How do you remember banks?
When I think about banks the very first image that comes to mind —surprisingly even for me— is one from my childhood, clear as the surface of a lake early in a summer morning: the face of the lady at the front desk illuminated by the light coming from a big window behind her.
The cold marble pillars, the old wood furniture, the sound of steps and stamps echoing in that huge building were one could not run or talk too loud.
When I was a kid I lived in a small town in Patagonia, Argentina ten miles from downtown. Sometimes my father would take me there to do errands with him, which many times included going to the bank. I was always mesmerized by the beauty of the lady at the front desk, she was young and tall, and her hair was very short. She always smiled. When our turn came and my father was directed towards another desk, where some bald guy was smiling at us, I was extremely disappointed no matter how many candies he offered me. I ate them all avoiding the bitter or minty ones "for adults" thinking they were "a waste of time".
When I grew up and started going to the bank on my own the lady at the front desk was still there, beautiful as she was in my memory, now pregnant. I would still count the people before me in the line trying to guess if my turn would be at her desk.
The first time my father took me to an ATM, I had mixed feelings: it was disappointing because there was no kind lady but in a way it was also thrilling: how did the machine know the exact amount of money it had to give us, or what strange sorcery happened when we put money in the machine? I was still a kid and my imagination went from little dwarfs to clock engines.
Since ATMs popped up everywhere, my relationship with the bank has almost always been through them: nothing else but a box that spits—or devours—money. No sweet lady, no candies and certainly no dwarfs anymore.
I doubt that my younger brothers, both in their twenties, had this kind of experience when they were kids. Young millenials and kids from the Z-generation most probably didn’t. My brothers taught me how to manage my account with an app, and they barely use ATMs. In the era of digital banking the closest human experience we have with banks is making a call when no other choice is left, that’s why it is so important to implement personalization and automation platforms in our digital marketing strategies. They are the necessary tools to humanize our banking experiences. It is funny that in order to make our customers feel that there’s a real person behind the digital desk the most efficient way is to acquire the right software and technology that enables humans to “know” what customers need, what troubles them or what they desire.
We could say they are as good as humans in the old days when the nice lady at the front desk carefully listened to our problems or desires. Automation platforms are capable of collecting a huge amount of data and then compare it and take accurate conclusions: “This client is in need of a loan, this other one would like to change his car and this other one just wants things to be easy”. With this information a more engaging conversation can be held with each and every client.
In an article called “2018 bank reputation rankings: Who stood out, who stumbled” published by The American Banker, the USAA Bank in San Antonio was ranked as “the nation’s most reputable bank by customers for the second consecutive year” and for a good reason: “USAA primarily serves members of the military and their families, and it refers to them as 'members,' not 'customers.' Its unwavering commitment to meeting the particular needs of this group helps explain why the bank enjoys such a stellar reputation.”
Is it really surprising that the United States' most reputable bank is one that really knows the particular needs of its audience and tries to fulfill them? Actually, no. It is what every survey, research and study is urging to do: know your customers, act accordingly. The same article points that “USAA last year committed to spending over 50% of the money it invests in philanthropy to supporting the families of military personnel facing challenges related to deployments and other stresses inherent in military life.”
So the questions every bank should be asking itself are: “Who are my customers? Do I really know them? Do I really know their needs? What are we doing to know our customers and to build and maintain trust in the long run?”
When a customer comes to your bank with a question do you take the time to answer properly or do you just send a generic email that was scheduled two weeks ago? Because that, to me or any client, would be the same as talking to someone who is not listening. Nobody wants to talk with a robot, or a person who acts like a robot, or a robot who doesn't act like a person. And here is the key: automation platforms and personalization tools make your client feel like she is listened. How can someone tell the other part is listening? Because he or she answers accurately. Just like the pretty lady did at the bank of my childhood.
The same lady that today—only with wrinkles and grey hair, getting close to retirement—when my 90 year old grandmother goes to the bank, leaning on her cane, to send me some money reads her stumbling handwriting with the information of my bank account number on a piece of paper, double checks the number and says to her in a calm, afable voice: “Don’t worry Ma'am, I assure you that your granddaughter will receive the money for sure, everything will work just fine. Where is she now? Still living in Spain?” And of course she doesn’t offer my grandmother a loan to buy a Ferrari or travel to Disney World in easy installments. Knowing my grandmother, though, she would certainly laugh if this happened.