Berkshire Bank upgrades technology for customer convenience


PITTSFIELD -- Teller pods, cash dispensers, plasma televisions, access to PlayStation -- items not typically found in a bank's branch office.

But Berkshire Bank is beginning to make them a priority.

The county's largest bank recently renovated a branch inside its administration building at 99 North St. to include all of those items along with a community room that can seat between 25 and 30 people.

A second Berkshire branch in the Center at Lenox shopping plaza contains all of those items except for the community room, because the building's footprint is too small. The bank has also installed teller pods at a branch in Dalton.

Currently, nine of Berkshire's 75 branches have been reconfigured in a similar manner, with the majority of those outlets located in New York's Capital Region, said Tami M. Gunsch, Berkshire's senior vice president for retail banking.

Plans call for at least one branch in each of the bank's coverage areas in Berkshire County, the Pioneer Valley, the Capital Region, central New York state, Connecticut and Vermont, to be reconfigured in the same manner.

So what's going on here? Gunsch said Berkshire believes that updating the bank's technology would make its branches more customer friendly, and encourage people to visit them.

"I started in banking 32 years ago (and then) it was totally different," Gunsch said. "Banking continues to evolve. Customers seem to be more in a hurry, I think, than they were in the past. And, we really wanted something more inviting for our customers when they'd come into the bank."

An emphasis on technology often means a decline in employment, because machines can replace tasks done by people. But the branch at 99 North St. still has nine employees, the same number before the renovations took place.

"We do not have less staff," Gunsch said. "It's the way we change the roles. For example, we may have one less teller, but we'll have that one less teller be a personal banker so he has more time to spend with a customer instead of just count cash."

The North Street branch has three teller pods. Instead of standing behind a counter counting and distributing money, the tellers in this branch stand in front of computers placed on counters that are located along the sides of the main retail area.

Customers can sit by the pods when the tellers are transacting business.

"They take away the barrier between the teller and the customer so that it's more personalized," Gunsch said.

Cash dispensers located in the pod areas allow the tellers to accurately total bank transactions without having to count money.

There's more time for the teller to interact with the customer than doing the counting," said Berkshire Bank spokeswoman Lori Gazzillo. "It improves accuracy."

"It took a little getting used to," said Amy Difilippo, the branch's teller supervisor.

The North Street branch is laid out with an open floor plan that is designed to be "more inviting," Gazzillo said.

"It allows for more interaction between tellers and customer service representatives, more cross business." Gazzillo said.

The community room can be accessed through an entryway that doesn't require those using it to enter the branch, so that it can entered during non-banking hours. The plasma television in the community room is connected to PlayStation.

That device has allowed a group of senior citizens to play video games when they meet monthly in the community room.

"They have a great time," Gunsch said.


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