Unexpected inspiration: Transforming the in-branch experience through human centred design

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At ATB, we are committed to building diversity into our teams and designing with a human centred, inclusive approach. That’s why we were so excited about bringing in Jackie McAtee to join our efforts as we look at one of our fundamental customer channels: the Branch Experience. With Jackie’s award winning work in designing service experiences across multiple industries including hospitality, health care, and business, and time spent working around the world, we knew she would help open up the possibilities and bring fresh perspectives to our in-branch experience.  

As more of our day-to-day activities shift online, from shopping, to catching up with friends, to changing details of our mortgage terms, so many experiences have gone from in-person to digital. This means that the role of bank branches and human-to-human customer service is continually evolving.

As we explore the value that we create through in-branch experiences, there are many lessons to learn from outside the banking industry.

In the medical sector, there is a strong emphasis on ‘helping’ and providing medical care. However, there is often a lack of ‘service’ in the traditional sense. Think of the frustration of not knowing how long you’ll be waiting in line or in a waiting room, not being welcomed with a friendly greeting, or having limited access to the information or services you need online. Not to mention the additional stress and anxiety of a sterile, crowded waiting room that adds to an already tense experience as you await medical care.

Contrast this to entering a high-end hotel, where every part of the sensory experience is aimed at fostering a particular atmosphere and each staff member has the innate desire to serve and please guests.

In a hotel, the arrival experience is critical. The sights and smells of a hotel lobby instill emotion—think of the cozy luxury of walking into the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary or the Hotel Macdonald in Edmonton—or the energetic vibe of entering a W Hotel with vibrant colours and hip music.

Of course, our goal is not to replicate a hotel experience within bank branches. The inspiration we have taken is about the human-centered approach to designing a space and providing optimized service through atmosphere and emotion that resonates with customers.

In designing our branches, we are purposeful in understanding the emotional state of customers when they enter, what they are looking to achieve, and how we can utilize space and technology to optimize how we deliver value and services.

One difference in banking is that the experience starts before a customer actually walks through the door. Entering a branch might be the third step in the customer’s journey, as they  may have already tried to process a transaction at an ATM or find the information online. When they enter a branch, they are looking to be assured that their problem will be solved, that they will be treated like a valued customer, and that their time will be well spent.

So how do we elevate the arrival experience in a branch? The first step we are taking is a co-creation process with our customers and branch team members to discover more about the emotional state and desires of customers when they enter. This will help us to design spaces and provide insights into how our customer service representatives can solve problems and alleviate stress for customers.

On the service side, language is a very important tool in the atmosphere created by staff. Help vs Serve. Patient vs Guest. A shift in language (think financial caregiver) can provide a framework that impacts each interaction that takes place.

Our branches are an extension of our brand. They provide the opportunity for us to listen carefully to the needs of our customers and use the in-branch experience to learn more, build personal connections, and help Albertans on their financial journey.

In transforming ATB in-branch experiences, we’re taking inspiration from everywhere, but our end goal is simple: for customers to leave feeling like they are one step closer to their financial goals.