Neglect the in-person banking experience at your own risk 10 February 2021

Banks are closing their branches and shifting resources to digital. But a new study in France shows the perils of delivering a subpar in-person experience.
In our social media-driven era, everyone’s a critic. Online, people rank, opine, and critique. These appraisals can be the difference between a restaurant succeeding or failing. Or an app making the home page of the app store or withering away in obscurity with a 2-star rating. Reviews are especially determinant in the online retail space. Sellers on Amazon pay people to leave 5-star reviews, hoping that will secure a coveted spot on search results pages. If your product or service isn’t on that first page of a Google or Amazon search, it can spell doom for your company.

With people turning to the internet for all manner of decisions - what to buy, where to eat, where to travel - online opinion is incredibly powerful and influential. Banks, mindful of the consumer shift to digital, are keenly aware of their app ratings and net promoter scores. They are all striving to deliver a better digital experience, understanding that is how the next generation is banking. New digital offerings are routinely contrasted with a fresh announcement of bank branch closures. 

As it turns out, however, banks shouldn’t be neglecting their real-world offerings. In a recent study published by Sia Partners, it was observed that in France there is a growing tendency to rate in-person experiences at bank branches. On Google, Pagesjaunes, and other social media sites, French people are recounting their in-person experiences with banks. Unfortunately, French banks aren’t receiving glowing reviews. People are talking about the incompetence of bank agents, how they are never reachable at the right hours, and describing overall negative experiences. 

Given that I live in Paris, I decided to look up reviews for a couple of the bank branches that I have frequently used since I arrived here. Below is some of the feedback I found on Google (I will withhold the name of the bank so as not to single out a particular institution):
• “Zero reactivity, rare incompetence, non-existent customer support and total disregard for their customers!”
• “This agency is really incompetent, they don't answer the phone or emails, my advisor has changed and I haven't been warned or redirected to someone else so I can't even make an appointment with an advisor.”
• “My friend who is foreign tried to open an account in this agency, she was very badly received, 2 months to open an account. Mail sent by a counselor with a threat of closure (when she already had all the documents). Very bad communication and no respect for the customers! Avoid!"
Those are just a small sampling of the many negative reviews that are easily found.
“All brands and all industries combined, it is estimated that below four stars, on a scale of five, customer satisfaction is not very good. However, the scores of the banks are well below four or even three,” said Thomas Rocafull, Head of Financial Services at Sia Partners. French banks are delivering consistently disappointing branch experiences to their customers. Instead of being spaces where customers feel welcome and can conveniently take care of their banking needs, branches are receiving some of the worst scores across all brands and industries. And Google reviews do not go unread in corners of the internet. According to one report’s estimate, more than 6 in 10 consumers look at Google reviews.
On the other end of the spectrum, two insurers, Allianz and AXA (both Efma members) are receiving top marks online for their physical spaces. The experiences at their agencies are clearly impressing customers. This could be partly due to the fact that it is often individual agents, licensed by the insurance companies, who are in charge of their own offices. When your livelihood and job performance is more directly linked to a positive customer experience, that is a much stronger incentive to more consistently deliver better service.  
Even if bank branches are diminishing in their importance to long-term strategies, real-world experiences still have ramifications. People can recall negative experiences with much more clarity than positive experiences. Scientists think this may have evolutionary origins, with it being advantageous to have a heightened awareness of danger compared to a benevolent occurrence.
An innate response to peril might be beneficial for survival, but less so if you are a financial institution that has disregarded the branch experience for some time. Our biological proclivity towards a strong recollection of negative experiences drives our ratings-driven world. People are 21% more likely to leave a negative review after an experience than a positive one. In the financial industry, where brand reputation and trust are vital to the success of any firm, these adverse experiences can steadily erode a core metric.
Low bank ratings are part of a broader trend of shifting consumer expectations. The model that neobanks have followed, with many making customer service available 24/7, has highlighted the inconvenience of previous, limited models of service. Customers expect immediacy and responsiveness from the companies they interact with. A bank branch is still confined to normal operating hours and logistical limitations. Maybe they need to send information to a different part of the bank and wait for a response. Or they have a next appointment to attend to, so they hurry along customers, lacking a personal touch. Whatever the reasons may be, bank branches, at least in France, aren’t delivering the type of on-demand, instant banking experience that customers expect. 
So how can banks adapt their branches to thrive in this type of environment? Efma expert Urszula Wysocka is the author of an upcoming report - Branch transformation: Designing the branch of the future - that addresses this very topic. She will look at the many ways financial institutions are updating their propositions to address the needs of modern-day consumers. Pre-order your copy now to ensure Google reviews aren't driving away foot traffic from your branches.

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