Banks and Credit Unions: It’s time to Put a Genius in Every Branch
Financial institutions (FIs) aren’t migrating their customers to digital interaction quickly enough. It’s time to try a radical new approach: training branch personnel to operate like the people at an Apple store’s Genius Bar. A branch ‘genius’ doesn’t need to be a problem solver in devices, connectivity, or software in general. Rather, they can simply be the physical location’s designated person for advising customers what digital services are available, how to use them, and answer basic troubleshooting questions in tandem with phone customer service.
Apple famously created a Genius Bar within its stores to help experienced users coach those who are uninitiated, intimidated, or simply stumped. Just as Genius Bar staffers won’t help people with problems outside the Apple realm, an FI’s genius wouldn’t need to assist with device or connectivity issues. In fact, banks or credit unions can guard against getting sucked into general tech problem-solving by predominantly staffing the role with people who are not necessarily your tattooed hipster with the inside scoop on what’s coming in iPhone12. Rather, they can simply be an open-minded and helpful individual who has been well-trained on the availability, use and benefits of the FI’s digital services. (Yes, I might just be describing Merle or Millie in your smallest rural outpost) After all, empathy is a vital ingredient of any successful coach.
By appointing–or perhaps ‘promoting’–select in-branch team members as the on-duty digital coach, in-person team members will have no choice but to get on board with the FI’s digital strategy. As a back-up, a hot-line to the right people in the call center will ensure that newbie geniuses won’t be stumped with the toughest questions for long, and this communication will also serve as a source of ongoing training for both customers and branch employees. We all know that passive resistance to new digital technologies can represent a significant barrier.
I’ll never forget the day in 1985 at Venice Boulevard Auto Parts near Venice Beach in Southern California, where a grizzled old store manager snarled “You’re trying to put me out of a job!”. I was there to manage the installation and training for a new electronic commerce system. This man was a true old-school expert, and to him I was the grim reaper coming for his career. As a recent college grad, I took a deep breath and carefully said “You’re an expert at problem-solving and running this business, and I don't see that going away. Is looking up item numbers and prices in twenty feet of paper catalogs, and then taking a long time to invoice customers really what’s important? This system will help you solve more customers’ problems, faster and better”. We ended up getting along well enough that the business owner gave me free office space for years, to use my base of operations.
A genius strategy should be pursued in tandem with efforts to bring added higher-value transactions into the branch, such as a review of the customer or member’s total financial needs–which will hopefully create cross-buy* opportunities. Branches aren’t ready to die, and particular in-person financial services needs will endure . In-person service personnel must understand that only when the branch is cleared of the mundane (such as check deposit or routine customer service questions), can space finally exist to meet customer needs at the customer’s highest hierarchical level.
Goals can be a key element of a branch’s genius strategy. Metrics for a successful branch should indicate the success of the local team in migrating customers to digital for routine, and in-branch for appropriate relationship upgrades, financial health check-ins, desired elements of new account opening or onboarding, or complex financial services problem solving. Rather than fight both the customer and local team in efforts to move mundane transactions to digital, engage both as partners.
Why not give your branch’s Merle or Millie (or its hot-shot hipster millennial) a tryout as a digital genius? It will take some planning, training and cultural adjustment, yet it could be a win for all parties. As mundane transactions leave the branches, they create a vacuum that can be partially filled with the higher-value interactions. As a result, branch employees could have somewhere to add sustainable value and everyone would be financially better off.
*For more on the subject of ‘cross-buy’ versus cross-sell, see my earlier blog on the subject.