Bank branch closures no longer come as a surprise. In fact, Which? reports that more than a third of bank branches have closed in the last five years, with Wales losing more than 40% of its branches over the same period.
People fear that losing the ‘last branch in town’ will affect not only the local high street, but also the level of service their bank provides. Our own research revealed that UK consumers are concerned about these service levels: 79 per cent said they thought mobile banking would cause customer service levels to drop. They are clearly not afraid to take action if their bank no longer meets their needs: almost half (43 per cent) said they planned to switch banks in the coming year.
From the banks’ point of view, however, if they are gaining little to no value - or even losing money - by running traditional style physical branches, they must take action. But how can they do this without damaging the customer experience?
Moving with the times
Simply put, customer experience needs to evolve in line with a range of factors, including technological advances and changing customer demands. Although the industry is built on stability and continuity, with little changing over the course of decades, the status quo has been radically altered over the last few years.
This progress has been propelled not only by the increasing normalisation of online banking, but also challenger banks, who are introducing new services and branch styles, such as Monzo’s Get Paid Early feature and Revolut’s Group Vaults sharing capability.
Traditional banks are also changing the way products and services are delivered, with a prime example being NatWest’s new digital store in Leeds. Even those who have led the market for decades know that they need to keep pace with this change, or they will be left behind by competitors offering more relevant services, and customers eager to use them.
If they’re unable to do this, customers will just switch. Legislative changes such as the Current Account Switch Guarantee and Open Banking reforms mean it’s now so easy to switch banks that people will not stop to think twice if given an experience that falls short of the standards they expect.
Survive or they’ll switch
Unless they are willing to accept the fact that their customer service will have to continually change form, banks cannot expect to succeed in the longer-term. In order to survive, they must be prepared to adapt.
When they shape up to do this in practice, there are some specific disruptive forces they need to take into consideration. Firstly, there’s the fact that customers hold an increasing amount of power over businesses; they expect a faultless experience across an ever-evolving range of digital communication channels, and have more ways than ever to make their feelings known if they aren’t satisfied. These new channels are also creating an ever-growing mass of customer data, which becomes increasingly difficult to review and make use of; of course it also has to be stored in a way that is compliant, with the constant shift in regulation meaning banks have to continually recalibrate and adapt the way they communicate as a whole.
To overcome these challenges, they must be confident in adopting new communication channels, having the flexibility to change in line with what their customer base wants to use. In 2019, customers might want to speak with a bank through WhatsApp, but it’s not inconceivable that they could move onto a new way of communicating before the turn of the year, and banks must be willing and able to keep up with these if they want to remain relevant.
Looking to the future, banks must allow themselves to think big, leaving the days of playing it safe with established customer experience frameworks behind. For example, they could provide a ‘pop-up branch’, with a bus travelling between areas on set days so that people in remote areas can enjoy a regular face to face banking experience, or look to partner with other types of businesses, such as cafes, providing a customer service representative in a more informal setting.
Whatever the future may bring, the key thing for banks is having flexibility built in; this means being able to have a conversation across a variety of channels and formats so they will always be able to give customers the right message and service at the right time and over the right channel.
Put simply, banks must be able to provide a consistently satisfying experience across multiple channels, amending the service so they can satisfy customers. This will mean they do not need to worry about being blown out of the water by competitors or market changes, and can look forward to a bright long-term future.