In the middle of his emotional description of the horrific Hindenburg disaster, American radio journalist Herb Morrison blurted out, “Oh, the humanity!” That phrase has since become a meme used to caricature highly emotional responses to not-all-that-tragic events.
During conversations with my software company peeps, I frequently refer to the humanities degree hanging on my wall to alert them to my lack of technical training. In college, I caught a lot of flak for my choice of major. My left-brained fellow students didn’t see much use for my right-brained education. Over the years, however, the things I studied in school have gained in value. A very positive stint in banking led to a successful financial services software career. Along the way, I picked up a good bit of technical knowledge, but my primary value was always an ability to deal with people in a technical context.
When speaking at conferences or teaching at banking schools, I often ask, “What is it that sets your financial institution apart from your competitors?” Almost every answer I get centers on people. And that makes sense. As bankers, we’re in a commodity business. (A recent TV ad by a huge national banking firm touts their new branch “cafés” as evidence they are “anything but typical.” Within seconds, however, the ad pivots to focus on low fee checking and savings accounts. Checking and savings accounts? Sounds pretty typical to me.) In a highly commoditized industry like ours, the connection our human resources form with our customers or members has always been the one thing that could set us apart.
At least that was true until Steve Jobs and the iPhone changed everything. Now, the majority of financial services interactions are happening in an electronic landscape that seems free of humans. If people are our primary differentiator, how are we going to compete when they are eliminated from the equation?
Fortunately, underlying all our technological services is the layer of people who support them. On the other side of the “Contact Us” button is a person. Holding up the other end of the in-app chat conversation is a person. I may be able to open a new account on my phone in five minutes, but chances are there will be some human connection required to support this new relationship in the days that follow. And since digital offerings are themselves becoming commoditized, the people behind those services are still critical to your ability to set yourself apart.
But what kind of people? While digital applications are delivered via technology, people with purely technical skills are not the best choice to support them. Critical people skills are every bit as important in today’s workplace as technical knowledge, and many positions require a hybrid of technical and people skills for success. Even traditional computer science and data analytics roles now require people with a mixture of technical and non-technical skills.
Your bank or credit union needs people with analytical minds who can find the source of technical problems, but those same people need human-focused skills that allow them to empathize, communicate, and engender trust in others. And those skills must be expressed through new mediums. A friendly call center voice or an engaging chat partner is today’s equivalent of a 1990s new account representative with a beaming smile.
So, in this digital age, don’t forget the humanity. Your institution should be sure you’re identifying and hiring resources with hybrid skills. The people who have them can make technology work, not just for themselves, but for your customers and members, too. These hybrid-skilled hosts and hostesses are the ones who usher users through your digital doorways, and they need the same kind of relationship-building prowess that’s always given you a leg up on your competition. Even in this high-tech world, it’s all about humans, and having the right people is still what separates your bank or credit union from the competitive crowd.