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Cost-effective Alternatives to Market-based Staffing

January 5, 2018

There’s a new twist in the longstanding challenge of staffing branches cost-effectively while meeting customer expectations for prompt service—the view of branches as sales centers rather than transaction hubs. How should this impact staffing levels? Should banks and credit unions continue to schedule employees to meet current demand, or instead aim to expand personnel to meet ambitious sales goals?

The latter is sometimes referred to as market-based staffing, or as I like to call it, “The Field of Dreams Strategy”—since it seems to be based on the idea that if you build a branch, customers will flock to it. That is typically not the case. Even in the most successful execution of new branch deployment, lobby traffic builds over time. And for existing branches, setting high sales goals and then staffing to meet them does not often translate to success. Frontline staff can only sell to accountholders who walk through the door.

With market-based staffing, the scheduling and deployment of staff is aspirational, based on the demographics of the market and the goals for tapping into the customer base. The branch has a goal to produce 50 mortgages and 500 new accounts, so you’d better have the staff on board to handle all the customers required to make those sales goals a reality. But if those customers don’t materialize in the branch in short order, what you have instead is idle staff and unproductive operating expenses.

A more efficient, commonsense approach capitalizes on technology advances to track branch transaction patterns so managers can schedule employees for the current volume of interactions, with the flexibility to staff up quickly as demand picks up. Think of it as “just-in-time staffing”—assigning the right financial professionals in the right branches at the right time. Several strategies, data sources, and automated tools support optimal staffing across the branch network, including:

Apply demographic data where it makes sense. Age, household size and income, employment patterns, and your organization’s current market share and growth potential are valuable data points in scouting branch locations and planning and honing marketing. By all means, use this business intelligence to develop opportunity profiles of existing and future branch territories. But market-based staffing goes a step too far in scheduling employees based on demographic potential—in effect, putting the proverbial cart before the horse by staffing for expectations rather than reality.

Frontline employees should be out in full force for the grand opening of a new branch to greet and serve existing, new, and prospective customers. But on a regular basis, aim to right-size schedules with sophisticated scheduling approaches to meet the current volume of customer interactions. Rather than staffing to handle sales goals, mine your core processing system and rely on staff scheduling software to track evolving transaction volume and service patterns across your branch network so managers can more accurately forecast where employees should be stationed when customers come calling.

Build demand and simultaneously staff to meet it. There’s good news and bad news in the 2017 Teller Line Study from FMSI, a Kronos company. For the first time in 25 years, the rate of average monthly transaction volume per branch is trending up, from 7,000 service interactions in 2012 to the current average 7,700. Transaction volume will likely never return to the 11,700 posted in 1992, but that 10 percent increase in recent years indicates that banks and credit unions are right-sizing their branch networks and staffing to meet current demand more efficiently.

The same study indicates that there is still much room for improvement, with average number of transactions per teller hour continuing to decline, from 15.6 in 2012 to 14.9 five years later, as labor costs per transaction rose from $1 to $1.19 over the same period. Staff scheduling and lobby tracker software provide valuable data to chart current and recent branch volume and types of transactions to guide smart scheduling so that frontline employees are staffed appropriately and can provide the services accountholders request as efficiently as possible.

With the help of these digital assists, you can also identify typical idle periods and time-block schedules for secondary duties such as sales calls to new and prospective customers. Adopting a nimble, responsive approach to scheduling holds down staff costs without sacrificing customer expectations for quick service.

Get a heads-up from customers in scheduling to meet demand. Offering accountholders the option to schedule an appointment via a convenient mobile app does double duty in meeting their needs and providing crucial data to optimize scheduling. When customers take advantage of the ability to schedule a consultation, branch managers know what services accountholders want and when and where they will arrive, so well-trained financial professionals can be scheduled to be standing by to serve them.

Watch the numbers that really matter—the bottom line. Overscheduling branch staff beyond demand unnecessarily increases what is already the largest non-interest cost category for financial institutions. Better track this expense with sophisticated analytics tools that help manager visualize the impact of possible overstaffing. The old saying, ‘what gets measured, gets managed’ applies perfectly here. Regardless of the scheduling strategy you choose, whether its market-based staffing or staffing to demand, you should keep track of this information to help understand the return on investment per approach.

Instead of staffing your branch to meet service goals, consider investing in marketing campaigns to drive traffic to your branches instead. Perhaps use messaging around having convenient locations staffed by knowledgeable professionals who can help you manage your money to achieve your financial goals. If you sell your branches and staff them efficiently, people will come—and that’s when staffing should be expanded to meet demand.

 

This article originally appeared in CB Insight

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