When it comes to delivery channels, the quantity over quality strategy is ineffective, Gallup research shows. In studies and surveys conducted from 2013-2016, Gallup has found that some banks have focused on aggressively expanding the number of channels they offer their customers without first researching how to choose the channels that best fit their customers and their overall strategic goals. Channel satisfaction is the key to increasing engagement and deepening the bank's relationship with its customers, and the key to channel satisfaction is identifying how and where your customers want to interact with you.
The list of channel options for product delivery and marketing seems endless—but rather than having 500 channels and nothing good on, a strategic channel approach can effectively engage your audience. When the focus shifts from individual channels to the overall customer experience, it can be easier to identify where to focus. In general, channels can be classified as either traditional or digital and used for product delivery or marketing. Wisconsin Banker interviewed four experts to highlight current popular channels for banks to consider.
"Branches are not dead, they're just changing from transaction centers to sales centers," said Mark Arnold, president of On the Mark Strategies. The bank branch is still a key channel because customers still want to know their banker and value the experience they have with the bank—regardless of whether that experience is online or in person, according to Sara Baker, vice president, Ladysmith Federal Savings & Loan. "Customers still demand that high-touch personal service from their community bank," said Baker. "Balancing the digital versus human touch relationships with our customers is key to the future of community banking."
Interactive Teller Machines
"Interactive teller—or video teller—machines are something every bank should study," said Jay Coakley, president of Coakley Strategic Solutions, LLC. "You can reduce delivery cost and provide great customer service, especially in a small community, by utilizing employees in one location to service customers in another location. It's great technology." These machines can help banks maintain strong service relationships even in locations where a full-scale branch is inefficient or prohibitively expensive to operate.
Banks should consider the delivery channels offered through their core vendor, according to Jim Pannos, president and principal of the Pannos Marketing Agency. "Many of our clients are getting involved with their core processors to get their most recent release because there are so many more capabilities within the newer core processing platforms," he explained.
"Don't forget the power of email," said Arnold. "Email is still a great channel to use to deliver products and services. Think about how scalable they are and how they look on mobile." For example, with the growing number of emails viewed on mobile phones, the format needs to be designed to allow readers to scroll through content easily.
In all digital marketing, but email especially, good content is a critical component. "Consumers today really want content and not sales pitches," said Arnold. "It's what you're saying as opposed to how you're saying it." Banks can position themselves as expert advisors by offering useful information to their customers through blogs, their website and emailed newsletters. However, Arnold cautions against too much verbosity: "People are consuming more information than they ever have before, but in smaller bites. Information you send out needs to be digestible," he said.
Technology that allows customers to access answers when the bank's doors aren't open will become increasingly important, according to Pannos. "Your bank doesn't have to be open 24 hours, but people are focused on accessing at their leisure versus when the bank is open," he said. The convenience of online banking appeals to many customers who previously performed transactions in the branch. "Consumers are not increasing the number of transactions each month," Coakley said of the growth in online and mobile transactions. "They're just interacting with the bank in a way that's more convenient for them."
"Mobile has the strongest trend line," said Coakley. "From the studies we've done, mobile banking's trend line is going up at a steep increase while online, in-branch and phone systems are declining." However, it is important that the bank dedicate enough resources to their mobile app to make it both functional and intuitive or many customers will not adopt it as a preferred channel. "Customers expect a bank's mobile app to be vibrant, easy-to-use, and fast," Pannos explained.
Person-to-person payment applications like Vimeo are becoming the preferred tool for younger consumers, which makes these types of delivery channels a potential market for banks that choose to target younger customers. "Usage of [these apps] isn't going to shrink," said Pannos. "Banks should be aware of that as they're looking at their technology and how they're going to serve the millennial generation and Gen Z. They're looking to those types of platforms as currency."
Remote Deposit Capture
This service allows customers to deposit checks via their mobile phones by simply snapping a picture of it, and while it's becoming very popular, banks should be cautious. "It's a great service, but it can be costly, especially for smaller banks," said Pannos. Due to the diminishing number of checks being written across the industry, he advises banks to assess the overall market demand and competition for the product, as well as examine their own customer base demographics to ensure the product will assist in the bank's overall customer satisfaction and retention.
Before Diving In…
So which channel(s) should your bank invest in? There are four main areas to consider when investigating a channel strategy upgrade: your customer base, cost, marketing and training. "It's important for banks to understand their market and their customer base," said Baker, pointing out that customer demands for a bank in metropolitan Milwaukee will be very different from those at a bank in rural northern Wisconsin. "Just because the bank down the street offers a certain product doesn't mean your bank needs to offer that same product. Ask your customers what they want before diving in." Coakley recommends defining not only what the bank's current customers want for delivery channels, but also the preferences of the bank's targeted future customers. "It's about what your current customers want and what your future customers want, and those can be two vastly different answers," he said.
While upgrading or purchasing new delivery channels can be costly, banks need to consider their options from all angles. For example, purchasing new video tellers may reduce branch overhead expenses enough to offset the initial cost. "Investing in new technology and solutions can overall reduce the cost of operations, so this is important to look at too," said Baker. Intentionally migrating your customers to digital channels can also lead to staffing changes. "Long-term reduction in FTEs pays for the new technology," Coakley explained.
Additionally, the bank must plan to market any new channels in order to optimize usage rates. "You may have great products and technology, but if you don't communicate that to your customers and your community, they won't adopt it," said Coakley. A review of the bank's current marketing channel strategies is also essential. "The very first thing every bank needs to do is conduct a marketing audit," said Arnold. "You need to look at each of your channels and how successful they are, then come back with strategic and tactical recommendations for changes." Finally, as with any major operational or product changes, the bank must offer training to its staff. "Banks need to invest in their staff, training them on ways to provide quality customer experiences at all touchpoints," Baker advised.
Whether your bank has three delivery channels or 30, it's important that your customer experience is consistent across them. "Rather than thinking about just one channel, think about the experience," Arnold advised. So, when a customer visits a branch they experience the same level of service and style of messaging as when they visit your mobile app or website. "That's the challenge that banks face today," said Pannos. "You have to be old-fashioned in some aspects and cutting-edge in others." Because consumer preferences are so capricious, it's essential for banks to constantly reevaluate their channel strategy and adapt to what they learn. "Customers will continue to crave whatever technology is available which offers them convenience and a personal experience," said Baker. "As the technology evolves, banks too need to evolve."