Dissolving the Brick and Mortar of Bank Branches

By Mike Bourke, Aspect Software


Drive through any town in the US, whether large or small, and you will undoubtedly see striking edifices occupied by branches of banks. They are part of our American heritage, symbols of stability and surety and trustworthiness. But changes in consumer preferences even on video, banking regulations and new technologies are slowly dissolving the brick and mortar of these venerable icons. In an increasingly virtual world, if you blink, you may be looking at the bank’s contact center. Consider how these two unlikely companions seem to be converging.

There’s no ignoring the fact that we are becoming a more technology savvy and technology dependent society. With Millennial age consumers, who have grown up with the internet and mobile phones, soon becoming the dominant buying segment of our culture, this inexorable wave of demand for technology is headed to banks and contact centers near you. With the availability of sophisticated self-service apps on mobile devices and browser-based self-service on the web, traditional customer service traffic has been diverted away from both bank branches and from bank contact centers. Novantas research indicates that on-line banking rose from 25% in 2012 to 39% in 2014 as the preferred banking method. That’s astronomical growth that’s not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Restrictions on fee income, low return on lending due to low interest rates and the high cost of compliance with new bank regulations, are forcing retail banks to be more expense-conscious than ever before. This increasing austerity is showing itself in efforts to drive costs out of bank branches at a time when traffic in branches is down. Some banks are using “universal bankers”, i.e., highly trained branch staff that can perform any of the branch office tasks, virtually eliminating any division of labor, so fewer branch staff need be employed. Contact centers have been operating for decades in an environment that is highly expense-conscious, and now banks are adopting many of the same workforce optimization techniques that have been so successful in contact centers. Workforce management tools for staff scheduling, vacation planning and shift bidding are now recognized as essential to ensuring that the right number and appropriately skilled bank employees are available at all times of the work day.

Both the branch and the contact center are under increasing pressure to deliver the best possible customer experience. The advent of social media has created the constant threat of a bad customer experience going viral, and the barriers to switching to a competing institution are lower than ever, so the customer’s perception of good service is vital to a bank’s survival. There are a number of workforce optimization tools already used to ensure quality customer engagement in the contact center that can be applied equally well in the branch. Quality management tools used in conjunction with a well-considered quality management process can increase Net Promoter Score significantly. Another important contact center WFO tool that will bring immediate gains in the branch is performance management. How can you take effective action if you don’t have an authoritative source of information about your branch’s operation? Performance management provides a “single source of truth” by collecting data from multiple bank systems, synthesizing and analyzing that data, and presenting it in an aggregated form that gives you rich and actionable insights. Again, this technology has been used successfully in contact centers for quite some time.

Although the branch is becoming less relevant to customers for simple transactions because on-line banking is subsuming many of the functions formerly accomplished by tellers, the branch remains a primary source of new sales. Novantas research indicates that 55% of customers prefer to use a branch to open a new home equity line, but only 33% would do this on-line. 45% prefer to go to a branch to open a new deposit account, while 35% would prefer to do this on-line. Given the trend toward universal bankers in branches, banks should be employing branch staff with excellent sales skills. Although outbound sales calls have traditionally been the province of the contact center, cloud-based outbound dialer solutions are easily implemented in virtually any location. There’s no reason why sales-capable branch employees can’t be doing outbound sales calls when branch walk-in traffic is slow. In fact, with the wide availability of cloud-based contact centers, such as Aspect Zipwire, and cloud-capable WFO solutions, such as Aspect EQ WFO, branch employees could also take inbound service calls when branch traffic is slow.

There is yet another trend in branch banking that will make the branch less distinguishable from the contact center. Video-enabled ATMs and Kiosks are slowly replacing tellers and other bank branch personnel. Bank of America, Chase, PNC and other large banks are starting to use live interactive video technology to serve their customers in place of on-site branch staff. These video interactions are served by live agents typically in a centralized call center, however, with web-based video technology such as WebRTC, universal bankers located in any branch office could serve the needs of customers in another branch. Branch employees in offices with slow traffic should be able to act as customer service agents for other branches with high traffic, thereby allowing banks to minimize the effect of unpredictable variations in traffic of individual branches, blending labor across the portfolio of all branches. This approach is also being used to increase the productivity of specialists that would be too expensive to keep on staff in every branch.

As the lines between branch office and contact center continue to blur, we will see increasing demand for workforce optimization tools that span these major pools of labor within retail banks. In order to get the optimal blending and efficiency of the entire labor force, WFM will need to forecast, schedule and track multi-skilled employees in both branch office and contact center. Ensuring consistently high service quality in both branches and the contact center is now absolutely required for success, and an ongoing quality management process supported by rich quality management tools is essential. Performance management and associated coaching tools will enable the bank to understand what’s really happening in both branch and contact center, so appropriate actions can be taken to align employee goals with bank goals across the labor force. Just as many organizations have recently adopted workforce optimization software and techniques in their back office operations, branch offices are the next frontier where significant cost savings and quality improvements can be had with the right WFO tools.

Mike Bourke is Aspect’s Senior Vice President and General Manager of Workforce Optimization. Mike is responsible for charting the strategic direction, and continuing the momentum of Aspect’s global workforce optimization suite and continuing the solution’s availability in the Aspect Cloud.