Banking has become far more convenient, thanks to digital apps and products. As important as that is, digital tools can’t replace relationships, no matter how sophisticated the tools are. And banks are learning this the hard way.
The number of people primarily accessing their bank accounts through mobile apps or websites rose from 39% to 52% between 2013 and 2017, according to a survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Even still, almost a quarter of customers went to a teller more often than to their bank’s website, according to the same survey. While no one denies the importance of digital capabilities, clearly, the need for a personal touch in the banking customer experience isn’t going anywhere.
So how can banks close the gap between digital and personal and deliver an experience built on both? It starts with internal branding.
Building Internal Brand Alignment
Let’s face it. It’s hard for consumers to tell one bank from another. The products are similar, the online and mobile tools are comparable, and even the interest rates for savings or borrowing are usually only marginally different. More than that, banking is intensely personal and, for a lot of people, intimidating.
For you to create a distinct customer experience, then, you have to deliver something standout at every customer touchpoint. To do this, you have to actively pursue internal brand alignment.
Marketing makes promises to customers every day — promises about who you are and the customer experience you offer. But are those promises baked into the way your organization functions? When you’re aligned, every person on your team will understand what your brand promise is, why it’s unique, and what role he or she plays in delivering it. Even better, those individuals will feel confident in representing it and sharing it with the world.
Take Capital One’s café branches. These comfortable, inviting spaces are equal parts café, tech hub, and bank, and they’re a complete reimagining of what the banking experience can be. The idea, according to Chicago Café Coach Antonio Wilson, is to make people comfortable over regular visits for coffee before they start talking to the bankers.
These bank-cafés are the result of sharp, effective internal branding — you can’t successfully create a holistic experience like that without instilling the concept in frontline teams. They have to believe in the experience if they’re going to make it a reality for customers.
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The Costs of Misalignment
Unfortunately, misalignment or brand dilution tends to be the more common condition. In a joint survey with FocusVision, we found that nearly three in five (59%) senior professionals from midsize to large companies across several industries agreed that their brand stories were being diluted en route to customers. That’s especially alarming when you consider that 62% estimated that consistency in brand messaging was worth at least $10 million annually.
Lost revenue isn’t the only damaging effect of dilution; stagnation is an equally serious threat to banks and credit unions. Without making an effort to deliver a solid customer experience, relationships don’t grow.
In banking, the holy grail is the customer, who offers more and more wallet share throughout his or her time with the financial institution. As relationships get stronger, customers open new accounts and diversify their portfolios. If they don’t, opportunities get left on the table — or more likely, go elsewhere — and the institution struggles to grow.
The 4 Realities That Make Your Brand Central
Distilling and dispersing a strong brand vision is essential for getting teams aligned and offering a standout experience to every customer you interact with. This is not easy to accomplish. Three of the top 11 brand challenges marketers identify relate to internal alignment, according to Gartner’s CMO Brand Strategy survey.
By embracing the following four realities to maximize their brand as their most valuable asset, banks and credit unions can set themselves apart as more than just another bank:
1. Relationships are the new growth engine. I get a $500 offer from financial institutions at least once a week asking me to become a customer, but I hardly ever hear from my own bank asking how it can better serve me. Strong brands realize that existing customers are their best prospective customers, and they devote more time to engaging them, not just chasing new market share.
PNC Financial Services is gradually shifting its focus in this direction as it opens “solution centers” around the U.S. These units emphasize open gathering spaces, use ATMs to handle most routine transactions, and have branch bankers ready to personally help customers who need more. So far, the solution centers are seeing four to five times more deposits than other PNC branches. Something is working, and that something is a useful, consistent brand experience.
Banks that focus on developing sustainable relationships may not see quick sales spikes every quarter, but they’ll win the game in the long run.
2. Stories are the new sales pitch. The old sales motto “always be closing” is outdated. Smart brands are about stories, not just sales. They deliver value through emotional connections and relatable dialogue and go beyond discussing basic rates and yields.
But these stories don’t come out of nowhere. They’re shaped by the brand and communicated through internal and external marketing strategies. You need a strong brand identity and a commitment to showing both your internal teams and customers how you’re delivering on your promises. No one likes to be sold, but everyone loves a good story. Equip employees at every level to tell yours.
3. Employees are the new advertisements. Banks and credit unions aren’t going to quit advertising. But you can amplify the value and effectiveness of your efforts by engaging every member of your team to be a true brand ambassador.
What if you thought of your employees as your main advertisement? If they understand the brand story and create a parallel experience, they’ll create more profitable relationships with your customers. First, use your brand to enhance the employee experience; then, let those employees use it to improve customer service.
4. Logos are the new faces, and customer experience is the new product. In banking, you used to do business with a person, not a company. A natural trust came from working with the local banker at the local branch. Now, the task for many financial institutions that have grown much larger is to build that trust and neighborhood feel.
Customers will trust your brand if you consistently deliver on the experience you promise. Successful internal brand alignment means that every employee in your organization can be part of making your logo synonymous with a great customer experience.
Banks and credit unions everywhere are pulling out all the stops to attract new customers, but only a few are successfully using their best asset — their brand — to create more lasting customer relationships. In this case, the path less traveled is the one that will propel you toward alignment and carve out a place for your financial institution.