Guest blog by Andrew Haigh, CEO of Newcastle Building Society
Perhaps more than ever, through these difficult days of lockdown, we have come to recognise just how much we value face-to-face interaction with other humans. We are social beings. We crave real social contact.
That perspective shapes many of the challenges we face as we look to the future and how we will evolve the nature of our retail proposition in the years ahead, beyond the current crisis: how will our offer become more, not less human; closer and more connected, not distant and remote?
Even in this age of so many technological advances, we believe that digital and physical distribution need to co-exist if we are to serve all our customers well. For us, technology is best deployed to enhance the quality of our human interactions, not just to replace them.
Our branch customers are not seeking a slower, less-efficient version of a transaction they can do online or on their mobile – they want something more. They value the human interaction, and never more so than when a request is complex, or a problem needs resolving. ‘Technology is great’ but, as one of our customers eloquently put it, ‘sometimes you just need a human!’
While we may be currently limited to providing just an essential service, prior to our current socially distanced practices, we’ve been evolving our branch experience, based on our understanding of our customers’ needs and we look forward to resuming this just as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
None of this is easy or cheap to deliver. At first pass, a virtual, digital only alternative to the expense of having a human spend quality time with a customer might be viewed as a compelling argument. But that not only risks limiting the scope of service delivery, it fundamentally changes the nature of the relationship to be more transactional. Digital and physical need to work hand-in-hand.
Much of our work has been to find new ways to support communities through our physical presence. In some instances we bring communities into our branches, providing space for people to come together in our community rooms, free of charge.
These changes have served to transform the role of the branch and deepen our relationships with our local communities.
Perhaps the biggest transformations have come through our branch community partnerships:
Embedded in the community, we become part of the community, playing an integral role as part of an essential, vibrant hub, at a fraction of the cost of a full scale branch.
The experience of 2020 has taught us all to value our communities – and to value human interaction. We know that there will be yet more challenging times ahead, but we believe branches have a critical, sustaining role to play for our communities and high streets now, and when we finally do progress to better days beyond the current crisis, even more so.
For more information, visit Newcastle Building Society's website here