All Walk-Ins Must be Turned into Relationships
Branch banking is poised on the brink of huge improvements to customer service that will require the application of Big Data. Retail banks know that the old-fashioned transactional environment is not sustainable, while the dialogue-engagement operating model is inevitable. Over time, our knowledge of how best to design the branch space evolves with each physical transformation we complete. There are specific kinds of floor plans that can facilitate the coming operating model, but the single biggest rule is that it has to be more open and mobile than previously. This doesn’t mean that branch staff will finalize every type of transaction the walk-in visitor requests. It means the employee can land a hook in the visitor so that the visitor is retained for whatever the next step may be in their financial needs. That visitor is now in a relationship, because all walk-ins, whether they’re customers or not, must be turned into relationships.
And it’s now possible to design and build branches that make it easier to achieve relationship-building and, ultimately, data capture goals for financial institutions (FIs).
Relationship Building = Dialogue = Data
“Dialogue banking” means exactly that; engagement and conversation with the customer. And any data that an employee collects from those conversations must be captured and properly stored and optimized. This usually includes data that applies well beyond the initial transaction or product. It can include information such as demographic, interpersonal data, birthday, street address, marital situation, employer, their current provider, etc., and it has to be captured by that employee in the bank’s database so that everybody knows who this person is, what they did, and the unique attributes about the person from the physical event. Some of this information can be entered into a tablet during the conversation (which should pipeline directly into the organization’s CRM), while the other details can be manually entered later. Demographic data for that individual can build the foundations for the relationship, including socioeconomic status and interpersonal details. In this way, the next time anybody in the bank interacts with that person, we know everything about them from the previous interaction. Banks don’t do this today, because it’s not in their procedural discipline. It’s not in their human resources training, or in the skill-set requirements of the individuals who work there. To put it briefly, there’s no performance expectation for gathering customer information, especially for non-customers.
Facing New Challenges: Digital Competition & Customer Relationships
These data-gathering practices are part of the new retail standard and need to be adopted by banks and credit unions as soon as possible. Retail businesses can capture idiosyncrasies about customers in the same way Facebook or Google can. If community-based FIs are going to compete against an electronic world of massive enterprises that use automated intelligence, then their physical performance has to compete and perform with some of the effective tactics currently being done electronically.
There are new and different job descriptions for new and different physical and technological environments, and there’s a very different software environment supporting front office bankers. If a bank employee is the person who first meets with a branch visitor, and develops a relationship (convinces the visitor that they understand their wants and needs) they now have to be empowered to be able to work the bank’s products, services and infrastructure. They will need to reconnect with the visitor by text, phone, email, whatever this person prefers, and say, “Hello Mr. Customer, you came in and we talked about these things, do you have any questions? Here’s what I have for you, do you want me to email the information? I am always available, here is my cell phone, here is my email, you can deal with me directly, I will take care of any questions you have with this, and I can help you out in any manner you need.”
Other industries are already far ahead of banking in this regard.
Data Predicts Your Customer’s Needs
It cannot be stressed enough that every single walk-in visitor is important. If a person actually takes the time to physically go to a branch, the FI must capitalize on the situation. Building relationships with customers is really just the tip of the iceberg; the real value is in the data being collected under the surface that will drive the customer response. It’s crucial to make customers comfortable, to make them feel you’re meeting their needs, and that you’ll take care of whatever they’re looking for. Whether it’s a sales opportunity or a service opportunity, the customer must leave the branch fulfilled and confident that this organization is going to take care of what they came in for. The employee in the office doesn’t have to have complete authority to do everything. They just need to have the authority to take the football and start to carry it. It’s of chief importance to anticipate what services a visitor will need and when they will need it, which is where data and CRMs can make a huge difference. You need to understand all the potential visitor needs and requirements that could happen in branches that have anything to do with banking and financial services.
Front office employees should be able to store the conversations they have with walk-ins, understand what it is they want, determine the background, frame the situation, and arrange a mutually agreeable next step. If the customer wants information on a new product, or information on how to apply for a mortgage, or a commercial loan, whatever it is, we should feel very confident that whoever they talk to is going to take care of the visitor as planned. If, as a customer, I need to know in 24 hours, I’ll know. If I don’t need to know until next week, I need to feel comfortable they’ll contact me before next week. Front office employees have to be strong and people-savvy enough that they can comfortably deal with these types of conversations and situations.
If I’m a Universal banker I need to have that personal ability and to understand what my role is within the organization. I need to know what the next step is for each and every type of inquiry, and where to obtain the materials or information that needs to go to that customer. The organization should support me on that request implicitly, which means the organization has to be oriented around universal bankers and their activities. It shouldn’t mean I just pass off the customer’s name to another party in the bank. I am the point of contact; I need to build the relationship and I need to own the outcome of the requirement. The universal banker should be supported fully and trusted to successfully take the walk-in relationship to the next level. Senior management and other product line staff have to trust the universal banker role as concierge in the stage of introduction and in the stage of referral or in whatever stage of cross-sell. The front-end universal banker should be working on the same kind of incentives and rewards, with everyone on the same page with regards to how the bank handles visitors that walk in our building. No matter what the department and no matter what the outcome. To be sure, this is a fairly broad knowledge set, but comprehensive recruitment and training for the universal banker staffing model can determine solid candidates in this regard. But it may come as a surprise to learn that, even before banking and financial experience, retail customer skills and a friendly, welcoming personality are key factors in selecting ideal staff for today’s branches.
Five-Star Customer Service is Urgently Needed in the Financial Industry
Today’s huge money center banks do not rely on this kind of personal touch. When you walk into a BoA branch and make a deposit, they don’t pay any attention to you. There’s nothing wrong with that, because it’s not their job. They have tellers, platform people, and a product and services rep. It’s not a universal environment. It’s not a modern environment. But even that’s changing, and community banks should consider themselves on notice, because if the big banks decide to go all-out on customer service and dialogue banking (and some of them are) it will be very difficult to play catch-up.
If you walk into an Apple store what do they do? They have a person talk to you: “Hi, I’m Sally, what’s your name, why are you here today? Oh, that’s interesting! Well you’re going to want to go over to the Genius Bar here and look at all this stuff we have to support you, and by the way I’ve got three people who have the same issue right now that our three tech support people are working on. I can help you in a little while here, or if it’s not that urgent we can set up a meeting.” In other words, they’re putting a hook in you, even though the person’s not really doing anything. They talk to you, show you the technology bar, put you in their tablet, and smile at you. Now you’ve been acknowledged as a human with wants and needs. Very few banks do that consistently as a matter of policy. Some banks are beginning to use scheduling systems that enable them to identify a person when they walk in the door for a scheduled meeting. There is some progress there, but most are still traditional environments where they’re letting a lot of opportunities for relationships go by the wayside.
Build Relationships, Forget the Hard Sell
We are talking about relationship development. If you want to sell, you can sell all day long, on the internet, by direct phone, on discounts, on rates, on price. You have to build a relationship with anyone who dares to walk into your facility. You do not have to sell. That’s the difference. The entire purpose of your banking office needs to be changed to a place where people can come to talk about whatever kinds of financial or banking services they need. Branch employees should not be hard sellers. The last 25 years of moving to a sales culture has not worked, and it will probably not work for the next 25 years. We are not talking about loan salespeople, or commercial lenders, or mortgage lenders; we are discussing branch staff. Branch staff should be comfortable with their free-form conversations with customers, and be friendly. A customer or employee should never have any reason to say, “I don’t want to go in that office”.
Outbound hard sales are contrary to the operating model we have just articulated and should have no place in a truly modern branch environment. There is no gray area with this. Retail banking now has to overcome its inertia, take the plunge, and make the water lovely.
Thanks for use of the featured image of man in pool © Annabel Williams