Businesses used to nurturing growth and success through face-to-face, trust-based customer relationships are navigating the challenge of a lifetime in the era of COVID-19 and social distancing. Community banks in the U.S. are one such example. Community banks and credit unions have long offered customers an attractive alternative to large national chains. Local knowledge, a more personal relationship with customers, and provision of vital financial resources in remote or rural communities are just a few of their competitive advantages.
With many valued community bank clients in our portfolio, CVG Architects is taking a closer look at the unique design opportunities facing this sector in light of COVID-19. Customers’ needs have increased with economic uncertainty, and the personalized service community banks offer is indispensable. But how can branch banks maintain high standards for the customer experience in a time when social distance is a public health imperative? As banks execute and refine strategies for welcoming customers back into physical locations, we have identified the most strategic and crucial design considerations, from short- to long-term:
Peace of Mind in Addition to Physical Comfort: Community banks have an increased responsibility to consider both the physical and psychological wellbeing of customers and employees. And while there are no sure-fire solutions, by now we are well-aware of best practices in design – beyond reactive approaches of signage and plexi-glass shields – that can help to mitigate virus spread while reducing stress in an interior environment..
Proactive design strategies – elements that highlight cleanliness, encourage safe distancing, and make transactions smooth and easy – must be prominent and visible the moment a customer walks in. Visual signals provide immediate peace of mind and extend the foundation of trust between bank and customer. Such features include:
Blending Prevention with Aesthetics: Many COVID-mitigation design features have been adopted and installed rapidly – from Perspex shields to hand sanitizer stations at entrances. Some of these features may inadvertently bring a makeshift or even clinical feel to the space over time. We think banks will benefit by incorporating these features in ways that prioritize form, as well as function:
Adaptable, Flexible Space is No Longer Just an Option: In the future, we see flexibility as one of the sole organizing principles for design within branch banks:
Social Distancing with No Signage / No Ad-Hoc Floor Markers: With physical distancing sure to become a long-term accepted mandate, we are looking at how we can encourage this in the space more intuitively. Creative use of materials, colors, and space configurations will achieve this.
Seamless Experience with Mobile Banking: As customers rely more heavily on mobile banking, we see more need for integration of these services within the physical environment. The side benefit is reduction of touch of common surfaces through limiting functions to personal phone use.
Customers already associate their community banks with many positive feelings – friendliness, personal knowledge of their customers, and an enduring sense of trust versus larger competitors. Community banks are broadly adopting the necessary tools, variety of design strategies, and proactive communication within the branch bank environment to support continued positive customer relations.