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Today’s banks and credit unions are constantly seeking new ways to better serve their customers and provide them with a superb experience. However, many are finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves while keeping servicing costs as low as reasonably possible. This creates a challenge for today’s financial institutions as they seek to balance their need to reduce customer servicing costs with customer demands for improved processes and technologies that make up an outstanding banking customer experience.

Most financial institutions have come to realize that providing an ideal banking experience is more than a “nice to have,” and is a critical success factor in deepening and growing relationships. At the same time, customer interaction preferences and their voracious appetite for all things digital are occurring at financial institutions of all sizes. Add to this the fundamental changes in the branch banking model that are occurring, along with customer service that is often lackluster, and you have ample evidence that institutions of all sizes and types are scrambling to keep up.

Enter the ideal banking concept, with its emphasis on seeking to understanding consumers’ preferred ways to bank. ath Power Consulting has been conducting research on this concept for several years which includes yearly outreach to thousands of consumers to obtain their input on what constitutes an ideal banking experience for them. Consequently, The ath Power Ideal Banking Study® uncovers customer wants, needs, and behaviors, and can help financial institutions identify important drivers of customer satisfaction, and how best to deliver high levels of customer interaction, experience, and engagement.

Discussions about factors influencing an ideal banking experience often include such topics as the importance and mix of elements such as branch reconfiguration and optimization, universal banker and omnichannel banking deployment options, and digital banking solutions. Regarding the latter, 60% of survey respondents regard availability of one of the digital banking channels (i.e. online or mobile banking) as the most important banking feature to them.

Depending on the customer, and the task at hand, the ideal experience can mean different things to different people. It can range from interactions with traditional tellers, partly or fully accomplished by self-service and assisted-service methods, via a universal banker deployment model, or via some combination as part of an omnichannel banking servicing model.

Employee knowledge and insight are critically important, with over three-quarters of respondents finding these attributes essential components of an outstanding customer experience, and over a third saying that having access to such knowledge would make their banking experience “ideal”. Other contributors to an ideal experience include branches that are conveniently located and inviting, machines and devices that can make their banking sessions fast and easy, robust digital banking capabilities, and having systems, such as analytics solutions, to help financial institutions better understand customer wants and needs.

For financial institutions looking to increase their organic growth, customer likelihood of opening additional accounts can be an important metric to assess customer satisfaction. In ath Power’s study, only one-in-five respondents said that they would be extremely likely to open additional accounts at their primary bank, which should be a warning sign to all financial institutions that some (if not many) of their customers may be at risk for attrition. Over one-in-five of survey respondents say they are extremely likely or somewhat likely to change primary financial institutions within the next year.

Banking customer expectations continue to evolve, and increase, as they see what is being offered in other areas of retailing. This means that financial institutions should keep on their toes to meet and exceed these expectations. For example, when asked what would make respondents consider switching to another primary bank, 37% mentioned incentives, such as reward programs (something not offered at many institutions), with another three-in-ten saying reduced or no fees on checking accounts, and promotions/special offers to switch banks.

Overall, institutions looking to protect – and grow – their market share need to be mindful of the evolving customer wants and needs. They should also be aware of products and services being offered by providers of both traditional and non-traditional banking, payments, and other financial services. Financial institutions not only need to be attentive to customer needs, whether spoken or unspoken, but also offer the best customer service they can while building out their reconfigured branch and digital banking capabilities.


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