July 15, 2014
Credit Union Management magazine’s Web-only “Facility Solutions” column runs the third Tuesday of the month.
How can a credit union translate its brand into a unique branch experience for members?
It depends on the credit union. Some want a nice-looking space that integrates new technologies and downsizes the branch and staffing model. At the other end of the scale, a number of institutions see the value in a creating a “killer” brand experience that helps carry the brand image across all channels and drives high productivity. Each credit union is different and the process must be tuned to their objectives in terms of timing, cost, appetite for evolving the brand experience, internal commitment to change, and desired level of branding.
Here is a typical list of tasks for a developing a large organization’s branch prototype.
- Build a multi-functional team. Some of the most successful prototypes have included involvement of the CEO from start to finish. CEO participation strongly suggests the importance of the branding and prototype process and helps raise team motivation and commitment to real change. The heads of each department should be included, plus line staff who can talk about what they are experiencing in the branches with members every day. These individuals are typically the highest performers in your organization and are often Millennials, who add an important perspective. The vast majority of credit unions do not have the resources to maintain a highly qualified group of branding or prototyping experts. Consultants are often contracted to lead the process and deliver the prototype design, package, standards and rollout.
- Define and embrace the brand prototype objectives. Part of this process is developing a common vocabulary that brings the team together. Answer these kinds of questions:
- What are your objectives for branch efficiency and productivity, location flexibility, unit cost, operating cost, and time to market?
- What impact on staffing do you expect?
- Are you planning to change your cash handling, process, or communication technologies?
- Are you going to add new products and services, such as small business banking, wealth management, or insurance?
- What is your appetite for change?
- How can you use the process to tell your story to staff, members, and the community?
- How can this work be used to increase staff understanding of your brand and enhance staff training?
- How can this work be used for marketing? (See Vancity Credit Union’s video about these last few points.)
- What are the metrics you will use to define success? For example, you might want to survey members as they leave your current branches about their knowledge of your products and services. Then, when the prototype is in place, ask the same questions. If product and service awareness has double or tripled, which is often the case, you can then correlate awareness to engagement and use.
- Center the team. The job of every member of the prototype team is to make the entire credit union successful. A very effective tool for getting this group on track is to conduct a questionnaire about process objectives.
- Define the target market. Understand your market’s characteristics, financial experience likes and dislikes, emotional triggers, and willingness to change. If the brand has recently been evaluated and updated, a good deal of information should be available to both define the target market and understand what members of the market want in a meaningful relationship and experience with a financial institution. Market data can help you make projections about financial product use down to the block level. This can help define whether a branch in a particular market should offer a particular service, such as wealth management or business services. If a credit union wants to elevate its market understanding to the level of retailers like Starbucks, it can employ psycho-demographic analysis to pinpoint markets with matching values and interests to the brand.
- Know what members and staff want in their branch experience. We can determine what members want by how they act today and what consumers want by looking at other credit unions’ and banks' prototypes, reading articles, and listening to consultants’ experience and knowledge. If you have a very strong and well-thought-out brand to start, this method can produce a very workable prototype. If there is any question about the brand position, voice or consumer perceptions and you want to create a killer brand experience that separates you from the pack, you need to conduct surveys of members and non-members to get target audience feedback. But be careful who conducts the surveys. You need an unbiased consultant that understands how to formulate questions that will drive critical thought and return useful answers. The next step is to conduct focus groups. For a large institution, these often include consumers, small businesses, and line staff. Again, a highly experienced independent consultant should conduct these sessions, as the results will be a foundational element of the prototype solution.
- Audit the branches. Like studying history, it is important to know what has happened in the past and where things are today to have a clear picture of what is working and what is not. Are there elements of the member experience that need to be retained and just reframed within the context of the prototype? An audit, based on talking with managers about their experiences with members and staff in their branches, can help you find out.
- Audit the brand and delivery channel expressions and experience. The new branch experience must align with all other delivery channels. Find out how they align and let that information influence branch design and how the new branch brand experience can be used to improve delivery through alternative channels.
- Conduct the prototype session. All this research forms a solid knowledge base upon which to build the branch prototype and member experience. This process engages everyone to share ideas and come to consensus. Together, team members are doing more than adding some new technology, reducing staff, or decorating a nice interior. They are creating a new business model and brand experience from the ground up. During these sessions the team maps experience goals for members, staff, and the surrounding community. The team must also describe staff performance expectations within the context of the branch prototype.
- Integrate technology. At a recent retail banking meeting in Orlando, a few of breakout sessions included discussions about how cash handling technology is changing the branch experience. While this trend is a near tsunami in the industry, a number of institutions have decided not to evolve to remote teller terminals for two reasons. The most important is that the experience does not align with their brand experience and does nothing to positively differentiate them in the market. Added to this, a number of FIs see the use of personal teller machines as an industry fad that will be over in a few years. For many institutions, personal teller machines are the right answer, as they can provide 24/7 cash delivery with a face. There are other technologies that must be considered as well. How can credit unions provide devices to be used by staff to schedule meetings, present examples, train members, and enhance privacy? How can they be used by members to get information, learn about a new tool, and be entertained with stories about staff and the credit union’s involvement in the community? Should we provide a tech bar, chairs with tablet arms, or a booth with a small table? In addition to credit union devices, how can we integrate members’ own devices? Other technologies can add to the experience. Some branches feature light blocks that make walls gradually change color from one side to the other. The staff and members love the innovation of a constantly changing environment that is interesting and artistic.
- Build engagement and process mapping. We now have the knowledge base to map out the flow for every reason a member is entering the branch and the corresponding action of the staff. For example, when someone comes in to open an account, discuss a loan, ask for financial advice, or resolve an issue, what is his or her frame of mind? What and who is seen when the member enters? What is the supporting messaging and where should it be placed? How do you migrate from one level of privacy to another? What is the transition from human to automation and on-site staff to remote high value service providers? What is the path and how can we add value at every physical and visual touch point? By mapping the flow for each member purpose and staff opportunity, we are engineering engagement with people, technology, merchandising, messaging, and the physical space. If well planned, the interactions will be natural and not forced. This mapping can then be used to create a branch floor plan that will guide a successful experience for every occasion.
Paul Seibert, CMC, is VP/financial design at CUES Supplier member EHS Design, Seattle.
Photo credit: Dollarphotoclub.com/denis_pc