Umpqua Bank reimagines the customer experience

| by Suzanne Cluckey
Umpqua Bank reimagines the customer experience

It's early morning. While an instructor helps Mom perfect her Pigeon pose, the kids are off playing in an area set aside just for them, and the dog is dozing by a thoughtfully provided water bowl.

The vibe of the place is contemporary; clean lines and open spaces. The furnishings are simple, but chic. And of course, there's the requisite internet cafe on site.

It might sound like a trendy yoga studio in hipsterville, but really, it's an Umpqua Bank branch (or "store," as the FI calls them) in Seattle as described by Brian Read, executive vice president and head of retail banking at Umpqua.

Read delivered the opening keynote presentation at the Bank Customer Experience summit last week, kicking off two days of panels, general sessions and special events designed to challenge, inform and inspire bankers who have been tasked with a little project called "branch transformation."

Read explained that, for Umpqua, transformation was about more than shuffling furniture, moving walls, re-titling tellers and deploying bleeding-edge technology — although, to be sure, they have done all of the above.

But these things can rightly be described as changes, not transformation. By Read's definition, transformation is about answering the question, "What business are we in?"

He said, "When [Umpqua CEO Ray Davis] first asked that question, a lot of people said, 'What business do you think we're in? We're a bank. We're in the banking business!' And he said, 'No … We're in the customer experience business. If you look at everything we've got, it's a commodity.'"

So Umpqua set out "de-commoditize" itself, leveraging the customer experience as a key differentiator.

That was in 1994. Twenty-two years later, the bank continues to evolve right along with its customers. Today, branches offer next-generation consumers the next-generation consumables they insist upon, with a coffee bar, free Wi-Fi, personalized attention and a strong sense of community

Hence, the yoga class, held before the branch opened in the morning.

"Whether it's a group like this doing a [limited time] event; whether it's an external group or nonprofit organization; whether it's a municipality — it might be the local city or county or school board; we allow people to use our store. We built our space to accommodate the needs of our customers."

The payoff isn't just in good will. Read told the audience about a store that allowed a CPA from Portland, Oregon, to use a private space in a Seattle store when he was in town. One day while visiting the store, Read was introduced to the visitor.


Topics: Customer Experience, Technology, Trends / Statistics

Suzanne Cluckey
Suzanne’s editorial career has spanned three decades and encompassed all B2B and B2C communications formats. Her award-winning work has appeared in trade and consumer media in the United States and internationally. She is now the editor of and wwwView Suzanne Cluckey's profile on LinkedIn

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