Forget the Branch vs. Digital Banking Debate! It’s About Customer Experience.

The industry is all too familiar with the back and forth debate over branch vs. digital banking. In fact, it’s impossible not to read about it when picking up any trade journal or perusing through your LinkedIn feed: Do customers prefer to conduct their banking online or in person? With mobile banking surging, are branches still relevant?

This debate is old and stodgy, and quite frankly, doesn’t get to the heart of the issue – the customer experience.

First, let’s clear up one thing – branches are here to stay. According to a study from Citi, 46 percent of U.S. consumers increased their

 use of mobile banking in 2018. However, 60 percent of Americans would still rather open a new checking account in person at a bank branch rather than on a phone, tablet or desktop computer, according to a recent survey from Reuters.

In trying to determine what the customer wants and where they want to get it, we miss out on the big picture – their experience. Whether they’re doing business digitally or in a branch, customers expect enjoyable, painless interactions coupled with quick, accurate results, including recommendations on products they need.

Seems simple, right?

But in a branch, customers are spending over half an hour just to open a new account. Clearly, this does not translate into a good experience. Moreover, they’re not receiving relevant offers or being introduced to products and services that would actually help them.

Consider this: on average, customers need around seven products from their financial institution, but they generally walk out of a bank with only the basics – free checking and a debit card. Not only is this a recipe for bad service, but banks are missing out on opportunities.

Fortunately, there is a way for institutions to better engage with customers that not only delivers a better experience but also increases their bottom line – Customer Engagement Management (CEM) technology that leverages AI-driven product recommendations.

At a high level, CEM is managing the messaging, methodologies and processes around direct customer interactions with the financial institution, whether in the branch, over the phone or online. Simply put, it is the process of engaging with customers in an easier, relevant and measurable approach. Bankers can meet the unique needs of customers by guiding conversations that result in 100% accurate product and service recommendations.

But don’t confuse CEM for CRM. A CRM system does a great job with tracking and managing customer information. CRMs, can be much more powerful when CEM technology feeds into it with the recommendations and results from each customer interaction. This allows any follow-up interactions to be precisely directed at the customer’s needs, delivering a much better interaction and an improved customer experience.

Let’s face it – no one wants to be sold products they don’t need. They do, however, want services that help them. Feeding information about a customer into a CEM platform helps inform interactions, thus providing a more personalized experience and allowing bankers to offer the most relevant products and services.

As customer expectations increase, financial institutions need to ditch the branch vs. digital debate and focus on customer engagement, regardless of the channel. The survival of every bank and credit union in the U.S. will ultimately depend on how well they engage with customers at every point of interaction. As the industry evolves, technology must remain at the heart of customer engagement, both online and in the branch.

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