The Virtual Branch
Research shows that when it comes to the financial industry and banks in particular the biggest shortfall and reason for customers switching to competitors is service. The majority of these service complaints arise from Branches and poor service received by employees or the long queue times etc. No customer enjoys going to a branch but in many instances a visit to the branch is inevitable.
I would like to suggest a two innovative solutions to either avoid the visit to the branch in totality or at least enhance the customer's entire experience by exceeding their expectations. Besides the inconvenience of most branches having long queues, the other biggest issue is the operating hours, many branches open and close during office ours while customers are still at work and not able to leave to get to the branch in time. My innovative solutions for South African banks is two-fold.
1. Genius Bar Concept:
Give the customers the option to book a "Branch Visit", using a system similar to the Apple Genius Bar . This system would be accessible on the bank's website, mobile site and social media platforms. The user journey is simple and guides the customer every step of the way gathering as much information and detail regarding their need as possible to ensure that their branch visit is a quick and convenient visit. The steps would involve selecting a specific branch, a day and time and provide as much information as possible about their need (this then allows the bank consultant to do as much of the paper work as possible before the customer's appointment). This system would also be accessible at branches via a touch screens mounted against branch windows which will provide access after hours. The main objective is to manage customer's expectations, even if the customer can only make an appointment for a months time they at least know when they get to the branch, it will be a quick and pleasant experience (there are also great marketing opportunities during this process). Within the branch there will be the traditional queues and then there will be the "Express Queue" which will only be accessible to the customers that have made an appointment via the "Genius Bar".
2. Virtual Branch:
In many cases customers wish to just speak to a bank consultant face-to-face to find out more information about a product or a service. There is always the call centre option however this often involves long waiting times and very often customers prefer face-to-face contact. The idea is to have virtual consultants that are accessible anywhere and anytime (at least to 7pm in the evening), this virtual branch will be accessible through the bank's different digital platforms (website and Facebook). ASB, a bank in New Zealand has already implemented something like this, most banks have Call Centre's equipped to handle any customer complaints and queries, so why not train a couple of these consultants to use webcam and IM technology.
At the end of the day, banking products are very generic across all the banks in South Africa, the products and services are the same and in many cases even have the same names and features (Gold Card, Platinum Card etc.) the only real differentiator is "Service", the first bank that can "out-care" their competitors and deliver superior service will inevitably lead the market.