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9 Keys to Branch Sales and Service Success

June 24, 2016

This article was originally published in The Financial Brand

By Meredith Deen, President of FMSI

Ask management about essential elements of great frontline service and sales, and you’ll likely hear something along these lines: Train and equip employees to provide prompt, knowledgeable, and friendly service and to recognize and take advantage of cross-sell opportunities that arise in interactions with customers.

Now ask whether and how they know how well their branches actually perform. Beyond some vague comments about customer satisfaction surveys, those answers can be a lot harder to pin down.

The FMSI Retail Branch Lobby Study provides some clues to clear up the mystery of measuring branch performance by defining and delivering useful metrics from banks and credit unions across North America, and recommending effective strategies to enhance service and sales in your branch lobbies. The study assembles and analyzes data from 780,000 branch interactions during the third quarter of 2015, with comparisons to 2013 and 2011.

Three key metrics can be applied to measure current branch performance and identify areas in need of improvement:

Wait time. Lobby wait times have risen steadily since 2011 in many branches. On average, the time that customers wait for initial contact with a service representative after signing in the queue management system has increased from four minutes 46 seconds to seven minutes six seconds over four years.

The variation in wait time, which ranges from 11 minutes 18 seconds at the lowest-performing branches studied to two minutes 36 seconds at the best performers, demonstrates that a commitment to streamlining service delivery can pay off. In fact, service response at the top 10 institutions identified in the study actually declined more than one minute over two years, as those organizations proactively set out to identify problems and improve processes and training.

Assist time. This related metric measures the duration account holders interact with customer service representatives. The FMSI branch lobby study reports that in 2015, average assist time was 23 minutes 16 seconds, compared to 17 minutes 12 seconds at branches providing the quickest service.

There may be some nuances in interpreting this data. Some banks and credit unions train customer service staff to chat with account holders, with the aim of identifying their financial goals and opportunities to recommend useful products and services—which may increase assist time. That raises several questions: Are employees conducting routine interactions as efficiently and accurately as possible? Do longer assist times translate into higher sales? Are longer assist times increasing wait time and, if so, are scheduling and staffing changes needed to hold the line on wait time while giving employees adequate time to serve and sell?

Service-product ratio. According to the branch lobby study, 52% of customer encounters in 2015 involved services, on average, with 48% focusing on products—the latter directionally measuring cross-selling efforts. Product interactions ranged from 69% of customer contacts at top-performing branches to 30% on the low end.

In 2011, by comparison, the average was 35% product interactions to 65% service, with even high-performing branches averaging around 50-50. This data supports the conclusion that financial institutions are making progress in better focusing on lobby sales.

Practical strategies to improve service and sales

In addition to supplying useful industry benchmarks, the FMSI study offers nine strategies that aim to improve lobby service and sales by effectively deploying technology along with sales and service training supported with key metrics so customer service staff and managers can better evaluate individual and team performance:

1. Install self-directed technology. Introducing kiosks and smart ATMs frees branch employees to shift from transaction-centric to sales-centric interactions as they engage in higher quality conversations with customers. Self-service options can also decrease wait times and labor costs and position your brand as technologically adept.

2. Employ service alerts. Automated systems with customizable controls can alert staff and managers when wait times are exceeding standards, so employees currently serving customers can pick up the pace of those interactions. Wait time is a crucial metric in the customer experience mix, so a real-time monitoring system can be a valuable tool in improving service.

3. Steer lobby traffic for routine transactions to other channels. Educating customers about their options for convenient self-service online and via mobile access and for customer assistance through the call center can help to streamline branch traffic to improve service there.

4. Recognize and minimize privacy concerns. Customers may worry that writing their name and other information on a sign-in sheet exposes personal data to others. Lobby tracking software does double duty by providing a confidential sign-in system and collecting wait and assist time data to assess service performance.

5. Enhance cross-sell systems and training. Customer relationship management systems can supply frontline staff with information about accounts customers currently hold with other institutions and suggest “next best products” to recommend. Needs-based training encourages employees to uncover sales opportunities by asking the right questions at the right time.

6. Integrate tablets into lobby service. Using iPads or other tablets for customer sign-in is an inexpensive gateway for queue management that provides a comfortable, familiar, and secure interface.

7. Introduce lobby wait-time widgets. This option allows busy customers to check on wait times at their favorite branch via your website or mobile app.

8. Use automated tools to optimize staffing. Staff scheduling software applies historical branch traffic data to forecast service demands so you can deploy staff based on customer needs and streamline staff costs. A mobile app that allows customers to schedule appointments is another useful avenue to ensure that the right service representative trained to provide the requested service is available to meet customers when they walk in the door.

9. Professionalize service representatives’ initial interactions with customers. A queue management system provides an efficient means of steering customers toward the financial professionals with skill sets aligned with their stated needs.

Deploying strategies like these can help management teams drive the right employee behaviors to improve branch productivity and sales performance—and to answer crucial questions about how well their branches are doing in delivering optimal service and sales.

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