must be seamlessly woven into online and mobile banking so that customers have easy access to the features they need. Requiring customers to download an outside chat or video app is inconvenient, time consuming, insecure and lacks the deep integration a single solution can offer.
Test and Reduce Abandonment Rates
Financial institutions that offer customers the option of opening an account online provide themselves with a multitude of advantages, including the opportunity to lure business from other banks.
Online offerings provide smaller banks with the opportunity to compete for customers with larger banks and appeal to a younger demographic.
The key to building a digital banking experience that mirrors the benefits of in-branch service is improving the customer journey when opening accounts or completing tasks online. In the current climate, it is more important than ever for customers to have the flexibility to open an account or fill out a form from the comfort of their own home.
Online account opening does not matter if customers cannot complete their task online. A 2019 Signicat study found 40% of consumers abandon banking onboarding process. The most common reasons were the time needed to complete the onboarding process or the need to provide too much personal information.
In contrast to the high abandonment rates of digital account opening, in-branch abandonment is very low. This is because questions are answered quickly and there is a human connection between the branch officer and the customer. The next generation of digital account opening brings the personal touch into digital account opening process.
High abandonment rates are a danger to the growth and success of any bank. Community banks must find ways to plug the gaps. They must ensure customers have access to the right information at the right time and deliver real-time feedback on their progress.
The simplest products typically experience the lowest abandonment rates. These are products that do not need extensive documentation or verification of assets and income. When building online tools for more complex products, such as mortgages or new accounts, banks must find a way to simplify the process. Make it easy for customers to save their progress. Banks can also automate data importation and share customer data between channels.
It is imperative that banks begin to weave a face-to-face personal experience into the digital channel if they want to survive. The best online offerings are useless if customers do not understand how to use them.
Banks must personalize the digital experience to meet the increase in digital banking demand. They must find a way to integrate online and in-person service. Only then will they maximize customer growth and retention whichever channel customers choose.
Chris Doner, founder and CEO of Access Softek
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