I hadn’t thought I’d ever write about a branch but here we are. It isn’t even because I’m fresh out of FinTech and Digital Experience topics – I am so not out of those I’ll be starting a podcast likely called “What my #FinTech?!?” that you can tune in if you are sick of the political correctness and ready to hear winning, complaining and righteous ranting on the topic of technology and finance-. I’m writing about the branch because I think it matters and had an “a-ha moment”.

Last week I was with a very digital branch and while we were dissecting the death of the critical thinking, self directing high street bankers who could make decisions and build relationships not only mindlessly follow process, we realised these places where the customers would have to go to so that they meet one of these old skool superstars are really unexciting.

We all expected branches to go away as Brett King promised us in 2010 and they did not. They will not. Then we’ve decided to “make them into an experience” – most of the time it meant better colours, newer, funky furniture and if we were lucky some iPads in the prying hands of tired tellers.

Banks had decided face-to-face advice is irreplaceable and getting video a la mBank was a distant dream so they were keeping the branch, they were making them awesome, into “lounges”.

Fast forward to 2012 and the new branches where you could “relax” by getting a coffee and having free WiFi were all the rage. As many of us must have done, I became convinced I must simply not be the right segment they were trying to attract to find these features utterly unappealing and to this day I don’t believe I’ve ever tasted the mythical branch coffee. I have to say I find this trend that incubators share with branches really condescending. How large is the “will work/sign a mortgage for WiFi and coffee” segment?!?

Couple looking for cell phone signal with Wi-Fi sign

You know what would work? Stuff we need or stuff we like.

Chargers. Tell me my branch has Starbucks-like chargers everywhere and I may stop to get the nanny’s cash out in the branch tonight – catch me then to tell me I ought to have another savings account in case Her Majesty descides to slap another tax on au-pairs.

A free MOT while my mister gets investment advice would mathematically lure him in. With how many flimsy cars we’ve amassedhe’d be all adviced out in half a year

You know what else would get him in for a chat? A pint that’s what. Or a posh glass of wine or whiskey. Yes bank, if you want the slightly more grown up segment in for a chat make it fun for them than the coffee. Take a page out of the book of other retailers – l’Occitanne, Rush – their customers will always rather head there than the competition not because they can’t afford to pay for their own glass of bubbly but because, for as long as they’re there, they feel well treated, cared for, pampered.

Change those horrid chairs and those flimsy partitions and offer them a glass of something. Is there some piece of regulation here that I am missing? Is getting a drinks license disallowed as giving financial advice to people under the influence is immoral or illegal? I doubt it but if so, fair enough – cake! Nuts! Posh salami! Just make this an experience for me, asking for a slight sliver of delight can’t be too much when you ask for my attention to sell me something for the rest of 20 years, can it?!?

Or even find out what they like and then offer them an experience to suit it outside the branch – a Ferrari driving one or a balloon ride – something to bring them back in to tell you about it and get that fixed term while at it.

Send them a basked of baby formula and the number of a savings account you already opened for their newborn and ask them to only fill in their name. Send an “I’m so sorry, condolences, Peter, your Branch Manager” card when you know they borrowed for a funeral. Don’t even try to blame it on bad CRMs – ask! Make your people be eternally curious and passionately caring and they will build your CRM the same way that the old skool branch manager did. A conversation between people that reveals human moments and ways to make them pleasant for your customer.

Oh I don’t know, maybe none of the above (save for the booze one, that is an important one to try) but do the thinking as to what it takes to make your branch experience one filled with delight and joy then expect us in if you’re not gonna close all the damn places!

Ok so here’s the secret to in-branch engagement. Ready? Pen at the ready? Catch me when you can, make me go “wow” when it matters. Got that? Cheers. Let’s catch up over a drink soon.

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