Brett King

Posts Tagged ‘service’

How to reduce your branch footprint in an orderly manner

In Branch Strategy, Customer Experience, Future of Banking on May 4, 2012 at 00:50

I guess with a title like Branch Today, Gone Tomorrow it’s no surprise that a lot of people think I’m anti-branch. I’m not anti-branch, I just don’t drink from the branch kool-aid fountain that goes something like “if only we could find the right formula we’d reverse this trend of not visiting the branch and customers would flock back to our physical space”. I think most Bankers and Credit Union executives, instinctively feel there is a change in the importance of the ‘channel mix’, but as often as I hear questions about how quickly this is going to occur, I hear executives talking about how customers used to behave. “But don’t customers need to come into a branch for lending products; to talk to a loan officer about more complex products?” This is a legitimate question in the old world, but it’s light on today in respect to the facts, which don’t actually indicate the branch is central to lending.

The fastest growing lending institutions in the country right now aren’t the big banks, community banks or even credit unions. The fastest growing lenders certainly aren’t mortgage brokers. The fastest growing lenders in the United States at the moment are actually peer-to-peer social networks, namely Prosper and Lending Club (thanks to @netbanker for this gem). In terms of percentage growth of loan book, you’ll be hard pressed to find any FDIC insured institution doing better. In fact, I’d wager that a 375% increase in Loan Originations in the last 18 months, coming off the back of the Great Recession as the global financial crisis is being called, is one of the most impressive new FI growth stories you’re likely to hear globally.

Lending Club growth thru April 2012

Last time I checked, neither Prosper, Lending Club or Zopa had any branches…

Why customers think they want branches
Now my point here is not to argue that P2P Lending is better, it is to argue that the perception that to sell a complex product you require bricks and mortar, just isn’t supported by the data. To be fair, however, there is actually some valid behavioral data at work here that comes out through qualitative research supporting the role of the branch for legacy customers. That is, that there are still plenty of customers who say they want a branch – that doesn’t mean they will visit it, but they like to have them around. In Branch Today I examined the data and reasons for the recent rapid decline in branch activity, both from a visitation and transactional measure, but the question is why some customers still say they want to visit a branch?

There’s really only three things that drive a customer to a physical branch:

  1. I need a physical distribution point to deposit cash (primarily for small retail businesses)
  2. I need advice or a recommendation for a product or need I don’t fully understand, or
  3. I have a humdinger of a problem that I couldn’t solve offline, so I’m coming into the branch to get relief.

Branch bankers hang on to #2 for dear life, hoping that this will somehow keep customers coming back, helping justify those massive budget line items dedicated to real-estate; sadly it just isn’t happening that way. And yet, when you ask customers what determines their choice of ‘bank’ relationship, often the convenience or availability of a local branch, remains a stalwart factor.

Since the mid-80s, branches the world over have generally been transformed into streamlined cost/profit centres. The industry has attempted to reduce cost and improve efficiency to optimum levels and in this light customers have been forced to trade off between either big bank efficiency and utility, or the personalized service of a high street, community banker interaction without all the bells and whistles.

Despite this drive for efficiency there’s still a lingering psychology of safety in physical banking place and density, which stem from long memories over epidemic ‘runs’ on the banking system during the great depression. So what remains are two core psychologies that play to the need for physical places which reinforces the safety of a “bank” where they’re going to entrust their cash :

  1. I recognize that I visit the branch less and less for banking, but I’d like it to be there just in case I need to speak to someone face-to-face about my money or I have a problem, OR
  2. The more branches you have, the less likely you’ll go under in the case of a ‘run’ on the bank

But who is going to pay for the space?
The big problem with this, of course, is that as customers more commonly neglect the branch in favor of internet, mobile, ATM and the phone (call centre), the economics of the real estate and branch staff is no longer sustainable. So how do you have a space that still ensures the confidence of those customers that require the psychological ‘crutch’ of a space they might need to go to, but who aren’t willing to pay more for the privilege and won’t change their day-to-day banking habits back to the branch because the web and mobile are just so much more convenient?

The answer is two-fold.

The Flagship Store
If you need to instill confidence in the brand, then the best way is to build a new, large square footage space that screams new-age, tech-savvy branch banking with coffee and comfy chairs! Think the opulent Airline loyalty lounges that started to emerge in the late 80s. Think Virgin Megastores or the “Gold Class” cinemas of the 90s. Think Apple Stores today.

Brand spaces that inspire confidence. Enable a connection with your customers. Spaces that tell customers you’re all about service, advice and solving their banking problems – not about tellers and transactions.

Jeff Pilcher at FinancialBrand.com regularly covers the best of these new Flagship and Concept Stores, so head over there if you want some examples to work from. However, this is not exactly going to lower your bottom line around distribution. If anything it’s going the other way. Knowing that you’re going to have to downsize, the average FI will only be able to support a handful of Flagship stores in key, high-traffic, high-visibility location. So how do you equalize the ledger?

The Satellite Service Space
Supporting the Flagship stores at your secondary locations (i.e. anywhere that is not your best, most densely populated geography) will be very simple, cash-less brand presence stations. These will be small spaces in prime traffic locations like shopping malls, without any teller space, but the space to service the pants of a customer who needs that advice or help with a sticky problem. If they want cash, there will be an ATM. If they want to deposit notes or checks, the ATM can do that too, or you might incorporate a dedicated check deposit machine in the space too. In fact, the bank representative in the space could just use his iPad for that – although it’s better to move them to the ATM and go no transaction in the service space.

A good example of this sort of space would be the likes of smaller UPS franchise stores, or the BankShops of the TESCO variety in the UK. Small footprint of no more than 300-500 square feet, but enough space to represent your brand and tell customers they can still come and see if you if they need a solution.

UPS Franchise Stores

Spaces don't need to be big to provide service

The ratio of flagship store to satellite spaces will probably be at least 10 to 1, if not greater. You don’t need every branch to be “big” in the new reality; to give your customers a level of comfort that you are safe enough to put your money with them. In fact, as the likes of UBank, ING Direct and Fidor show, for some customers you don’t need any spaces. But for those that still want a space ‘just-in-case’ then this strategy is a great transitional approach.

One day soon, within the next decade, we’ll need less than half the branches we have today. But as we make that transition, the need for a space to be an available component of service and support remains a key component of what we call financial SERVICES. It just doesn’t have to cost us the earth.

The digital relationship revolution

In Customer Experience, Engagement Banking, Media, Social Networking on February 21, 2011 at 18:01

Everyday we’re making choices in the digital and physical worlds between one brand and another. Sometimes we choose a brand because they provide us with great service, but sometimes it’s simply because they provide adequate service and there isn’t really a better option. Mostly the choice of the interaction isn’t about great service at all; it’s about convenience. Generally speaking it’s not because of their products or their so-called services. It might be the way in which they connect me to certain products or services, but it isn’t generally what they produce.

Some days I’m incredulous at how some organizations manage to survive based on their apparent single-minded dedication to frustrating an efficient and productive service relationship. Other days, I’m amazed at myself for the ease with which I accept such maltreatment and why I don’t have the energy to turn around and leave. Often, it is because I don’t have a choice, there simply isn’t a better alternative. Sometimes it is because, defeated, I accept that my exiting investment in the relationship is sufficient a reason for why I should stay, knowing that I’m not going to generally fair much better elsewhere or I would need to incur costs to make a change.

Why most service businesses suck

Most service organizations might start off with good intentions, but over time they build processes that are designed to standardize or make the delivery of their services more efficient and cost effective. Somewhere in the process of defining the most efficient instance of a process, many organizations appear to forget why it is that they have a business in the first place, namely – the customers they serve.

The act of simply documenting a business process, scripting a flowchart or coding business objects, could in itself, be the very thing that destroys an organization’s ability to react to the needs of its customers. Granted, there must be order… but when the creation of order dehumanizes the participants, or kills off the ability to offer exceptional service, then in the end, the process itself is simply killing the opportunity. Over time, that process is burdened by more ‘rules’ or policies that not only disrupt service capability, but also reduce the cost effectiveness of the process too.

Sounds dramatic? Maybe I’ve been watching too many chick flicks lately. Maybe my inner self is crying out for something better. So here’s the thing…

Doesn’t the digital space itself do the very thing that I’m suggesting? Doesn’t an electronic interaction break the service opportunity into components of a database, an expert system, a user interface, a channel deployment, or a touch-point? So how is it that I, a glorious technophile and champion of all things digital, is suggesting that service requires humanization, heart and flexibility?

The digital connection

Well…it might just be feasible that what social media is really doing today is more than socializing the web. It might be possible that this drive towards great usability, human interaction design, multi-touch, augmented reality, geo-location and connectedness is actually creating a digital service platform that could revolutionize the ability of an organization to look after me as a customer.

Social media is about connections. I’m connected with my friends, my family, my business associates, my old school buddies, but I’m also potentially connected with those organizations I interact with day to day.

I’m using my “App” phone and my tablet to do my banking, check in on my flights, send messages to friends, play games (I call this downtime), watch a movie or read a book. My relationships in this space can be deep, emotional and powerful, such as when I see a picture of my kids on Facebook while I’m far away on a business trip. They can elicit a smile, such as when I see a funny status update, or even when I have a great, and really simple engagement with a service provider; like downloading a book on Kindle, starting to read it on my iPhone and the finding my place again later when I turn on my Galaxy Tab or iPad.

Building better relationships

The concept that you can’t build relationships in the digital space, that face-to-face or human interactions can consistently provide better service experiences, is simply an excuse not to expand your view of connections.

The digital landscape doesn’t destroy relationships, it doesn’t always replace physical either, but the multi-channel space can definitely enhance relationships between a brand and a customer.

Computers don't destroy relationships...people do

When I anticipate your needs before you do and I present you with a simple, targeted and compelling journey – that is great service. When I show you can trust me because I don’t inundate you with irrelevant marketing campaign messages to your phone or inbox, but when I have something to tell you it really hits the mark – that is building a relationship. When I don’t treat you like an idiot by trying to convince you will have a smile from ear to ear if you simply change banks, airlines, brand of shampoo or which mobile carrier you are using – I’m showing you I can be honest, rather than believing you are naïve.

The art of interactive relationships is about building great journeys in a world of transparency, a world of increasing demand for service and simplicity, and where you don’t get points for branding, you get points for the ability to connect and deliver.

We can talk about PFM, personalization, direct marketing, behavioral economics, usability, interaction design, and other such buzz words incessantly, but ask yourself this…

Are your customer facing processes defining your organization’s ability to have a relationship with the customer, or are your thinking of new ways to enable relationships with customers every day?

Don’t tell me I have to do it your way because that is your process. Don’t tell me you haven’t deployed an iPhone App or you aren’t on Social Media yet because you don’t know where the ROI is.

Meet me in the middle. Try to understand me, and try to deliver what I need, when and how I need it. If you do that honestly and transparently, I will trust you with my commerce.

If you don’t – your just another brand using just another channel to try to get my spend. That’s not a great start to a relationship.

Finally, I’d like to thank my sponsors for this blog – the US Bureau of Citizen and Immigration (sic) “Services”, TSA, HSBC, Qantas, American, British Airways and United Airlines, countless hotel chains, and customs officials of many countries for their inspiration…

The biggest risk: I won’t give you my money…

In Customer Experience, Groundswell, Social Networking, Strategy on November 18, 2010 at 00:23

During the global financial crisis, governments spent billions to bail out banks in an effort to keep liquidity in the banking sector, largely so that lending could continue at a time when businesses needed as much help as they could get. However, in a financial crisis when the economy is in recession, it is counter-intuitive for a bank to lend money to customers who might get into further trouble. So the bail out didn’t work in stimulating the economy the way it was intended. The autopilot ‘internal’ risk function kicked in and prevented it from doing so.

Some could argue that the ‘risk’ function within banking, while acting to protect institutions, may have actually negatively impacted the speed of recovery. While we have all sorts of classifications around risk within the business environment today (operational, legal, socio-political, financial and market) the greatest risk we potentially face in the banking sector is actually none of these. Our risk “compass” needs to be re-tuned in the light of customer behavioral shift.

Industry Reputational Risk

Bankers often talk about the ‘trust’ consumers have in banking as a defining characteristic of why customers give us their money instead of simply keeping it under a mattress. It’s also why many bankers have difficulty understanding why customers of today seem perfectly happy to give money to the likes of PayPal, M-PESA, Lending Club or Zopa. The fact is trust in banking is stubbornly stuck in the doldrums, largely as a result of the whole sub-prime, CDO debacle.

So will trust return? This is a big theme this year. We are essentially dealing with reputational risk. Not for an individual brand or institution, but the collective reputation of the industry as a whole.

That’s the regulator’s job…

To assume we can fix this problem is to ascertain that we can have a coordinated approach to restoring consumer confidence as an industry. There are a few issues with this, namely that we generally leave such broader issues to the regulators. After all, what can one bank do about this on it’s own?

The problem with this approach is that regulators can only regulate, they can’t make us do good things for our customers. Despite strong regulation, 11 banks (Including the Big 4) are facing class action in Australia by customers over fees. Despite toughening regulation in the United States, the “Move Your Money” campaign continues to live on to this day. It is also why peer-to-peer lending networks are flourishing, why Mint and Blippy are garnering the trust of millions, and why PayPal is the world’s leading online payment network. Customers are moving on, plainly because the industry is no longer differentiated by a reputation built on trust.

Let’s face it – regulation is not going to restore trust. The only two things that will fix this gap is building transparency and delivering great service at the coal face.

Restoring trust requires us to be un-bank-like…

I’ve heard many banks talk about service and being more transparent, but the reality is this is a tough target. When we look at service as a sector we see costs and those costs have to be justified – the question always will be; will an increase in service bring more revenue or simply translate to costs? When we look at transparency, this is counter-intuitive for banks. We have spent our entire existence finding ways to hide margin, fees, and to justify those elements as part of the banking ‘system’ in order to return EPS.

The problem is if you screw up with customers today when they’re standing in the branch in a lengthy queue during their lunch break, they are just as likely to start Tweeting or shouting out to friends on Facebook about how “hopeless bank ABC is in the city branch today, this queue is massive!”

How do banks respond to such communications?

  1. Most ignore these Tweets as inconsequential – does that restore trust?
  2. Some respond positively to the tweet, explaining how sorry they are and what they are doing to resolve it…
  3. Unfortunately, some Respond negatively; I’m sorry the customer feels this way, but this is not what we are like – really, some people are just never happy!

The only of these responses that will work positively to rebuild trust in the sector is to suck it up, respond positively, and figure how to create a better service culture or resolve the process problems that created them. You can’t do that if you aren’t listening.

Excellence is trustworthy

When you build a great service environment, then there is no need to worry about being transparent. Customers these days will pay a premium for great service. If service is not your thing, then be transparent about that, but explain you don’t charge as much as those other banks and that is the benefit of your bank. If, however, you want to keep fully loaded fee structures in place, then you’ll have to be transparent about the cost of delivering great service. If you aren’t delivering great service, and you are still leveraging fees like it was the 90s, you’ll find out that this strategy doesn’t work – just ask the big 4 banks in Australia. NAB, thus far, is the only bank to positively respond to this pressure by taking a new, transparent stance on fees.

There are some simple steps to take that will bring rapid improvements:

  1. Simplify bank language through a plain-language initiative – refer Centre for Plain Language and Whitney Quesenbery
  2. Make it easy to find the best phone numbers to speak to the right area of the bank on your website, circumvent IVR menu trees where possible. Citi in the US does this pretty well.
  3. Mystery shop, not competitors, but the most common processes in your multi-channel environment and see where these need to be drastically simplified, and use Observational Field Studies to see how customers work in real-world settings.
  4. Put a social media listening post in place and respond positively and openly at every opportunity – check out Gatorade’s Mission Control
  5. Review the biggest complaints you get in the call centre, and try to fix those customer journeys proactively. We call these Torch Points…

Building trust starts with creating great customer journeys that improve service levels and demonstrate a willingness to be transparent. We can’t rebuild trust without these elements. The biggest risk today, is simply that I don’t trust you enough to give you my money.

Open Source Banking – the solution to lagging innovation (Huff Post)

In Media, Mobile Banking, Retail Banking, Social Networking, Strategy, Technology Innovation on March 14, 2010 at 07:13

See the original entry on Huffington Post

Since writing BANK 2.0 I’ve been meeting constantly with banks who either have such huge organizational barriers to rapid innovation or conceptually still don’t appreciate the need for rapid change around customer. In fact, this is a global problem. Banks know how to run banks, but as they are pushed more to be something more akin to software houses, design houses, and integrators, their organizations are just not built for new priorities.

Think of it this way, when Amazon first launched on the scene, other booksellers like Barnes and Noble were extremely resistant to the concept of online book sales because they were so heavily invested in a physical distribution model. So much so that B&N attempted to acquire the biggest wholesaler of books that Amazon used to put a halt to their success. The FTC and pressure from other independent booksellers scuttled that deal, and thus B&N were somewhat forced to attempt to mimic Amazon’s approach online to prevent further loss of market share. Having said that, today only 13% of B&N’s revenue comes from the online arena.

In many ways the physical distribution model is even more embedded within most banks, dominating not only the organization structure, but even the way the manufacturer and positioning of product is carried out. With time to market for new products measured in months or years, and with a dominance of metrics still based around channel silos and their revenue performance, it’s going to be even tougher for most banks to adapt to a psyche of continuous customer experience innovation around the internet, mobile phones, new media, branch automation, and P2P payments. Thus, despite the shroud of regulatory protection that is afforded by a banking license, we see third-parties whose innovation threatens to disintermediate banks quicker than ever.

Take PayPal’s success. PayPal’s commercial launch in late 1999/early 2000 went largely unnoticed by banks. Bank’s believed that customers were unlikely to put in their credit card details for a non-bank online company due to the risk of fraud and abuse, but today PayPal accounts for between 27 per cent and 50 per cent of online payments. No bank would attempt to argue today that PayPal is not a competitor in the payments space, but card issuers and banks failed to garner the sort of momentum in innovating the payments

The need for innovation is rapidly speeding up, and to be fair some banks are scrambling to respond to interest in mobile banking and social networking, but most are finding the reality of innovation difficult to master. The key stumbling blocks to innovation in the customer experience remain the long-held metrics for business unit performance being based around channel silos and revenue gains within those silos, along with organizational structures that still favor ‘retail distribution’ over ‘alternative channels’. Are banks doomed to fail?

For banks, the key must be to utilize their unique platform for transactional capability, and to extend their products to be as pervasive as possible. However, banks just don’t have the bandwidth to be everywhere they need to be as quickly as they need to be. Is there a way banks can extend their reach, but not be solely reliant on their own organization.

Let’s talk about Apple. Apple iPhone launched in 2007, but already it has over 180,000 applications available, they’ve sold over 36 million units in the last 2 years and have more than 1 billion downloads annually from their iTunes platform. Yet Apple develops just a very small fraction of the Apps available for the iPhone – the developer community does by far the majority of app development.

In respect to channel innovation, why can’t banks take the same approach? If banks created APIs (Application Program Interfaces) to hook into their transaction and product sales platforms, as long as their APIs looked after the security and compliance requirements, then third-parties could actually create the new interfaces, applications, bundled product and cross-sell opportunities that banks need to create for their customers.

As so much of the interaction between customers and the bank these days is done through electronic interfaces, let’s open up the development of these interfaces to innovative developers and the community. Let’s build collaborative social networking sites that allow customers to define product parameters and benefits, but where the bank executes the actual product application through their back-office. Let retailers of big ticket items integrate personal loans directly into their sale experience, airlines integrate travel insurance into their booking engine, and real estate companies integrate mortgage product into their property search engines.

Developing point-of-impact opportunities where bank product or services are integrated into customer experience is going to take more than an innovative bank. It’s going to take an open capability, a library of APIs, automated credit risk assessment and straight through processing. Once in place, however, these tools will enable almost unlimited innovation of the customer experience without the constraints of a bank organization chart, channel silos or outdated financial metrics.