Banks, Branches and Interactive Tech: The ‘Why’ vs. The ‘Wow’

Implementing interactive technology in your branches requires careful strategy and execution. Here are some key points to consider.

A big US retailer opened a flagship store this winter at a shopping mall in the city I call home — a store clearly built with an executive edict for the ‘Wow Factor.’

Somebody in the C-suite told managers, who told designers, who told the tech people, that they wanted to see customers walk into this shiny new store and promptly need to pull their dropped jaws off the floor. There are digital screens everywhere. Shoppers are encouraged to poke away at touchscreens and gesture at vast video walls. Money was no object in bringing this store to life.

My reaction on walking into the store was indeed Wow, as in: “Wow, this is a disaster.”

Touchscreens were frozen. The gesture wall wasn’t working. Video content was twitching. And shoppers were mostly oblivious to all that Wow.

After decades in the retail technology space, I’ve seen this sort of thing repeatedly — an aspiration to load up a retail environment with whatever technology seems to be generating mainstream buzz. What I’ve also seen is that it rarely pays off, because almost no one ever pushes back about the “Why?” when people push for the “Wow.”

Why would shoppers stand in front of a Kinect sensor and try to wave their way into getting content to move on a screen, when an interactive touchscreen would do just fine?

Why would consumers “engage” with a touchscreen, when there’s nothing faster, better or easier about using that screen, as opposed to just picking up a brochure?

Why would people opt in to get marketing information pushed via beacon technology to their smartphones, when they routinely ignore the brochure racks that have all that stuff? Why would a QR code make consumers any more motivated to get specific information, when it’s laborious and unreliable?

More pointedly, why do some retail execs in the banking industry think injecting flashy technology into a branch will make a measureable difference to the performance indicators that really matter?

Talk Yourself Off The Whiz-Bang Cliff

Much of my time is spent meeting with bank marketing and operations people around the world, formulating plans to effectively use digital messaging in their branches. Emphasis on effectively.

In working with some financial institutions, we’ve exhausted an inordinate amount of energy talking them off the proverbial marketing cliff. They want to leap head-long into a new store strategy that’s heavy on whiz-bang but light on measurable objectives and returns. The biggest concern is that they can end up implementing overly complicated solutions that would work just as well (and far more reliably) by keeping them simple.

You should always be asking yourself this one fundamental question: What will this technology make better? If there’s no ready answer, there’s no sound reason to pursue it in your branches.

Nebulous vs. Tangible

We were doing interactive in branches 20 years ago, and we’ve seen first-hand the chasm between the nebulous aspirations of “customer engagement” and the tangible results of thoughtful, strategic interactive tools that deliver real value. A touchscreen that just repackages what’s available in online and mobile channels is suspect. A touchscreen, however, that registers a customer with the branch queue management system, for example, offers real value.

I also take my cues from the analog world, in helping clients consider how digital might get applied. Much of the banking world has, for decades, had brochures and other material available for customers who want to learn more about products and services. But we know the percentage of customers who flow through branches and actually take that marketing collateral is very low.

So why then would making that material also available by tapping an NFC-enabled phone, or accepting messages by Bluetooth, be better? The latter, Bluetooth-driven proximity marketing, has generated a lot of interest and activity since Apple debuted its iBeacons last year. But earlier versions of that technology have been around for more than a decade, and there has never been much enthusiasm among consumers to have coupons, offers and pitches pushed to their phones.

The new Bluetooth Low Energy beacons (which are not, by the way, unique to Apple) have more capabilities, and some of the possibilities are intriguing. Strategically positioned beacons can, for example, provide real-time, quantitative data on how customers move past, into and through branches, as well as where they dwell.

The point here is that analytics technology offers none of the marketing sizzle of interactive apps or big gesture-driven video walls, but the data can generate a Wow from the people who steadily looking at ways to drive branch experiences and performance.

Immense Power When Done Right

It’s important to always remember interactive technology is just plastic, glass, precious metals and binary numbers. Technology, without great strategy and execution, will only deliver some very short-term “Wow Factor.”

It can work (really well) when you take the time — starting at the concept stage — to figure out what makes sense for the specific place, people and moments. What will create a big and lasting visual impact?

When interactive technology is designed as part of the customer journey and integrated into the sales choreography of branches, it can have real impact. We also know that younger demographic groups assume and expect interaction will be available on screens of any size — certainly the screens in their hands.

But young adults who’ve never known a world without the web and wireless connectivity still expect experiences to deliver value. They may be far more conditioned to use touchscreens, but that doesn’t mean they’ll keep using something.

The key is to approach interactive and other splashy technology as an innovation project first. There is immense value in testing and tweaking to see not only what resonates with customers, but what fits with the organization and delivers on tangible objectives.

It’s really meaningful when the common reactions shift from: “Wow, that’s one big screen” or “Wow, now I know why my banking fees went up” to “Wow, THIS is where I want to do my banking.”


Tom Pritzker is the EVP Sales, Marketing & Relationship Management at JohnRyan. JohnRyan’s digital signage platform is the most widely installed in the U.S. and Europe, supporting networks from 70 to 3,000 branches. The company continues to innovate by enhancing its digital signage offering with the latest interactive, tablet and mobile technologies. You can follow John Ryan on Twitter by clicking here.

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