Until recently, I used to bank with Washington Mutual. One of the things that made WaMu unique was their “Occasio” retail style branch design. Those of you who may have seen Don Norman’s conversation with Peter at UXWeek 2008 might recall that WaMu came up with the design after extensive research, field work and ethnography. They spent considerable time and money studying how people do banking and even created some trial banks to help them study customers. The layout, which included a concierge desk, children’s area as well as “teller towers” was friendly, easy to engage with and emphasized more personal interaction between customers and tellers.
I actually used the branch services fairly often. I liked the layout and openness of the branch. But the details stood out. For example, the checking/deposit slips were clearly color coded and easy to read now matter which side was facing out. They were located on an island right next to where customers stood in line, which meant I could fill them out as I waited. When I spoke with a teller, we could both look at the same screen while we discussed our business. It was little things like this that made the customer experience a pleasant one.
Recently JP Morgan Chase took over my friendly neighborhood bank. The very first change I noticed, besides the new logo on the tellers shirts, was the checking and deposit slips. The color coding disappeared, and the lettering became harder to read because the new slips didn’t fit in the slots the same way as the old ones. Then they were relocated, along with the pens, away from the queue line. Along with the logo, the little things that made my experience easy started to slip away. Soon the free standing teller towers will be a thing of the past.
According Tampa Bay Business Journal, the towers will be replaced with a “traditional” layout, including teller windows behind glass and offices where bankers can sit with customers to discuss products.”
For Chase, The rational behind this move is simple economics. According to Bank Investment Consultant blog that overhaul is to bring the new branches more in line with Chase’s strategy of aggressively cross-selling financial advice, business banking and mortgage services.
In short, the branches that were originally designed to be customer experienced focused are now being redesigned to better serve the corporation’s focus.
Now, I understand that in these uncertain economic times, you have to go with what you know. However, it seems to me that the trend for many successful companies lately has been on improving the customer experience. In an industry that has typically been focused on the mission of the corporation, both Jet Blue and Virgin America have been successful differentiating themselves through excellent customer experience in an era of considerable uncertainty. In fact, Jet Blue boasts profits compared to traditional airlines while doing just that.
I recently wrapped up a project with a very traditional company that was focused almost entirely on how to map and improve the customer experience. The result of the work with this company will help with the transformation of its focus on the corporate needs to the service needs of the customer, which will build loyalty and trust between the company and its clients. I expect that more and more companies will turn to improving the customer experience as a way to strengthen and deepen their customer relationships.
I can’t help but wonder if the powers that be at Chase truly evaluated the value of the Occasio design and the impact it had on the customer experience before completely abandoning it?