Question: Community branch, personal service, mobile banking—which is the odd one out?
Answer: None. Otherwise, the industry is in trouble.
For some time now, there have been discussions about the future of community banks in the age of digital banking. After all, this is a sector of the industry that built its reputation largely on the basis of a personalized form of customer service—as industry observers continue to point out, branch staffers are famed for knowing their customers by name. What happens when this genteel, Norman Rockwell-esque universe gets swallowed up by Tweets and mobile apps?
First, let’s acknowledge that isn’t happening, it’s already happened. Many established banking practices have been radically transformed through digital capabilities, and more changes are coming. In other words, the premise for this discussion is obsolete, and constant hand-wringing about days gone by is little more than a waste of time.
In fact, that’s why the original question is so relevant: In the world of community branches, why are personal service and mobile banking seen as being mutually exclusive?
To be sure, there’s nothing quite like face-to-face interaction—it’s warm and personal, lending each transaction the ultimate human touch. By contrast, the very idea of digital communication seems cold and distant and impersonal.
But look at it this way: The unending parade of social media channels and mobile apps, accompanied by the widespread public adoption of each new innovation as it arrives, gives us more information about each customer than ever before. The very notion of Big Data can seem Big Brother-like, but it, too, is here to stay, and it’s in our best interest to make it serve us.
It doesn’t take a police state to piece together nuggets of information from Google searches, Tweets followed, Facebook pages liked, blogs perused, ads scanned and online purchases made (along with every other digital phenomenon) to develop comprehensive profiles of each customer. These technologies were once the realm of multinational conglomerates, but today there are many affordable alternatives available for financial services providers of every stripe.
More to the point, the customer universe is changing in its own way—consumers increasingly expect (and respond to) marketing initiatives and digital apps that meet their own very specific needs. This is an era in which because we can learn more about each individual, we essentially have to learn more about each individual in order to serve them.
To put it another way, this is the new face of personalized customer service. Rather than just greeting customers by name and touching on family connections, as community banks have long done, they can tailor services that are uniquely customized for each member of the community.
In the Information Age, guided by Big Data, community banks with local branches shouldn’t feel besieged by the onslaught of mobile applications. Things are and will be very different, no doubt about that. But with the right strategy and implementation, new technologies can provide an arsenal with which to offer more personalized customer service than ever before.