A banker looks at a screen
By Pete Daugherty | March 23, 2023

Four Lessons Branch Bank Leaders Can Learn from Retailers

Similar tactics can be used to reduce friction in the customer experience.

As a career banker, one thing I’ve learned is that you must pay attention to what retailers are doing and, in many cases, emulate their business practices. The products and services sold in retail stores and bank branches may be different, but the way they’re sold is very much the same. That’s why the issues and solutions discussed at the NRF Big Show each year really resonate with me. They all touch on four key lessons that must be taken to heart if you want to run a successful branch banking operation:

 1. Customers Are King

One of the top questions asked by retailers when pitched an idea or “solution,” tends to be, “How does this help my customer?” In fact, I remember when Marvin Ellison, CEO of Lowe’s, spoke at the show back in 2019 about why it’s so important to focus on the fundamentals—ensuring that shopping experience is frictionless and associates are knowledgeable and engaged in every interaction with customers. Much like in retail, banking customers have more options than ever before, thanks to the increased competition that’s brought on by lowering barriers to entry. They now visit branches in person less often, but those visits are often for more complex questions and premium services. As a result, these customers often have higher expectations for the service they receive, so providing a high-touch customer experience and outstanding customer service are top priorities. Freeing up staff to focus exclusively on the fundamentals and simplifying non-customer activities helps branch associates exceed customers’ expectations – simply because they can give each customer their undivided attention. Of course, it takes more than just making people available to keep customers happy. You must ensure the right people are available – those with the information and skills needed to answer questions and complete transactions. That leads me into the next lesson…

 2. Technology Reduces Scheduling-Related Stress 

As predicted a few years ago, retail has been one of the fastest industries to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, especially those that help improve labor forecasting and keep associates focused on high-value tasks, which are those that directly translate into sales. But what I don’t think enough people talk about is how the AI-powered workforce management software developed for retail use can also be used in bank branches to help managers optimize forecasting using factors like traffic and non-customer workload. They also support lean branch staffing models as well as both mixed-skill and premium specialist staffing. So, you can schedule staff with multiple roles or across branches in the network, ensuring that the right-skilled staff are in the right place at the right time. 

3. Brick-and-Mortar Experiences Thrive

Despite dire predictions about the retail apocalypse before, during and after the pandemic, most brick-and-mortar stores are still thriving. Many digital native brands even comment on the value of the physical store. One recent report indicates that digital sales actually jump when brick-and-mortar locations open. Well, the same is very much true about the bank branch. Its death has been greatly overstated. That’s why it’s critical to simplify and prioritize workflows and maintain impeccable brand standards. Even though customers may not walk through the door as often, when they do, they have high expectations for service. Anything you can do to reduce wait times, while still maintaining a lower staffing level, and ensure they walk out the door with a completed transaction receipt will help increase customer satisfaction and return visits – both online and in the branch.

4. Staff Look to Their Colleagues to Drive Personal and Collective Success

Many business leaders think their products, services and intellectual property are their most valuable assets. But that’s not true. People are the most valuable assets. Without people who are motivated to do right by your customers, your business has no chance of succeeding, much less thriving. That’s why retail leaders like Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly frequently speak to the importance of investing in your workforce. If people are frustrated or burned out, that negative energy will be picked up by customers who may or may not get the level of service they need to feel comfortable to do business with you.

In retail banking, you can see this people investment trend blossoming with the rise of “universal banker” programs that cross-train staff to create a more flexible workforce. However, simplifying and, in some cases, automating branch scheduling processes are also key to unleashing the power of collaborative service execution. This may seem like small potatoes in the scheme of things, but giving branch associates a way to view and adjust their schedule on a mobile app in a self-service tool can dramatically improve employee engagement and retention as the autonomy boosts morale. They can work amongst themselves to ensure shifts are covered with the right people and then just uplevel to the manager for approval of negotiated changes. Adding in tools that improve communications among staff also makes them more effective, more knowledgeable, and more enthusiastic about their work.

The Takeaway

Banking is a very service-oriented industry, but so is retail. In both cases, success is determined by how well people can work both independently and together to help others get what they need. The only difference is in the deliverable. In retail, customers are looking for food, beverages, beauty products and other items to help them live well. In banking, customers either need information, money or peace of mind that they will live a financially sound life. In either case, success is determined by customer satisfaction ratings, which are determined by your workers’ job satisfaction level. If they like what they do and feel supported, it will show in their effort. And sometimes all it takes to keep banking customers happy is a little effort.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can use machine learning and AI software to help ease the frustration many of your staff members are feeling with traditional bank branch operation systems and processes, visit us online or contact us directly.

Best Practices, Banking,

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