“Unexpected item in the bagging area.” We’ve all experienced this frustration in the supermarket… in fact, 93% of all UK customers say they have had a frustrating experience with self-service machines of some kind.

Banks are closing more and more of their costly branches to drive customers to their online and mobile services. They’re also replacing staff with self-service machines that make standard transaction services much cheaper for banks to operate. Taken at face value, staff-less branches bring a number of big advantages: banks can open longer and, because they are significantly cheaper to run, branches can be opened on smaller sites or even set up in a similar way to outdoor ATMs. But how can we ensure that the same level of machine-hatred does not spill from supermarkets over into our banks? In the same vein it is hard to imagine having a sensitive conversation about a mortgage or a loan application with a machine….

Our modern world is still split along a not-insignificant divide: digital-native millennials and other generations who like direct and personal interactions much more than they do Twitter messages or other virtual communications.

It seems obvious that if banks want to retain a wide spectrum of customers with different requirements they need to be able to strike the right balance between putting in face-time with customers and encouraging them to use cheaper, self-service channels. Findings from a recent Elixirr survey reiterated this: customers have a very strong opinion about staff-less branches. One customer even said: “It is awful though, I mean I hate the whole digital world, I hate the fact that there is no customer service. I want someone to serve me and to help me, I don’t want to serve myself. It’s effortless but not in a good way.”

We believe that to be successful, banks need to look at the changing landscape from a holistic point of view. This means aligning their branch strategy with a clear idea of their broader business, cash and mobile strategies.

Only by guiding foot traffic into branches that are true sales and advice centres can banks inspire loyalty in their customers. A loyal customer will actually buy products beyond simple current accounts, the products that actually increase a bank’s profits.

Imagine a bank that enabled you to perform all of your daily transactions from the comfort of your home, or your palm. A bank that allowed you to deposit a cheque by scanning it with your phone. A bank that let you book a same day face-to-face appointment in branch using their app. By directly linking the digital with a human touch, that bank has delighted its customer with how easy it was to deposit a cheque and book an appointment…so much so that the same customer wants to use that appointment to discuss buying more products, because if something as simple as depositing a cheque delighted them that much, imagine what that bank could do for their mortgage application! This face-to-face interaction must then seamlessly link the customer back to the mobile and online side, enabling direct chat or email access to a person in branch to further streamline the process and enable a continuous interaction.

Only by truly embracing a seamless omnichannel approach, which is well structured and ties in with the overall business and cash strategies, can a bank revamp its branch setup while retaining and increasing its customer base. Despite the fact that the stats are showing a continued decline in the number of branches and transactions per branch, we strongly believe that branches play a vital role in any successful omnichannel strategy. On top of the branding advantages, customers do, and will continue to, want to discuss complex situations and products with an actual person.

If they’re to survive, banks must be aiming for face-to-face, high-value service, available at a convenient time for the customer, and a streamlined mobile, online and staff-less experience for regular and simple daily interactions. It’s not an ‘or’ situation. Striking the right balance between the digital and the human is the only way to win the loyalty of today’s customer.

And if the big banks don’t, they can be sure that a challenger will.