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1.2.5 Thought Trap: Sales Take Place Either in the Branch or Online

The boundaries between branch-based and online-based sales are crumbling. The assumption that customers use the physical and virtual channels only sequentially for the same matter is a thought trap. Today customers use these communication options in parallel. The “operated” website with personal advice is transforming from a “nice to have” to a “must have”. Wu¨stenrot Bank is a pioneer in this respect, with an innovative operated online service. In an interview with the authors, Markus Malz, Head of Product Development at Wu¨stenrot Bank, described the advantages of the operated online service as follows: “Wustenrot Bank uses the chat function to conduct the dialogue exactly where the customer's specific questions arise: on our website, while surfing through our product pages or in the completion process. Generally, of course, we try to give the user all the information required for his or her actions on screen. However there may still be details that do not get noticed. All that is needed in such a case is to pose a brief question during a chat—and the user does not have to search for ages for the desired information. The attractiveness of this solution is obvious, especially compared to the telephone: no media break for the customer, real-time communication without waiting times and the preservation of anonymity” (Interview with Berger and Liebetrau 2012).

The fixed costs of branch-based operations, the removal of the need to visit a bank physically, the boom in social communities and above all in cheaper bank services by direct banks are all forcing banks to engage with operated online services. The idea is to offer customers a differentiated personal contact, also online, with sinking prices. Often, the current configuration of the business models is not yet able to take the necessary steps to adequately and proactively control the conversion of these business models. One key hypothesis is that, in future, customers will be sensitive to price when deciding among basic online services at favourable conditions and value-added advice. In addition, the parallel use of channels will become a necessary element of business models.

At the same time, banks are testing new technological approaches to operation

and advice in the operated branches and online as part of developing their operated websites. In future, ATMs and bank statement printers will be used more intensively for preor after-sales consultations. The mobile phone or tablet can be used as a consultation tool for simple products without much need for explanation—such as travel insurance—including completion processing. Poster advertising with QR codes can highlight the product in the branches. The customer scans the QR code and is directed to the landing page of the bank with all required information. If the customer wants to buy the product, he or she can do so immediately. “One click” purchasing processes, like those familiar from Amazon, set the benchmark and the underlying philosophy. Where required, customers can receive personal advice directly in the branch, or use the operated website service.

Future-viable approaches for matching customers and advisors use combinations and gradations. They integrate the hybrid customer behaviour and the current situation (context) of the customer. These days, customers still select their channels almost randomly and depending on the situation. It should be noted that customers who switch between different sales channels—so-called “channel hoppers”—are particularly loyal as long as they are provided with a purchase option in every channel (EY 2013).

 
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