First Niagara Financial Group listens to its customers. After learning more about customer preferences, First Niagara is making changes to its retail banking and in-branch experience to more efficiently serve its loyal patrons.

Scott Fisher, First Niagara’s managing director of Retail Channels, told Loyalty360 that customer preferences have been changing for some time now as they choose to use digital channels ─ mobile, online, and ATMs - for more transactions. 

“Mobile in particular is rapidly accelerating,” Fisher said. “We launched our mobile app in January 2013 and we now have more than 140,000 active users. The voice of the customer is very important to us. Currently, we use two outside partners to assist in that area, J.D. Power and Greenwich. We have conducted focus groups with both customers and prospects. In addition, we learn a lot about our customers by monitoring customer comments in our call centers.”

First Niagara has changed the way it staffs its branches by implementing a Customer Care Representative (Universal Banker) model. Under this model, more of the company’s in-branch employees are able to serve a broader set of customer needs. More than 200 First Niagara branch employees have recently been promoted to positions that enable them to broaden their responsibilities and grow their careers. As in-branch positions are redefined to more broadly serve customers, the new branch model will result in the reduction of up to 170 administrative positions across the company’s four-state footprint.

The company is moving administrative duties out of the branches and focusing on the enhancement of in-branch customer-facing interactions. All impacted individuals have been notified and many will be eligible to apply for other positions within First Niagara, which is currently recruiting to fill more than 250 job openings throughout the company. Others will receive severance benefits to assist them in bridging their career transition.

Simultaneously, First Niagara has and will continue to increase its investment in its online, mobile and telephone banking capabilities for retail and small business customers. The company’s customers are embracing its digital offerings, with new products and enhancements planned, including the launch of mobile remote deposit capture for Retail customers in the first quarter.

“Customers are increasingly relying on digital channels for routing transactions and service,” Fisher added. “They are also increasing their online research when making product or service purchases (more than 50% of consumers now do their product research online). Many customers will still call the contact center and speak to a live person if they have questions. Customers are more willing to discuss and purchase new products over the phone and through digital channels.” 

J.D. Power believes that there are 13 factors that really matter to retail banking customers, Fisher explained, “and they all point toward their desire to do business when, where, and how they want to interact with us. We have been investing heavily in online and mobile banking channels, adding capabilities through our telephone channels, and finally adding more specialists in our branches (small business and investments).”

Fisher said it’s clear First Niagara needs to offer multiple channels.

“Branches still matter to the vast majority of our customers, whether it is transacting their daily needs and for more complex transactions like mortgages, consumer loans, investments, small business and service matters,” he said. “They still want access to someone in person.”

Fisher said the measures taken by First Niagara will help structure its branch teams so they can focus more on customers, and less on administrative duties.

“We will now staff the branches with more versatile team members who can serve a broader set of customer needs,” he said. “We also continue to invest in digital, online, and mobile channels so that customers can choose how they want to interact with us. We have a customer experience council, and a group of individuals who interact with our customer-facing teammates who discuss issues we have when serving customers. We look at all of these issues and work toward creating a fast, easy, simple solution for customers.”

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