For all the amazing technology available to businesses today, there's simply no replacement for the human mind. According to Scientific American, our brains are capable of storing 3.5 quadrillion bytes of data. By comparison, an iPad 2 holds just 64 billion bytes. What's more, our minds process information at roughly 12.9 million times the speed of one of these handheld computing devices.
Newer technological capabilities may continue to free our time and our bodies from various limitations, but the ultimate goal of these solutions should be to connect with our humanity, not separate from it.
Perhaps that's why after decades of the operational pendulum swinging towards self-service and technology-driven efficiency, financial institutions are learning that they must bring a bit of themselves back into their channel interactions in order to build lasting, profitable relationships through these touchpoints.
The Death Of Dictated Interactions
Take a good look at the remote service structure you have in place today. Are these channels self-service or self-serving?
Too often, major technological goals and decisions are driven by institutional need, a desire to remain competitive with peers, or other eclipsing factors that have little to do with the actual customers and members who use those channels every day.
This tendency has given rise to severe gaps in service quality and opened the door to a host of interlopers, such as Oregon-based Simple and New York-based Moven, who present themselves as needed middlemen bearing a cleaner, friendlier, more cultivated banking experience.
As Simple's cofounder Alex Payne told Fast Company in 2011, "Most people have a horrible relationship with their bank. We wanted to make the experience a lot more human."
These companies understand something that traditional financial institutions may not. In each channel, you are not just competing against yourself and your direct peers but also against every other business interaction consumers experience daily (think shopping in person at Costco or online at Amazon, using a phone to find a restaurant or make reservations on OpenTable, and renting a DVD from a Redbox kiosk or streaming a movie from Netflix).
For example, "most credit unions develop their website navigation according to their business plan — putting mortgages, car loans, and savings accounts together — rather than the way people think about their finances," says Patti Barrow, chief marketing officer for Suncoast Credit Union ($5.8B, Tampa, FL).
Human Versus Machine
Your most developed technological resources are actually your people. 64,000,000,000 bytes of data storage = 1 iPad 2 3,500,000,000,000,000 bytes or roughly 54,687.5 iPad 2s = The Human Brain 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or roughly 285.7 Human Brains = The estimated amount of data stored on the entire internet
Source: Scientific American, "Computers versus Brains"
That realization led Suncoast to completely overhaul and redesign the look, navigation, and features of its online presence, with an emphasis on prioritizing the information and activities that users, rather than the credit union, care about most.
Potential discrepancies aren't limited to online channels either but can crop up just about anywhere.
When is the last time you stood in line at a branch, punched in your pin on a grimy ATM keypad, or called in after hours and tried to complete a complex activity through your interactive voice response system? Weigh that experience from a user's perspective and then ask yourself, "If they could, is this what our members would build for themselves?"
To Err Is Human, To Trust Is Not
At other times, enhancing remote channel interactions doesn't just require human insight — it requires actual humans.
Credit unions may not have always been on the bleeding edge of technology, but they've had the advantage with maintaining personal connections and service quality.
By relying on technology as a way to enhance rather than replace in-person relationship building, many of these institutions now have a head start over those that simply got too impersonal too fast.
Reintroducing an employee presence on remote, self-service, or automated channels might seem counterintuitive. After all, people cost money. They make mistakes or forget things, are influenced by their emotions or physical state, and fall victim to hundreds of other weaknesses that a machine does not have.
But in the end, it's all about context.
For most transactions, many users may never want to see or interact with a human being unless there's a problem. But when members apply for a loan remotely, conduct a peer payment that a relative is waiting for, or open an investment account that is going to help see them through retirement, they need to know that somewhere an actual person is overseeing the transaction and can be reached when help is needed.
Conducting business through virtual and self-service channels requires trust. And trust isn't just the result of accuracy — it's a byproduct of knowing that you're not alone.
Taking The Next Step
This section highlights the ongoing evolution of remote and self-service technology in three distinct environments — branches, mobile or online, and social media — to understand the extent of the challenges and opportunities these contact points present.
If you're finally ready to unleash the full potential of your virtual interactions, put new business on your books, and uncover that golden mean of human oversight and machine efficiency, read on.