By Ronald Rubens, Vice President of Europe North, Avaya
When was the last time you visited a bank branch? For many people these days, the answer is likely to be when you had to do something really important, like a mortgage application. Most of the rest of the time we can frankly do without the hassle – the vast majority of transactions that once had to be done by actually physically walking to the local bank are now more easily done online or by telephone.
As banks have discovered when they have tried to shut branches however, people are still keen to have a bank branch nearby – even if they don’t want to visit it all that often. When it comes to the bigger decisions, like taking out a business loan, or opening a new account, we want the security of being able to actually talk face-to-face with somebody, and we don’t feel comfortable doing everything remotely.
For banks that are trying to maintain brand reputation and trust in the post-financial crisis world, and while competing with non-traditional entrants into the banking sector, this means they need to maintain extensive branch networks, despite the associated cost. An actual bricks-and-mortar bank with real people working in it is still far more credible to most consumers than a pure-play internet bank.
Making the local branch pay
But while local branches may still be necessary, banks simply can’t provide all the resources locally that they would have done previously. Here is where communication, collaboration and engagement technologies can make running a local branch network much more efficient.
For example, securing a mortgage or pension planning are key times when customers look for a branch near their home or office with the right range of services. While this is a great opportunity for banks to build trust and loyalty, it’s no longer practical to have every local branch staffed with specialist mortgage advisors or pension experts – the level of training required today is too high to equip every single branch.
British high-street banks, working with Avaya, have come up with a technology-based solution to this issue. They have created a pool of experts based both in regional branches and in central locations. By setting aside a video consultation room in branches, walk-in customers and those who require appointments on days when a local advisor would not normally be available, can still be accommodated – potentially even at short notice. And it’s much more personal than webchat or email. Going one step further these banks have enhanced the video consultation with collaboration methods, such as screen sharing, e-signatures and document scanning, to ensure the expert can collaborate with the customer via the same methods used in face-to-face meetings.
Additionally, many banks are creating micro branches inside large enterprises and in public or semi-public locations like shopping malls. Supporting this, technology providers like Avaya have partnered with Video Teller Machine (VTM) vendors to ensure when a customer needs more help on a transaction, an agent is available through the VTM to collaborate with the customer and guide them through transactions.
Technology can also help steer customers towards self-service, enabling greater efficiencies. According to research from Avaya and BT, 46 per cent of UK consumers now use a computer at least once a week to check balances, while 27 per cent of those surveyed use a smartphone banking app. Still, the research also shows that customers want to be treated as individuals that the bank knows all about – much like the traditional customer-bank branch manager relationship.
Using omnichannel customer experience technology, like Avaya’s Oceana, banks can track a customer’s activity on any channel and register it as part of the customer journey. Based on insights contained in this data, contact centre teams can proactively anticipate a customer’s intentions and instead of greeting them with a generic recorded IVR message, can generate a personalised opener, for example: “I see your recent transaction was not successful, would you like me to connect you with an advisor to discuss this?” Smart apps can reach out while the customer is active online or on their banking app, using proactive chat or even offering video interaction.
Further enhancing the personal touch, modern contact centre software can help banks provide a more individual and continuous approach. For example, it can check if the last agent the customer spoke to is available and if so route the contact to them. Or, using attribute-based matching tools, the software can automatically choose an agent in the caller’s regional branch, ahead of other available agents.
Ultimately of course, to really support efficiency gains, contact centre agents need to be empowered to complete the customer’s transaction without directing them to a branch – which, as we’ve already established, is something customers aren’t always happy to do for more complex, or high-risk transactions.
One reason people feel more comfortable with face-to-face interaction is of course the feeling of security created. While verifying identity digitally has previously presented challenges, new technologies such as voice biometrics and other solutions mean banks can offer greater levels of security than they could previously – removing a lot of their customers’ concerns in the process.
So, local bank branches are likely to still be part of banks’ set-up for the foreseeable future. Regardless of where a customer is – at home, on the move or in-branch – new customer experience software has the power to provide customers with the level of expert service they expect, while at the same time improving efficiency. Technology enhanced local branches, combined with more personal self and remote service: tech-local is surely the way forward for the bank of the future.