I was greeted by a piece of mail from my bank when I arrived home today. It was unusual in that it was in a nice envelope and it felt like someone actually stuffed it by hand. In it, was a letter from my branch manager, telling me that our branch was closing. It said that I should not worry - all my accounts would be transferred to another branch and that I didn’t have to lift a finger. Unfortunately, that branch is 24.4 miles away. The letter suggested that if I had any questions, to call the branch manager…so I did.
Upon answering the phone, the representative decided to field my question herself – but apparently no one told her how to handle a call like this. She asked if I really still used the branch and suggested that I just bank online, but if it was really inconvenient, she guessed I would have to close my account. Now I became curious. Is this really what my bank wanted me to do? I asked if I could still speak to the branch manager – I wanted to hear what he thought and how he would handle my inquiry. He was very nice, but echoed his employee’s advice, saying “yes, this is really inconvenient and I wouldn’t blame you if you closed your account.” Upon further discussion, he was just as surprised as I was that the branch was closing and more than anything else, was concerned where he and his employees would be working in a few months.
I decided to take their advice and look for a new bank. Like many financial services customers, I have accounts at a few institutions, but this was my “primary account”. It’s been 17 years (every time I called my bank they thanked me for my tenure, which is how I know how long I’ve been with them) since I last looked for a checking account. My shopping process was pretty simple. I thought about all the banks that were close to me, were similar to my current bank (large national bank, good technology, broad product base, lots of ATMs) and narrowed the field to about 3 brands. I already had accounts at one of those brands, so I went online to that bank’s website, found a similar account product, applied, and my debit card is now in the mail. Over the next month, we’ll move everything over and start fresh.
I’ve had any number of customer service issues with my (now former) bank over the years, but it took this event to actually make me move. I had this vision that it would be difficult, but actually it was quite easy and I’m not sure why I never made the move before.
A few observations that I think are important for my bank customers:
The result of this experience (both the shopping experience and the writing experience) was a rethinking of the role played, not only by the branch, but of the human in our marketing and business strategies. Those that reviewed my early thoughts couldn’t understand why the branch played a role for me – someone who could be considered a digital native – but it did. It was irrational…but the reality is our customers act that way sometimes. I want a more efficient digital experience, it’s better for me, and it’s better for my bank, yet…when I want a human interface, that’s what I want.
In our rush to move to all digital, the question we must ask is “are we forgetting about the role humans play in creating and defining the experience?”
Keith Bossey is SVP at GfK Financial Services and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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