“Digital is going to have to involve the human element. It absolutely is going to. The better I get at one, the better the other is going to get and vice versa.” - Matt Monge

Matt Monge, the brand and marketing agency director for On the Mark Strategies, helps financial brands be more human, particularly in the post-COVID digital world

Matt's mission is a simple one because he wants to do just two things:

  1. Help organizations differentiate themselves
  2. Help people to make a difference in their lives and their work

These ideals are prevalent in the thoughts and strategies he shares about how small banks and credit unions can create a competitive advantage that is personal, sustainable, and effective. 

Adaptability: Learning from Younger Role Models

Those who have children know that many of them really adapted to the changes that came during 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is no doubt that some children struggled with online learning and/or isolation last year, the fact is, kids generally have a far higher adaptability quotient (AQ) than most adults do, which is also true of business leaders and professionals at financial brands. 

So when do adults lose their ability for adaptability?

As Matt explained, “We unlearn a lot of stuff. We unlearn creativity. We unlearn that little bit of fearlessness coupled with playfulness.”

But kids haven't let go of these ideas yet, so they're able to adapt. In the financial world, many leaders can take a cue from the younger folks around them and be more resilient, more adaptable, and more flexible.

Why?

It’s through failing, fast learning, rapid change, and development that growth springs anew. Think about kindergartners building structures out of blocks or sticks; they aren’t afraid to build or break them, learn from their work, and do it again even better. Those with MBAs or those who are leaders in their industries might be much more hesitant to work with the same kind of abandon. While this might seem safer, it also might mean losing out on meaningful, productive innovation. 

The good news?

Innovation is a capability that can be built into your organization.

Humanizing the Digital Experience 

For financial brands (and the business world as a whole), the events of 2020 forced the rapid expansion of the digital experience. But the real opportunity for making this digital experience more personal and more human comes from improving the employee digital experience

Often, there is a lack of humanity in a financial brand’s digital experience, which stems from a deeper lack of clarity, awareness, and buy-in from the employees. 

60% to 80% of digital transformation projects fail because employees aren’t fully on board.

The difference boils down to the divide between employee experience and employee engagement. 

Employee engagement might involve things like coaching, learning, or leadership development. But employee experience is about so much more. It involves everything they experience throughout their time with a particular organization. The entire employee experience of digital growth is key to the successful adoption of a new digital strategy, so knowing where the biggest gaps or misunderstandings are may ease the transition. 

Matt shared that there is sometimes a false dichotomy; that financial brands can either excel at the in-person human experience, or they can succeed with regards to a digital experience. But this is a false dilemma — one that leaders need to clear up with their teams. There is room for both the physical and digital realms of a bank or credit union to succeed. 

“Digital is going to have to involve the human element. It absolutely is going to. The better I get at one, the better the other is going to get and vice versa.”

Both the online and the in-person experiences need to have real, human elements to connect with customers and make a real difference in their lives. 

The Employee Experience Journey

Credit unions and banks spend a great deal of time thinking about the digital consumer journey, but Matt suggests they also consider the employee experience journey and how it is connected to everything an organization is working toward. 

Sure, financial brands need to think about what their customers want and need, but they also need to ensure that the employee experience gets just as much attention, considering all the employee touch points, their portions of the digital journey, and all the stopgaps in place.

After all, employees are the ones providing the customer and member service. The degree to which leaders invest in their team and invest in understanding how to get the member or customer experience right for both consumers and their teams can make all the difference. Otherwise, brands just build beautiful apps that don’t work for their teams; they end up with miserable employees trying to navigate new apps and systems, and all of this digital transformation will be for naught; the performance will undoubtedly suffer. 

One example of this? Employees might fear that the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) makes them irrelevant. It’s up to financial brands to point out that this is actually an investment in their people. Why? They are using automation and AI to take care of the mundane, daily tasks so their talented employees can spend more time creating more value for more customers. 

”That doesn't happen by accident. That is an intentional context that's been created for those people and intentional experience and culture. That is a sustainable competitive advantage over time. That's a big, big deal, but it's also very rare.”

In this same vein, the way that employees deal with customers can be more human — more personal. It’s not about how many calls or emails they get to, but about the difference they can make with each one. Matt said, “It's just an entirely different way of looking at it, but it's an entirely human way because it's all about that interaction and building that relationship. I can't imagine what would happen if someone stayed in the lobby with a member, the same one for that long. I mean, seriously, can you imagine what would happen?”

And that is sustainable. 

Connecting with Customers 

The key to all of this digital transformation is ensuring that processes and strategies are human is making lasting connections with customers and members.

It’s about building relationships. 

One way to accomplish this? Listening. 

By asking good questions and really paying attention to the answers, then taking action, banks and credit unions can get a lot of guidance from their customers. Matt suggested that financial brands consider what they want their consumers to think and feel when they first interact with the brand online, on the phone, or in person, discovering where there are gaps and finding ways to bridge those gaps. 

As he explained, “Usually, we just kind of assume we want them to feel good.” The issue here is that this is far too general. 

So when it comes to the question of what brands want their customers to think and feel, the answers need to be much more specific. Leaders in marketing, sales, or executive teams have to escape their own doing to create space to reflect and learn, then apply that thinking to intentionally and continually improve their processes to make the experience for customers more meaningful and more purposeful. 

Matt explained. “It takes constant humility and organizational self-awareness and this constant organizational stance of, ‘We're never going to be there. We're always going to be learning. We're always going to be listening. We're always going to be humble enough to say we want to just keep tweaking, keep learning.’ Every once in a while, it's going to take a violent adjustment when we discover, ‘This is a gaping hole we have here.’”

It is only through this kind of deep, honest self-reflection that financial brands can really understand what their customers want and make real connections with them. 

Transformation of any kind always begins with some type of learning, which provides awareness and clarity of the unknown to help the unaware become aware of what those opportunities are in the first place.