Facility Solutions: The Physical Brand Experience

attractive branch lobby or office with welcoming orange seating
Independent Facilities & Real Estate Consultant
Paul Seibert Consulting

5 minutes

Space and architecture can influence the behavior of members and staff. Leverage this concept when designing your branches.

“We create space and space creates us.” Architecture plays an active part in our lives. As Lauren Scranton, research and experience development director at NAC Architecture states in her article, “Architecture + Human Behavior”: “There is a reciprocal relationship between a person affecting, and being affected by, external forces in their immediate surroundings.” She further states: “It isn’t an overstatement to say that architecture affects all aspects of our being; how we think, feel, act, and even our health.”

We can dive even deeper into the subject by reading Sarah Williams Goldhagen’s book, Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives. Nader Tehrani, Dean of the Cooper Union School of Architecture gives this review: “In explaining the connection between human experience and the world as an embodied phenomenon, [Goldhagen] reconfigures the foundations of thinking that have dominated the scholarly, design, and building professions. But she does more: bringing the sciences deep into the humanities, she reconceptualizes our understanding of the built environment’s profound effects on individuals, communities and societies.”

So, how do we apply all this highbrow thinking to our efforts to create a powerful branded experience in our branches?

There are hundreds of attractive branded branch environments that can be viewed online. “Pretty” is easy—changing the way members and staff act and perceive their experience is the real value. What is the value of “pretty”? About a 10 percent temporary increase in traffic, based on the retail industry. In contrast, the value of changing the way people engage and remember the experience you deliver is long lasting, for good or bad.

A lot of money can be wasted on redecorating your branch or following what the latest trend. Here are a few of questions you should ask ahead of any new branch (re)design projects or prototype development.

  • How many branches and locations do you need today and in five years, based on your five- and ten-year business projections? 
  • What are branches really for?
  • What are your specific performance goals for the branches in each location over the planning period?
  • Who is your target audience, and how will your audience evolve over time?
  • Do you have a strong and well-articulated brand that significantly differentiates you from your competitors?
  • Is member experience engineering through all delivery channels truly important to your organization?
  • Do your “agents of change” have the ability to make a real difference inside your organization?
  • Are you working with external advisors with proven experience in brand translation and experience engineering that understand the correlation between architecture and human performance?

The most important element of the member and staff experience is, of course, people. How do your staff engage with members when they enter the branch, move through branch or seek information? What is the first thing they see when entering? Does the architecture direct them toward connecting with a person or technology? Where are staff positioned to recognize members upon entry and as they move through the space? If there are no staff, what about the architecture and technology helps create a sense of welcome, trust and appropriate intimacy?

A few years ago, we conducted an experience engineering audit for a large credit union. Even though they had spent a great deal of money on prototype development and roll-outs, there were a number of issues.

  • There was no visibility into the branches from outside the entry.
  • Associates could not be seen upon entry.
  • Information technology was placed at the end of the member path and blocked by the queue.
  • Staff were in closed offices with doors that limited real and perceived accessibility.
  • Staff could not perform required tasks such as sharing a screen, sitting next to a member or modifying seating arrangements to accommodate situational relationship-building opportunities.
  • A large “tech desk” at the entry offered tablets on leashes. These were little used compared to personal phone use, but they were positioned as a first priority engagement.

Often the architecture of a space takes a back set to the latest technology or messaging system. Architecture should come first. The first step in an effective branch experience branding ideation process is to translate the business objectives and target market characteristics into a relationship diagram that shows the organic connections between and delivery elements. This illustrates the delivery elements’ priority along the member’s path and how they interrelate. This model can then be translated into a floor plan that can be overlaid with people, technology, messaging systems and product and service delivery. It can also be used to apply SafeCatch Architecture to help combine strong member engagement with security.

All this work can lead to a high-performance branded experience for members and staff. But all things change. We know that branch strategic planning must support business agility planning, and so must the built environment. Branch interiors must be flexible to accommodate inevitable and often unpredictable change. This is particularly true the more we integrate technology. I have helped financial institutions remove thousands of information kiosks and renovate/replace teller counters at great cost. Today’s branches need to provide a high-performance experience while allowing for plug-and-play design where the architecture can be easily modified to keep pace with your target audience’s evolving expectations and preferences.

A great way to help anticipate change is by creating a “branch lab” where you test new ideas. These are most effective if they are a fully operating branch so that you get authentic member feedback critical to your ongoing evaluations. These labs are expensive to build and operate, particularly for small credit unions. If such a project isn’t feasible, small credit unions should instead make certain they are working with a consultant that has the ability to combine the arts of branding, environmental physcology and design with a deep understanding of the financial industry today and where it is headed.

Space does create us in branches, headquarters and our homes. It can influence us to act in certain ways. As brand experience engineers, we need to embrace this understanding as a tool that can help us deliver powerful branch and headquarters experiences that, in the end, make us happier and better people while increasing the credit union’s return on investment.cues icon

Paul Seibert, CMC, is an independent facilities and real estate consultant under Paul Seibert Consulting, Seattle.

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