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The Community Bank of the Future: What's it going to look like? - The first page E-mail
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The Apple Store Experience: Beyond the technology

An occasional series about
your future


By Steve Cocheo, executive editor, This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

May 7, 2010

This is the first in a series that will appear now and then on this speculative, yet critical, issue for community banks. We welcome comments below, and we also offer bankers and other qualified observers a possible turn at the microphone on this subject. Send your ideas to This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

“What is the community bank of the future going to look like?”

This question came as a group of bankers gathered around a conference table. They had spent the morning sharing their own slices of the current angst with each other. Then they decided they had to rise above gloom and doom, and look forward.

An Ohio banker had put this question to the group. His point was:

I intend my bank to have a future on the other side of this “Valley of the Shadow of Death” we’re all facing. So do you all.

So, what are we going to look like? What are we going to offer?

How will we appeal to today’s young people, who never go into banks, who think good service means a reliable WiFi connection; the latest iPhone; an online banking site, or, better yet, a killer mobile banking app; and debit and prepaid cards?

How do we stay relevant



Apple: A nonbank model for relevance?
I was sitting in on the meeting. I put in my own two cents: Had anyone present ever been to an Apple Store? It had been the reference to the young people that made me think of it, and you’ll see why shortly.

One or two bankers had been to these stores. There are more than 200 of them worldwide, including in 41 states. But most hadn’t. I had been to the Apple Store at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, N.Y.,  just the week before.

I told the bankers what I had seen at the Apple Store, and why I thought it related to the banking question, especially on the generational front.

You ought to check out an Apple Store. In the meantime, I’ll tell you what I told the bankers. At the end, I’ll present questions that my visit prompted about bank offices.

By the way, this won’t be a story that worships all that is Apple—it’s more a “warts and all” tale. Please comment back regarding the Apple concept’s relevance to banking, especially community banking. You can find the locations of Apple stores, should you wish to visit one first, at www.apple.com/retail/storelist

Before you conclude that this is a story about technology, I’ll tell you that you’re only a little bit right.

It’s more a story about customer connection and customer service. You could spend a great deal of money and plunk a traditionally oriented bank into a high-tech shell and still have a traditionally oriented bank. Part of the question that the Ohio banker was posing was wrapped up in this point of his:

We all around this table pride ourselves in what we, and our current customers, consider to be excellent service, right?

Well, what if what we call service isn’t what our future customers give a damn about?

http://www.ababj.com/images/stories/briefing5610_genuis_bar_logo.jpgApple service: Appointment with a “Genius”
The scene: My wife and I are sitting on a somewhat comfortable bench with an oversized rollaboard containing two Apple Macintosh computers that need serious help. I tried the online diagnostics, and more, before I threw in the towel and called the Apple Store the day before.

I’d been watching my younger daughter’s softball game, and remarked to my wife, who had arrived earlier, that I’d given up and would take the machines to Apple. A mom nearby in the bleachers overheard us. She advised calling ahead for an appointment.

That was something I hadn’t thought of. I pulled out my Blackberry. I joined a queue of six or seven callers. Not only did I have to have an appointment, but I needed one for each machine.

The appointment was with an Apple “Genius.” Later I went to Apple’s website, having been to the store in the meantime, and found this definition, from the company’s jobs page:

“Genius: As a friendly face behind the Genius Bar, you’ll be able to take the thorniest questions and answer them in plain old English. Do hardware and software troubleshooting. Provide basic customer training. And perform timely repairs. All of which make for some very happy customers. Last but not least, you’ll serve as a resident expert and coach for your sales associate colleagues.”

Within seconds, emails popped up on my Blackberry confirming both appointments. So far, so good.

How many of your customers consider making an appointment with one of your bankers as an appointment with a real genius? Could your bank get away with the same marketing hubris Apples strives for? Do they see interactions with your staff as only transactional? Or do they see them as valuable?

Consider these questions as you read on.  The slogan for the Apple Store is : “Come to shop. Return to learn.”

Angst amidst the madhouse
Those email notifications came in handy the next day. An auto accident on a main route looked as if it would make us late. We arrived in the mall’s mammoth—and packed—parking lot as my wife used the notifications to warn Apple we were running behind. We were assured we wouldn’t have the appointments cancelled on us. 

Finding the Apple Store was no problem. In an already crowded mall—“Recession? What recession?”—it was the packed store with folks practically spilling out of it. Young people—and some older than my own 50+ years—in blue Apple t-shirts rode herd on hundreds of people of all ages gathered at waist-high tables, trying out the latest gadgets, games, and software. The noise of humanity and machines deafened, on top of the piped-in music. (At least I think there was piped-in music.) The store is probably the cheapest form of e-entertainment around—no quarters required, and that’s probably dating myself.

We almost literally waded our way through the crowd, through a store longer than a bowling alley, to the very rear: The Genius Bar.

The Genius Bar is where one meets the Apple genius assigned to one’s case. It’s a long, long counter where more of the blue-shirted staff stand. Customers can stand on their side of the bar, or pull up a barstool.

We were intercepted by a roving receptionist, in blue shirt, with a portable tablet that might have been the new iPad. She logged us in and promised to call us when it was our turn at the bar.

Dazzling the eye, constantly entertaining
That is, when one’s appointment actually comes up.

But there’s lots to keep your mind occupied, if you need that.

You can just people watch.

But behind the bar are huge video walls with imagery in almost continuous motion. One moment, you are looking at the queue for the type of appointment related to your problem, continuously updated. Some types were already completely booked for the day, and apparently unavailable for walk-ins who didn’t know of the need for an appointment.

Other data and images fly around incessantly. A ten-second mini-video pops up explaining what an SMS message is (“short message service,” by the way).

A product demonstration pops up in another part of the wall.

A quick presentation shows how to manipulate and email photos on an iPhone.

Definitions scroll by, and time rolls by. And so on.

All the while, I’m thinking: If a bank did this to me, how would I feel, and react?

The effect is almost mesmerizing, alternatively attracting to my dinosaur eyes and alternatively annoying to my schedule.

It is an idea taken from innumerable bank teller lines featuring informational videos and such, and from those banks that offer information and such on plasma walls of their own. Disney has been doing things like this at its theme parks for years, all to cross sell you; involve you in advance in the story of the ride; or, ultimately, to take away the feeling that you are, after all, waiting on an endless line.

But I’ve got a watch. And I wasn’t on vacation.

I was getting pretty annoyed as our worry about running a few minutes late retreated into the absurd.

“This is kind of like a doctor’s office, isn’t it?” I told my wife.

I also realized, suddenly, that I had no idea if I was going to be paying anything for my two appointments. I hadn’t thought to ask.


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