Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Plumbing Project, Home Depot, and Banking

I spent this past Sunday working on a typical plumbing project; lots of self-inflicted issues (like cutting a pipe that I shouldn't have) resulting in multiple trips to Home Depot, and lots of purchases and returns.
It was on my third trip to Home Depot (and to be honest, I went to a different one then my first two visits to avoid additional embarrassment) that I talked to Frank, the plumbing guy who finally helped me to get to a solution and end the madness. So what does this have to do with banking?
As I discussed in my previous post, community banks struggle with the balance of technology and people. Home Depot, like many other retailers, seems to understand the balance. I used the self service checkout to make my purchases each time. But when I had a question or, by the end, a major problem, it was Frank's help that added value in the interaction.
To me, that highlights the inherent synergy between self and full service. In addition to Home Depot, I've gotten used to pumping my own gas, purchasing items at Ikea, or making purchases online. However, when I have a problem or a more complex transaction, I want to work with a person. either by phone or in person.
Banking is really no different. With all the self service tools available, many customers never have to deal directly with a bank employee. How can bank employees add value in this era of self service? What about helping out the consumers who are struggling to get out of debt or recover from financial issues by partnering with a credit counseling service? Being problem solvers will add value and create some loyalty from your customers. This should, in turn, provide the opportunity to offer more products and services.
Banking has become an industry of scale, much like the "big box" retailers. For community banks to survive and thrive, they truly need to re-invent themselves. Sticking with the status quo by competing with the big banks just won't cut it.

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