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It’s time to stop ignoring the branch waiting area

January 16, 2019

Since people have been gathering to make purchases, there have been waiting areas—queues or rows of chairs where people wait for their turn to be served, with varying levels of patience and yearning about how else they might be spending their time.

With the majority of focus being paid to other aspects of the account holder experience, the waiting area has widely been ignored. But let’s face it: no one wants to wait. No one walks into a branch looking forward to being shown to a row of chairs knowing they will soon occupy one of them.  Anything that banks can do to eliminate or at least reduce wait time has an outsized impact on account holder satisfaction. And that is something Suncoast bank cared very much about.

As part of their training, employees at the 66 branches of Suncoast Credit Union are instructed to wait for a single minute, to underscore how long 60 seconds can feel to account holders, says Jenny Torres, Vice President, Service Center Operations. That exercise drives home the importance of prompt service, and Suncoast staff and managers have new tools to help reduce wait time and assist account holders who prefer face-to-face interactions when discussing services ranging from opening a CD to applying for a mortgage to planning their retirement savings strategy.

Personal service remains at the core of Suncoast’s promise to account holders, so the bank is continuously looking for modern tools based on the specific needs and expectations in each market, including maintaining larger facilities in areas with high transaction volume to smaller “coffeehouse-style” locations. Recent extended hours for Saturday access to service personnel and Spanish-speaking staff to serve a growing Hispanic population are examples of their adaptation with account holder needs in mind.

Connecting account holders with the service they’re seeking begins as soon as they walk into a branch. Account holder sign in via Kronos Lobby Tracker system via a convenient kiosk, identify the purpose for their visit, and indicate whether they’d prefer to communicate in English or Spanish. Branch employees are notified immediately that account holders are ready to be served, and the tracking system helps ensure that staff arrive promptly to assist account holders in order of their arrival.

Keeping an eye out for account holders seeking assistance in the lobby is no longer a “line of sight” responsibility, Torres notes. The automated tracking system provides regular on-screen reminders about how long account holders have been waiting, prompting account holder service staff to finish up their current tasks and head to the lobby to greet them. Suncoast has experienced a notable improvement in reductions in wait time since implementing this system, she says.

The capability to enhance prompt service delivery is not limited to individual branches. GECU is implementing a “global queuing” system across its 20 locations in the El Paso, Texas, area to connect account holders on a timely basis with its centralized lending operation, says Jacque Valdez, Assistant Vice President of Branch Operations.

Previously, branch employees contacted lenders via a back-and-forth series of emails and phone calls when account holders walked into a branch for a loan consultation. The Lobby Tracker system has helped streamline that process so that account holders are guided to a workstation for a video conference with a lender. Incorporating technology into the queuing process has reduced wait time for account holders by up to five minutes on average, Valdez says.

Suncoast has experienced similar results since implementing lobby tracker software: An average three-minute assist-time reduction in loan interactions has saved 600 staff hours over the past year, and the credit union has logged 340 fewer branch abandons in the same period. Because the system captures information about account holders who do leave without receiving assistance, branch staff can follow up via phone call or email to ask how they can help.

This new approach to reducing wait time has helped Suncoast meet its goal of an 80 percent Net Promoter Score and contributed to a 20 percent increase in loan activity with a simultaneous 10 percent decrease in loan assist times, Torres reports.

Branch employees can use data collected by lobby tracking software to raise the bar on account holder service in diverse ways. To share two examples, GECU collected information on problems reported by account holders during a recent card conversion to speed the identification and resolution of those issues, and Suncoast CU was able to help a family by tracing locations and dates where account holder’s account had been accessed without permission. (Don’t want to discuss particulars…especially compared to the example of GECU…ours sounds like CRIME. Make sense?)

One additional benefit of introducing technology in the branch lobby is a wealth of useful data to guide performance evaluations and coaching. Supervisors can gauge whether individualized training on specific skill sets is needed based on the amount of time each employee spends with account holders for different types of transactions. In addition, managers can monitor sales and better target coaching by reviewing with staff the specific results on what single service account holders request when they enter the branch and what additional products and services they sign on for during their consultations.

In combination, the versatile applications of putting automation to work at the forefront of account holder service is chipping away at original purpose of the waiting area. And no one will complain about that.

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