Picture this: dozens, maybe hundreds of people walking aimlessly, their eyes glazed, looking down, oblivious to the environment that surrounds them. No, this isn’t the next zombie apocalypse blockbuster, it’s the scene common at any grocery store, shopping mall or bank branch — everyone staring at their mobile phone.
This generation of consumers could be called “Mobile Zombies.” Instead of craving human flesh, these zombies have an insatiable appetite for spending time on their mobile devices. Mobile Zombies spend more than four hours a day glued to their mobile device — texting, getting directions, sending emails, searching the internet, and engaging with friends on social networks. 79% of them continue using their smartphone to read or text while driving a car or riding a bike at least once a week; 12% do so at least once a day. More than half grab their phone and check it first thing when getting up, and it’s the last thing they do before heading for bed.
What effect does all this mobile usage have on brand engagement? Financial institutions are challenged to break through and engage consumers. You could argue having customers glued to their smartphone when visiting a branch helps keep them distracted while they wait in the queue or lounge, but that’s not really in the best interest of the financial institution.
The human touch in banking is under siege. In a study fielded by Shikatani Lacroix Design, only 24% of respondents ranked an interaction with a teller as their top choice to do their banking, well behind ATMs, the internet, or through their mobile banking app. Technology is a strong enabler for convenience, but the relationship customers have with frontline staff still matters. Although the percentage of people going to branches is down, it is still critical that each visit be leveraged to its full potential. You must capitalize on these pivotal opportunities if you are to successfully engage consumers and build long-term relationships with them.
The Mobile Zombie generation is challenging the value of a physical branch network. However, financial institutions can leverage consumers’ learned behaviors with smartphones to help drive dialogue and provide a strong platform for personalized messaging and service — both of which are highly craved by the Millennial generation.
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1. Geofenced Offers
The majority of Mobile Zombies have some type of mobile banking app. Banks and credit unions can leverage this platform to gain permission to send specific in-branch offers and customized messages that will allow branch visitors to engage with staff in meaningful ways. In our study, there are two optimal milieu for geofenced communications — when they are parked in their cars before entering the branch, and in the waiting area — and these can be managed through simple technologies like iBeacons. All other areas, such as in teller queue, at teller stations or in offices, fail to engage branch visitors.
In order to drive a stronger positive customer engagement, geofencing offers should focus around rewarding people for their visit — e.g., a simple recognition of their loyalty, or a promotional “thank you rate” on a mortgage.
A big trend in China is self-check-in kiosks, used to eliminate queue lines. These digital queuing systems are now making their way into North America. Tapping smartphones — literally! — is a smart way to minimize branch staff (FTEs) through queue-management.
2. Mobile Apps Can Eliminate Friction
In our study, respondents said they would use their smartphones to help them streamline branch visits. Not only would like to be able to determine how busy a branch is prior to a visit, they are willing to use their mobile devices for self-service check-ins, and they say they are open to receiving information while they wait.
Retail banking providers need to cater to consumers’ smartphone expectations; heck, there even some DMV offices stream video of their waiting area so people can see how busy the location is or isn’t. Millennials in particular think that any piece of information they might want is something they should be able to find online… and they get irritated when they can’t.
Banks and credit unions should allow consumers to pre-book with their favorite teller, determine the length of the queue, and allow people to pre-complete forms so they can reduce their overall transaction time. The big friction points with branches are (1) created by wait times, (2) the need for repeat visits due to forms not being properly prepared, and (3) the inability to resolve issues quickly and efficiently. You’ll notice a trend here: It’s all about time — no one wants to waste it. That’s where smartphones can help financial institutions facilitate faster and more convenient service within the branch by overcoming these friction points.
3. Leverage Health Monitoring Trends
Since the new trend is to monitor and track every aspect of a person’s life, the ability to track customer’s financial health can provide value to both the bank and its customers. An annual Gallup survey on personal finance found that most Americans do not prepare monthly budgets, and a whopping 70% do not prepare long-term financial plans. Mobile Zombies’ obsession with health-related apps and the ability to track progress against set goals is another learned behavior financial institutions can exploit. They should deploy apps that provide the same kind of analysis and benefits — e.g., a financial fitness app tailored for a mobile experience. Once someone has installed the app, you can pair it with iBeacon or Bluetooth technology to engage them in your branches.
4. Increase Staff Engagement
In our study, branch visitors said that greeters and tellers were among the handful of things that would pry their attention from the mobile device in their hand. To get Mobile Zombies off their phones, banks and credit unions should rethink the roles greeters and tellers. Frontline staff provide the greatest opportunity to engage, and more effectively deliver key marketing messages versus the traditional poster and brochure. Greeters can help reduce perceived wait times and assist with the digital check-in system. You can leverage tablets to quickly respond to customer questions, assist with self check-in, or direct them to the appropriate individual/office.
5. Go Big on Digital Signage
Respondents in our survey said a single digital sign ranked very low at pulling their attention away from their mobile device. However, larger multi-screen displays (e.g., video walls) are much more effective. When redesigning your branch experience, you should consider how to better leverage large scale digital signage. But having the screens is only one part of the solution. You also need bold and exciting content if you hope to create a significant impact on anyone holding a smartphones. Some branch visitors will enjoy using their smartphones to interact with a large video display, for instance checking local weather or traffic. You have to remember, you are competing for attention against one of the most powerful and entertaining inventions in human history.
6. Explore VR Technology
This emerging technology has value for customers waiting for an appointment by providing a platform to educate while entertaining the guest. Since most wait times are for mortgages, loan applications or investment advice, the VR content can effectively engage along these lines, perhaps using unique and game-based approaches. The novelty of this technology alone will create some noteworthy buzz and attention — a fun public relations opportunity, to say the least. With relevant “game-style” content relevant to banking/financial services, this tool can engage people in ways other digital technologies cannot. In fact, some financial institutions in China have already begun testing this VR technology as another vehicle to engage customers in branches.