Why Banks Are Betting on Multi-Sensory Branch Experiences

How do you make a financial brand more friendly and personal? That's a question banks and credit unions have wrestled with forever. But the challenge has only become trickier in the Digital Age. It's exceedingly difficult to humanize any brand in online channels — particularly in the banking industry. That's why brick-and-mortar branches where people can interact face-to-face still have relevance. Here's how financial institutions are bringing people back across the threshold.

For the last decade or so, it seems that banks and credit unions have been doing everything possible to keep customers out of their branches. The assumption was that the more that could be automated and shift to self-service/digital channels, the better. However, what financial institutions soon discovered was that their hands-off tactics alienated customers and made the relationship less personal — more detached. In a world of increasingly automated banking, transactions became so incredibly impersonal that loyalty has taken a nosedive.

Fast-forward to today. In our current banking landscape, financial institutions are actively working to lure customers back into their brick-and-mortar locations to reconnect with customer and strengthen relationships.

Many banks and credit unions are deliberately, strategically crafting in-branch experiences that are both innovative and unexpected. Some of the biggest banking providers in the U.S. are moving the needle with highly-curated branch concepts that foster greater levels of customer loyalty by creating a sense of community.

Financial institutions are increasingly trying to break free from the perceptual stigma of being cold, impersonal, heartless corporations who only care about their own bottom line. This objective is nearly impossible to achieve purely in online channels. That’s why branches are evolving to become friendly neighborhood destinations that feel more welcoming and open.

Read More: Umpqua Bank Unveils New ‘Neighborhood Store’

Hit The Right Nerve By Tapping All Five Senses

Retail banking providers now offer an array of services, and a unique range of sensorial experiences right along with them. Many branches these days are creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere by wafting the sweet, homey smell of freshly baked cookies. Others inject pleasing scents associated with spas.

In-house coffee bars invite customers to linger longer by doling out aromatic lattes and espressos. Capital One Cafés have folks continually coming back by offering a hefty serving of pastries and Pete’s Coffee, evoking the comforting and familiar feeling consumers associate with a visit to their favorite local coffee bar — a much more positive brand experience than one typically has in a banking context.

Pleasing the Eye

Smart banks and credit unions appreciate the value of good design (think: every Apple product ever). That’s why they are transforming the traditionally sterile and utilitarian branch environment with its stuffy décor and DMV-style queues into vibrant, colorful spaces.

Financial institutions are using the branch experience to reposition their brands as quaint, local destinations rather than cold, corporate cookie-cutter institutions. Branches are taking on smaller footprints, broken down into varied content zones once patrons cross the threshold. Many branches scrap the monotonous, cubicle-like offices for open concepts awash in mood-lifting hues and furnished with a mix of modern materials like warm wood, metal, and glass. Some leading banks and credit unions are leveraging the same sophisticated strategies of environmental design and behavioral psychology that the world’s best retailers use to create a breakthrough brick-and-mortar experience.

Read More: Umpqua Bank’s New ‘Human+Digital’ Strategy: A Banker In Every Pocket

Fusing Digital Into the Experience

Beyond finishes and floorplans, there’s been a noticeable influx of digital signage cropping up in the new branch designs you see financial institutions rolling out these days. In the old days, you might see one or two screens scattered here and there throughout a branch — typically just behind the teller counter. These days, however, branch interiors are being outfitted with dozens of interactive LCDs, touchscreens, interactive interfaces and educational kiosks that share targeted information, promote new products and services, and entertain waiting customers.

What’s That… Sound?

An open floor plan concept can present a challenge for privacy — essential to the success of any financial institution’s branch experience. Especially when it comes to customers discussing confidential banking needs. One solution? The friendly hum of specially curated playlists.

Music affords a welcome distraction and has a masking effect that provides a sense of privacy to customers and employees alike, helping reduce concerns of being overheard by other patrons. One study revealed that music improves brand perception, with 76 percent of customers imparting that they felt their wait time passed more quickly when music was playing overhead. More so, 56% of customers felt more comfortable having confidential conversations when ambient music was streaming on premise.

Make Sure Multimedia Technologies Don’t Open Up a Backdoor to Hackers

Macchiatos and coffee cakes aside, there’s much that goes into syncing up to a financial institution’s inner network behind the scenes. When it comes to media players streaming content — be it audio or visual — security is paramount. There is a whole slew of components that need to be considered, carefully driven by internal IT teams: the ability to work within a network, inside or outside a firewall, static vs. dynamic IP addresses, and bandwidth (meaning when the actual media player can download new content). Data security is paramount for financial institutions. There’s always the threat of hacking and it’s imperative that sensitive consumer data be protected at all costs.

Building a Multi-Sensory Brand in the Digital Age

Some of the biggest banking institutions are bucking tradition by reinventing the customer experience. As the banking sector evolves, branches need to offer innovative services AND fresh sensorial experiences. If financial institutions want repeat business they must create a unique customer journey that plays to all the five senses, fosters a sense of community, and promotes both customer trust and loyalty.

Gone are the days of plastic pens chained to bulletproof teller windows. We’re ushering in a new era of personalized, relationship-based banking that doles out more than just overdraft fees. You can bank on it.

Jaime Bettencourt is the SVP/Business Development at Mood Media. During her tenure at Mood Media, she has been in various marketing, branding and sales leadership roles and has worked with global organizations to enhance in-store experiences through targeted brand initiatives and marketing strategies supported by customer insights and analytics.

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