How a new best-in-class design-build project embodies the evolution of experience at a mission-critical Detroit, Michigan branch
For more than 170 years, Comerica Bank has served the banking needs of its customers with a relationship-banking model focused on helping people and businesses succeed. Growing from its original Detroit roots, the regional financial institution can now be found in markets spanning the country with hundreds of branch locations in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, and Texas and a full-suite of products and services to serve every customer banking need.
To begin the evolution of defining Comerica’s next generation experience, the bank partnered with Adrenaline to design and deliver a new branch prototype for the growing financial services leader. Two years in development, the new branch is in a prime location for the bank – Southfield, Michigan – just northwest of Detroit. Known locally as Northwestern, the branch opened its doors in late 2020 to provide a diverse menu of financial products and services for consumers and businesses in a warm environment that is both modern and timeless.
Serving a dynamic mix of audiences, Comerica’s primary clientele is the commercial banking customer. Secondarily, the bank serves the retail banking needs of customers and also features a growing wealth management practice. With functionality at its core, the staff and services for all audiences needed to be seamlessly integrated in the branch. Working with Adrenaline since the early 1990s for the bank’s retail communication and fixture program, Comerica brought in the brand experience leader again, this time to partner on the delivery of a new customer experience.
The Northwestern branch prototype represents a rich opportunity to incorporate more digital technology into a next generation experience and to pilot, test and learn new solutions for continual advancement. Technology is a big play in this prototype and big priority for the client. The branch successfully leverages tech solutions to automate transactions by using Teller Cash Recyclers (TCRs) and Banker Connect machines – Comerica’s ITMs – and focus on a two-zone digital strategy to advance in-branch communication.
The result is a North Star location that explores new use of space with a focus toward more consultative, advisory and educational experiences, all supported by the automation of transactions.
Evolution of Experience
At the beginning of the process, an Experience Planning session spearheaded a reevaluation of Comerica’s visual aesthetic and customer experience from top-to-bottom. The bank wanted to positively position themselves – to modernize their operational approach and stay relevant in the existing competitor landscape. Current conditions across their branch network included several different variations of their delivery, including no small number of teller lines and a version of a teller pod. So, while the pod concept wasn’t new to Comerica, this prototype branch would refine and advance its use.
Prior to Northwestern, the bank had an existing prototype approach they had been deploying in many of their locations that incorporated some operational advances. The new branch would take the prior prototype approach even further by exploring inventive space layouts, more effectively supporting technology and driving desired engagements inside the branch. By developing and deploying these North Star processes, the Northwestern prototype would successfully set best practice standards as they go forward. Comerica can now exert more control over their own evolution and what takes place inside their banking centers.
Not only was strategic technology deployment important for efficiency, but so was experience. Engagements inside the branch would result in specific behavioral modifications for both customers and employees alike, resulting in a desired shift in how Comerica would deliver their business moving forward. Previous versions of their program were very transaction-focused inside the branch. A new deprioritization of transactions in the physical space and increased significance on consultative engagements would progress Comerica’s value proposition and positively position them now and in the future.
Following demolition of an existing building, Comerica provided the Adrenaline team with a certain footprint on the property, one that maximizes exposure and efficiently facilitates significant vehicular traffic from multiple directions each day on the highly traveled Northwestern Highway. Following site planning, the Adrenaline team focused on creating an experience from the outside to the inside, beginning with the exterior façade signage, continuing to the drive thru experience and into the interior of the branch.
Adrenaline’s efforts focused on all aspects that influence experience, including interior finishes, furniture, millwork, signage, and digital signage. Once the designs were complete, the Adrenaline implementation team went to work to source, specify and execute the prototype to meet to the new design intent. All elements of the new customer experience leaned on Comerica’s commitment to technology and a more defined and cohesive execution strategy that Adrenaline was helping forward.
Just as with other financial institutions, Comerica saw basic transactions migrating toward convenience channels – a shift the bank wanted to encourage at the branch to focus more on relationship-driven experiences. One piece of transactional technology Comerica was committed to was their branded ITM – Banker Connect – that had been deployed, but not visually tied in with the physical branch. The new design more seamlessly integrated the outside ITM and leveraged it to augment or serve as an extension of the branch experience and automate the more transactional aspects of Comerica’s business.
As the design team moved from exterior to interior, what bubbled up were some differing expectations among teams for how the space would function. The type of shifts Comerica was looking to implement required alignment from core business units for the bank: marketing, retail and operations. Involvement from these key teams would be critical from concepting and design through to implementation, especially since the prototype was shifting strategy by focusing on consultative and advisory aspects of the bank’s business.
With a new purpose for how Comerica delivers their business as chief driver for redeveloping the prototype branch design, the Adrenaline team worked closely with key stakeholders to monitor and modify expectations and present entirely new schematic plans that would break down any existing silos or legacy thinking. From there, the team achieved alignment from multiple departments on a direction for a new layout. The new Northwestern design provided ample opportunities for Comerica employees to get out of their offices, break down barriers and invite staff to begin interacting with customers in a way that doesn’t feel as structured and formal. Importantly, this branch prototype powerfully activates the retail floor in a way that supports these new kinds of consultative conversations.
Building bridges across Comerica’s organization, the Adrenaline team gained a deeper understanding of functional impacts of design on each different business unit and what decisions will mean for retail, self- and assisted service channels. That ability to bring people together from design all the way through implementation placed the agency as a nucleus at the center of the project – coordinating decision-making, schedules, processes – all with a goal to facilitate buy-in and progress. Coordinating with tactical boots-on-the-ground Comerica staff to make decisions was critical, as they are going to be charged with implementing the behavior change the design promotes.
This process also served as a template for Comerica’s projects going forward – moving toward a recommended top-down strategic approach from the outset. Leveraging best practices in implementation, Northwestern demonstrates how to deliver the design intent with experiences to back it up. To create a set of standards moving forward, part of the design and delivery process was developing a Design Application Guidebook with standards for interior and exterior architecture, including building construction, drive-thru, and exterior signage. The interior includes millwork, graphic components, and a high-level strategic emphasis on space planning.
With a kit-of-parts and design application guide, Comerica is now armed with the tools they need to create consistency as they take on 15-30 renovations annually in their existing retail branch network. Working on updates with multiple local architects and vendors, the new operationalized approach used in the prototype ensures that experiences and brand attributes get appropriately deployed at the branch. Northwestern also helped the bank connect the dots across projects where they can test and learn, then rollout new processes to pilot sites and eventually the rest of their network. This empowers Comerica to interpret how a North Star informs other delivery formats and tiers of application across their branch network.
Comerica is one of the larger, super-regional organizations going for bigger growth opportunities, and leaning on an analytical approach versus one-size-fits-all application is critical to their progress. The bank is committed to taking learnings from the Northwestern prototype and optimizing how they think about delivering their business in the future. Through this process, the bank successfully leveraged Adrenaline’s expertise and understanding of all the implications of design decisions, both for their organization and in the financial services sector at large. With a design-build prototype process that incorporates robust test and learn processes, Comerica has established the future of the advisory spoke and created a new manifestation for delivery of their business.