Stay Connected with Customers Who Bypass Your Branches

Building relationships in banking

At a conference session I attended recently, a bank president asked a highly relevant question. He wanted to know how his bank could build relationships with customers who have left the branches in favor of online and mobile banking.

Only 16 percent of his bank’s customers, he said, still visit branches to make transactions. Granted, your bank may not be trending this low, but his situation is universal. How can banks maintain relationships when customers have less and less contact with bank employees — when customers go months without visiting a branch?

For a decade now I’ve been warning bankers they need viable solutions to combat the effect technology will continue to have on customer relationships. It’s a double-edged sword: While technology lowers banks’ operating costs and adds convenience for customers, it also erodes the customer relationship and negatively impacts cross-selling opportunities.

According to a survey conducted by Rosetta, a consulting-centered interactive agency, 52 percent of respondents said their bank’s website is their primary method of banking. Only 32 percent said the branch ranked first. Nearly half said they would do all their banking online if they could. It’s a fact that technology is going to continue to evolve and even fewer customers are going to use the branch channel for transactions. Statista reports that in 2009 only 18 percent of mobile phone users were using mobile banking services. By 2016, an estimated 51 percent of U.S. mobile phone users will be using these services.

Even though relationships based on technology are definitely more difficult for banks to establish and maintain, experience and research show banks that apply relationship-building principles can still survive and thrive.

One way to overcome the impersonal nature of technology is to develop a dialogue with your customers. Nothing destroys a relationship faster than a lack of ongoing two-way communication. The best customer relationships are built through constant, consistent, personalized and relevant communication.

Frequent communication provides your bank an opportunity to develop a customer relationship based on trust. Research shows that customers feel closer to a bank that makes regular contact. The more involved the customer is in the relationship, the less likely they are to switch banks. Ongoing communication provides you with an opportunity to provide value-focused information about your bank and its products and services.

There are a lot of ways to develop a dialogue with your customers — through surveys and questionnaires, focus groups, needs assessments, blogs, and by creating online communities. The point is to continually encourage feedback from your customers. By doing so, you get to know what’s important to your customers. It will also give you a way to more easily identify and meet their needs.

More importantly, actively communicating with customers shows that you actually care about the relationship. And this gives your bank an advantage over your competitors when it comes to cross-selling products like loans that may require a higher level of trust.

Remember, it’s the bank that delivers a superior strategy for building stronger relationships with customers (even those who like the ease of technology) that will win the competitive advantage. Customers who feel they have a personal relationship based on two-way communication are more loyal and less likely to switch financial institutions.