Banking on the branch


The relationship between customers and banks has been transformed. Connected by mobile and social technologies and with an increasing number of banking providers to choose from, customers are demanding higher levels of service than ever before. They expect their banks to deliver a personalised, transparent and engaging experience seamlessly across all channels, from online transactions to in-depth discussions with advisors. Rising to that challenge is crucial to success – and the branch has a key role to play.

Customers are demanding enriched, personalised engagement with their bank, and the branch is key to delivering it. Jacqui Griffiths asks Luc Schamhart how Microsoft is helping banks to deliver a unique and engaging customer experience.
“The branch is critical because it is the personalisation of the bank’s brand,” says Luc Schamhart, EMEA financial services industry director at Microsoft. “When people can see the bank’s brand on the street and walk in to discuss their finances, it becomes more personal to them. Online-only banks can struggle to achieve that level of personalisation and it’s more important than ever now, because people are so connected with smartphones and other devices and therefore expect personalised service.”
Microsoft’s vision for the branch is a place where all the other channels, such as online, mobile, ATMs and social media, converge to provide unique, personalised interactions with advisors. In order to deliver that level of service, branch staff need to be empowered with a 360-degree view of the customer’s interactions across all the channels they use. For example, helping a customer to discover the mortgage, pension or investment products that will help them achieve their goals might entail a discussion about their income, spending, lifestyle and aspirations. “This type of advice is based on a personal discussion that customers would rather have face-to-face with an advisor,” says Schamhart. “For the branch, it’s all about selling to a market of one, giving personalised information and creating a memorable touchpoint for engaging with each customer.”
In response to these demands, banks are looking at ways to make sure their branches provide a unique and engaging experience that enables customers to continue their interactions seamlessly across all the touchpoints they use – from mobile devices and social media to self-service terminals and signage. Microsoft and its partners are working with them to find out how they can combine these elements and create a setting that is attractive, comfortable and relevant to the customer, while empowering bank staff with the insight they need to deliver personalised advice.
Today’s customers might begin their journey on one channel and finish it on another, for example by researching a financial product or filling out a form online before visiting the branch – and they don’t want to have to repeat the questions they’ve already answered when they get to the branch.
Branch staff are key to delivering the personalised interaction that customers demand, and they need the right tools for the job. “It’s important to know more about your customer on an individual basis, and to be able to capture all the available information about them from all the different channels,” says Schamhart. “A lot of banks are still siloed in terms of mortgages, loans, savings, current accounts and so on. A good customer relationship management system that reaches across all the channels will give staff a 360-degree overview, but it needs to be presented in a way that is intuitive to enable personal treatment.”
Mobile technologies such as secure tablets and smartphones can provide that intuitive overview, bringing together legacy and new applications that enable advisors to recognise each customer and deliver personalised service. For example, Erste Bank Group’s FinanceCheck tablet app has enabled it to differentiate its services by putting customers and advisors on a more equal footing during consultations. “Banks are trying to create a unique experience for all customers, from Generation Y to the baby boomers,” says Schamhart. “They’re providing a common user interface to create a compelling customer experience that recognises the branch as a focal point in building an enduring customer relationship.”
Tools such as geographical and facial recognition technologies can be used to identify the customer so an advisor can be ready to greet them with a 360-degree view of their financial situation before they enter the branch. Schamhart describes how one bank is using facial recognition to give branch staff vital information and even change the digital signage to suit their profile. “The system recognises the customer as a person immediately on a tablet or other device, and personal information pops up for the branch staff,” he says. “This allows them to know whether it’s a preferred client who can be given special treatment, for example. The branch staff have a personal, 360-degree view of the client on their tablet which combines the channels – not only the branch, but also recent ATM transactions and the last time the customer interacted with the bank online or with a call centre agent. All that information is combined so they can deliver personalised service and the customer doesn’t have to repeat questions they’ve already answered via a different channel.”
Large touch and gesture-based displays offer new possibilities for innovative digital signage and other assisted or self-service scenarios, both within and outside the branch. Microsoft Surface and Kinect for Windows are key technologies being used to create attractive branches that engage existing and potential customers. “A lot of technology is being used to make the branch more attractive while making it easier to handle money,” says Schamhart. “For example, ING and Rabobank are experimenting with interactive walls in branches, which make it easy and attractive for customers to explore and discuss products like mortgages.”
The possibilities are endless: if the technology is in place to recognise the customer, this can trigger changes in colours, themes and messages to suit their interests. If a customer is exploring a product, they can access relevant, real-time information to support their decision-making.
This wealth of innovative technology also provides a unique opportunity to transform the branch into a social destination – a place that provides entertainment and discovery, as well as advice and interaction to build a strong relationship between the bank and its customers. “Many branches are working to become part of the social community, to be a social enterprise where people connect and share experiences,” says Schamhart. “Many banks have a Facebook presence, and branches are becoming the physical representation of that social community.”
For example, ING, which sponsors the Dutch national soccer team, worked with Microsoft to develop a football game using Kinect on Windows. It ran the game in branches during the European championship, challenging customers and passers-by to go into the branch and try to score a penalty. Rather than trying to sell a product, ideas like ING’s game are aimed at engaging customers and attracting them into the branch to experience new technologies. “It’s important for a bank to play with what is possible in the market, and to find different ways to engage with the consumer,” says Schamhart. “Banks are making use of new technologies to bridge the gap between the old-fashioned banker and the customers. Technology can really make a difference in making customers aware that the bank sees them as individuals in a social community.”
In order to focus on providing advice and expertise on complex products, banks also need to make sure the branch offers customers an attractive and intuitive self- service experience for simple transactions. Whether it’s a next-generation ATM such as those introduced by BBVA in Spain, or an unmanned branch at an airport, the key is to create a natural user interface that engages the customer with the bank. “The focus is not on how to automate the teller, but rather how to humanise the machine,” says Schamhart.
Bank Audi, Lebanon’s largest bank, has taken self-service to a new level, using Microsoft Lync and Skype to extend the reach of advisors across unmanned branches in airports and shopping centres in the Middle East. Customers can have face-to-face discussions with assistants in a natural way to get advice about products, arrange loans or conduct transactions. “To make this work, you have to have a full screen on which to have the conversation with the client,” says Schamhart. “It must to be high- resolution, not somebody sitting in a call centre far away. It has to be almost a natural way of interacting, and needs to be possible to exchange information like documents, forms and brochures in an easy and immediate way – for example by swiping them from one side to the other rather than arranging to send an e-mail.”
By enabling advisors to swipe a document so it appears on the customer’s own device, the branch experience can be extended into the customer’s home, office and to their family and business partners. “If the document is on the customer’s device, they can then take it home, share it on Facebook or send it to family members,” says Schamhart. “It’s all about the integration of those different channels so that customer interaction isn’t only great at the physical location of the branch, but the experience extends to the couch at home. This could be using Kinect, Xbox or any other technology they want to interact with the bank and present the information in a compelling way.”
“Branch transformation is a long-term project and we’re just at the beginning of the journey,” says Schamhart. But banks and technology partners – such as Avanade, Infusion, Headcandy and others – are working towards a vision, and the branch is starting to take shape as an essential touch point that integrates all the other channels and engages with the customer as an individual. “Right now, many banks are working to transform their flagship branch and finding out what works before they roll out to other branches,” says Schamhart. “Some are creating learning and research environments like Allied Irish Bank’s Lab, to showcase, test and introduce customers to the latest banking technologies and services. We’re also seeing smaller branches and different formats such as coffee shop branches, financial products for sale in supermarkets or pop-up branches in shopping centres, which create a comfortable and convenient environment for customers.
“From a technology point of view almost anything is possible, but banks also need to ensure compliance with regulations concerning privacy and data management. It can be a complex process but we’re here to help. We have the technologies and the industry expertise to help transform the branch into a unique location for customer engagement.”
On Windows.