November 08, 2013

Face-to-face customer experience has always been the hallmark of retail banking. Going to your neighborhood branch has traditionally felt like going to the Cheers bar in downtown Boston – a place “where everybody knows your name.”

But as the industry’s current focus on cost cutting continues, you may soon have to bid a tearful farewell to your neighborhood bank branch. More banks are closing branches because they are becoming too expensive to operate. In 2012, US banks shut 2,267 branches according to SNL Financial, a Virginia-based research firm. In Wisconsin, Associated Bank estimated that each branch shutdown saves the company $300,000. After closing 21 branches last year, it’s in the process of shutting another dozen.

"The number of transactions in branches is plummeting," says Brett King, author of "Bank 3.0" and "Branch Today, Gone Tomorrow." Customers don't visit branches as often, because, he says, “people do so much more of their day-to-day banking without them."

This presents a new challenge for banks. How can they close branches to reduce costs and still provide an exceptional customer experience with a personal feel?

Maintaining ‘Neighborhood Branch’ Service

In order to maintain the familiarity and quality of “neighborhood branch” service, a number of leading banks, large and small, have introduced video conferencing as the new form of face-to-face customer interaction.

A large U.S. bank, for example, as part of its “branch transformation” initiative, announced in April 2013 the launch of its next generation ATM with video teller assistance. This type of technology enables customers to receive real-time, personal assistance through video conferencing – an experience similar to walking up to a banking center counter.

Additional benefits gained from this initiative include greater flexibility over how, when and where to bank, including access to a range of services during extended hours.

You might be thinking, "Who really needs to speak with a bank teller in the middle of the night?" Apparently, lots of people do. The Financial Brand reports that after one credit union installed a virtual teller system, 60 percent of its transactions took place outside of standard business hours.

Video Conferencing Can Boost Revenue

It is doubtful that bank branches will disappear entirely. However, the types of transactions taking place at the branch will probably change. According to King, branches will most likely become less focused on simple transactions and more focused on sales activities, such as opening new bank accounts and steering customers to more profitable services and products like retirement plans, brokerage accounts and loans.

Video conferencing can also be integrated into these remaining branch locations in order to boost revenue. For example, a large U.S. bank has been trialing a service called Remote Video Wealth Advisers, which allows customers to fill out the necessary paperwork online in advance, and then visit their local branch for a digital face-to-face meeting with the adviser best fit to deliver guidance. With high definition screens in place, this video interaction feels like the adviser is right there in the room.

Banks are not the only organizations using video to cut costs while boosting customer service. Last year Hertz, the largest worldwide airport car rental brand, announced that its home-based agent program would be upgraded to include next generation video-enabled kiosks. In this case, both agents and customers benefit from the more flexible operating hours.

Growth Expected in Video Channel

Richard Snow, vice president and research director for Ventana Research, estimates that less than 10 percent of company contact centers currently have video in place. However, demand for this channel is expected to grow as users become more familiar and fluent with video. In parallel, companies will also have to improve quality and application.

Snow also believes that one of the key challenges involves integrating video technology with other service channels in order to give customers a consistent experience. This will be critical because today’s consumers are known to embrace multiple channels when interacting with their service providers.

Quality Monitoring Begins with Recording

As powerful as the video interface is, organizations wishing to deliver a truly superior customer experience must also invest in video recording technology. This allows them to continuously monitor agent performance, provide additional coaching as needed, and maintain a single standard of performance across the operation. (As an added bonus, it also lowers the organization’s total cost of ownership by simplifying upgrades and training.)

In order to be effective, this recording technology must be capable of capturing audio, video and screen within a single platform. This enables quality monitoring across both audio and visual recordings, enabling the organization to better understand not only what was said during a customer interaction, but also what was implied through the body language of the agent and the customer. These visual cues may help discern the customer’s level of satisfaction with the interaction.

Recording is also a key component of ensuring compliance. Although there is currently no regulation explicitly requiring companies to record video interactions, as banks move towards 100 percent recording, it is a best-practice approach to record any interaction, regardless of the channel. If video conferencing is the new “Cheers experience” in banking, then video recording is like your DVR, allowing you to replay and gain insights from every scene – or customer interaction.

Yohai West is a Solution Marketing Manager for NICE