Article published in Forbes magazine.
What will tomorrow’s branch look like? Without claiming to offer a turnkey solution (that would be great, but unfortunately it doesn’t exist), I share twelve convictions that can help shape the content, and therefore the form, of this rather special service space. I will develop them in two stages. Six convictions are presented here, the other six having been shared previously on this very blog: Part 1
It would be a truism to say that the agency will be more digital. However, it seems to me that the gadgetization of our world has reached a threshold that makes necessary, today, what some have called “reasoned” digital, or even, in a broader vision, low-tech. There is no need for a high-powered screen or a latest-generation tablet: the “wow” effect does not lie in the technological overkill, but in the experience proposed around it, between people.
The posture of “digital coach”, which consists in creating more intimacy with the customer (or between them) on the occasion, for example, of a short edutainment session allowing them to better appropriate such or such service available online, is much more essential.
Human contact is what customers value most, including the youngest: there is therefore only an apparent paradox in the desire to strengthen this link via moments of acculturation to digital. It is possible to be physically far away and still feel close: this is the challenge of hybrid management and, for agencies, the hybridisation of their customer relations. Teams will therefore need to be supported in this area, because conducting an exchange by video, not losing proximity, or even strengthening it, is not innate.
The challenge is to take ourselves less seriously, without totally purging the profession of ‘banker’ of its necessary rigour; not to give in to the overly obvious sirens of the false coolness that has invaded office spaces, from sofas to arcade games, from caricatured table football to the picnic table, is an obvious choice. The company is not a playground. But it can admit a certain amount of regression and, therefore, humour. A matter of nuance, as always. But there is a long way to go today from the spaces we know in agencies, from the posture of the teams, to a more relaxed era, embodied by the environments as much as by the women and men.
The risk is to please no one for trying to please everyone. Yet this ‘catch-all’ agency is the core of retail banking networks. Working people and non-working people, rich and poor, millennials and seniors… all types of clientele rub shoulders there, like in a train station or a hospital. This has its virtues, but it also has its drawbacks, and the major concern is precisely the lack of a clear signature, of an environment (and postures) adapted to specific needs. Designed to welcome all audiences, the agency does not speak to any of them in a singular way.
While it is not easy, with a few exceptions (a campus-based agency that targets students as well as teachers and administrative staff), to better segment the promise and the associated offers (and, therefore, to theme the agency), the fact remains that it will be transformed according to current events: the umpteenth pension reform can thus provide the opportunity for an event that targets senior citizens in order to show them the company’s support offers on this subject. In a humorous way, it can also address younger workers by talking to them about anticipation – when we observe the acute awareness of younger people on this subject, it is not anecdotal.
Bringing the generations together, rather than opposing them, could also be a good reason for the agency to communicate and make its events more visible. In this way, the agency could make the most of its broad client base.
The image of the ‘secretive’ banker, who has given in to the siren calls of tax havens, or even who has been the subject of major scandals (the Kerviel affair, the Tapie affair, etc.), must no longer be a blind spot in communication, an unthinkable fact. A whole new form of communication is needed in the branches on the commitments made by the Bank, the rates and charges applied, and what it has corrected (and is correcting) in its practices.
The time for ‘family secrets’ is over, especially in view of the responsible communications of many players – I am thinking here of Maif in particular.
The agency will have a wide range of options for offering its visitors an experience rooted in the land (discovery and tasting of local products offered by producers who are clients of the company and supported by it), the arts (digital works projected on a screen during a Biennial event in which the company is a partner; jazz music played during the festival of which the Bank is a sponsor).
But it can also be, more simply (and this is already practised, sometimes), biscuits prepared by a member of the team, shared with the clients who come to the branch that morning, over a coffee served by the team. This is in line with what was said above about conviviality.
Here again, the idea is to encourage a new way of looking at the agency and its team, to invite new forms of conversation that will generate a different kind of relationship with ‘the agency’. Immersion, like education, are two major levers in what is known as the ‘experience economy’. In the agency, this involves complex offers and professions that would benefit from being better explained, and fun teaching methods that would help to create a different experience of the agency.
Finally, experience marketing also mobilises the effects of surprise. In a hyper-codified world, with an almost monastic atmosphere, being welcomed by a clown because the brand is a partner in a circus arts festival would be a sharp contrast to the usual tone. But it makes sense, as we can see: it’s not a clown for the sake of a clown, it’s a way of resonating with an event that takes place in the area, and in which the company is a partner.
Of course, some people will reply: “But if I go to my branch at that time to make a claim, I might not find it to my taste! To these people I would reply that when it was a question of creating a ritual consisting of offering a coffee before a meeting, the advisers were able to observe that even when the object of the meeting was not a positive event, it opened up on a different basis which, in most cases, facilitated the exchanges to come…
Finally, a certain degree of blurring of codes and reference points emerges from all of this: by diverting, or even turning away from, the codes of the bank branch, everything that will contribute to transforming the image of the brand, its teams and also its customers, will be interesting to work on. Already, it is possible to settle in comfortably before a meeting, with a coffee and wifi, as in a coworking space – and here the codes of the tertiary real estate have been adapted to the banking context. Many atmospheres also disrupt the codes, trying to make the atmosphere warmer.
But these forms of blurring remain fairly classic. It would therefore be interesting to go one step further, in a permanent or more ephemeral way – the ‘café terrace’ branch mentioned above, as part of a temporary operation (or even more permanent, why not?), gives an idea of this.
Of course, not all agencies can do this, and not all teams may be ready, but they can all try – offering slices of cake made by a member of the team one morning, or a soft musical atmosphere that resonates with a local festival. These types of action can be worked on without necessarily being expensive, they can be adapted to many contexts, by mobilising the imagination and desires of a team, without forcing it, without imposing anything on it. Because another agency is possible if, and only if, it wants to, if it feels the relevance – or even the impertinence – of it. In fact, here and there, these are initiatives that we are already seeing!
Today’s agency is often a triple reflection of its ontological/regulatory constraints (security), a business culture (a certain discretion when ‘talking about money’; the seriousness of those to whom I entrust my interests) and marketing policies – the month of car insurance, the month of retirement savings plans, etc., with their merchandising. By mobilising what is set out very briefly here, it becomes possible for each collective to invent another agency, another agency culture. And this will involve, in particular, a hybridisation of profiles, a mixing of talents from the profession as well as from other worlds.