JohnRyan: make in-branch messaging an asset - Nancy Radermecher

The branch is still a key element in the mix of channels that retail banks use to interact with customers. The role of the branch is nevertheless changing, so the industry needs to understand the value of both face-to-face interaction with customers and in-branch marketing. We spoke to Nancy Radermecher of retail marketing agency JohnRyan about how banks can define the endgame of branch transformation.

Customer experience is often viewed through the lens of the transition to digital channels in today's financial services industry, with some heralding the end of the branch. Most banks, however, are not ready to abandon the branch networks in which they have invested so heavily.

Retaining retail bank branches is a costly choice, so there must be some payback. For this reason, banks are giving a great deal of consideration to what their customers need from branches, and to identifying what is of value in face-to-face interaction with customers.

"A decade ago, there was a universal dislike of banks and there was a lot wrong with the branch experience," says Nancy Radermecher, president of JohnRyan. "There were long queues and there was a lot of bureaucracy involved in opening new accounts. The hours were not very convenient for working people. Certain banks back then, like Commerce Bank in the US and now Metro Bank in the UK, were notable for breaking down those barriers and finally offering banking at consumers' convenience, and offering helpful amenities like coin-counting machines.

"I think today, things have improved quite a bit and I don't think a lot of consumers have a major issue with the branch experience from the standpoint of convenience or being service-oriented," she adds. "I think what's happening now, though, is that there is a real question as to the relevance of the branch to the consumer. With the introduction of alternate channels, particularly mobile, the reasons for going to the branch are dwindling in number and the public is less prone to visiting physical facilities than ever before, which creates a mismatch of needs and wants."

JohnRyan is a retail marketing agency specialising in 'total store messaging solutions' for leading retail banks. Its Digital Signage platform is the most widely installed in the US and Europe, supporting networks of 70-3,000 branches. Its latest innovations bring an enhanced digital signage offering to the latest interactive, tablet and mobile technologies.

From this perspective, Radermecher has a view across the multichannel environment and believes that branches must adapt to provide very different services from those they offered in the past.

"A poor customer experience in the branch is no longer likely at most banks," she remarks. "Wait times - a traditional indicator of satisfaction - are rarely past acceptable levels today. A more critical issue in the omnichannel world is whether branches will fulfil their promise as centres of advice and guidance.

"Most people don’t want to have an in-depth advisory relationship through any form other than face to face."

"People still tend to get financial advice from family and friends, and the distrust of banks as a source of such advice remains high in many markets. But banks are standing ready to help customers manage their money better. The ideal is for customers to understand that going to the branch for that kind of financial service is a valuable thing to do, and for them to make time to do it. Banks have invested a great deal in improving their advisory capability over the past ten years, so they are better than ever at providing that service, which we all need. Most people don't want to have an in-depth advisory relationship through any form other than face to face."

Understanding the in-branch experience

When a bank has understood the nature of in-branch customer interactions, it can start to think about the impact of the marketing messages it puts inside the branch. In-branch messaging must evolve in tandem with the configuration and purpose of branches. Research conducted by JohnRyan in the form of its digital signage survey highlights not only the different perceptions within the industry about in-branch marketing, but also the ways in which its effectiveness can be improved.

"Every year, we touch base with banks on the issue of whether they think their branch network is important," says Radermecher. "There has not really been any change in their response. They all believe it is important, partly because they have it, and need to find ways to leverage that capital investment, but also because it is a key point for the sale of complex financial products.

"They also say that point-of-sale marketing is an essential part of the marketing mix. It is one of the key avenues for raising consumer awareness of their products in the very venue where the consumer might act upon that interest. That hasn't changed, but along with that, it is fair to say that an overwhelming majority believe that point-of-sale marketing will evolve in the near future or in the medium term to an electronic format."

While many banks have been actively moving from paper-based point-of-sale marketing material to digital, results have varied considerably, with many unanticipated problems coming to light. For Radermecher, this is only to be expected, as the adoption of any new technology often reveals the pain points before fully delivering the benefits.

"The majority say they are only somewhat satisfied with what they have been able to achieve," Radermecher explains. "The reason is that it is a new component of the marketing mix that they are only now learning how to use. They are finding the cost of operation more expensive than they had anticipated. They are finding the benefits of local messaging, for instance, a bit elusive and that it requires a bit more technical sophistication than they were perhaps expecting.

"None of that means they don't think they will arrive at those benefits. It just means that they are finding the deployment of this new tool more challenging than they at first thought it would be. Some of the benefits are qualitative, improving the experience of time in branch for customers and, therefore, improving loyalty and customer satisfaction. There is also a strong indication that consumers expect it to be there. There are also quantitative results like higher awareness and higher recall of in-branch messaging."

"Place the digital media where it will be seen is rule number one, though it is remarkable how often that rule is violated."

Advice from the experts

The most obvious advantage of digital messaging is that it shows a succession of messages to people in the branch, whereas a static medium shows only one. JohnRyan's research suggests that customers have better recall of more messages in branches with digital technology. The next step is for banks to look for increases in sales of the products advertised, though it is a complex task to accurately assess the impact of digital messaging, as so many other factors, including market rates and the level of pre-existing demand for a product, will have an impact on the level of sales.

Even without precise numbers to indicate the impact of digital messaging on sales, there is a need for banks to take on board some of the simple steps that in-branch messaging experts recommend to improve the effectiveness of digital messaging deployment. This
boils down to understanding the medium, the message and the impact on the consumer.

"Place the digital media where it will be seen is rule number one, though it is remarkable how often that rule is violated," says Radermecher. "Moving a screen as much as 5ft from optimal placement can have a huge adverse impact. Once you've got it where people are viewing, then the concern is what they are viewing. Here, the rules of thumb we have seen develop over the years are to make the messaging sufficiently short to suit the wait times in the branch, and to communicate a whole idea at one time.

"Then, if you want the meaning the customer takes away from the message to be useful, making it locally meaningful is important. That could mean using pictures of branch employees or images of local communities. Let the consumer know that this is up-to-date information that has been prepared and packaged for them."

Nancy Radermecher, president of JohnRyan.
Bank customers still want face-to-face interaction, which offers plenty of opportunities for in-branch digital messaging.