Nine tips for improving branch lobby performance

At one end of the continuum for branch lobby services and sales are those banks whose frontline staff are well trained and equipped to combine prompt, knowledgeable and courteous service with enviable cross-sale rates. At the other end … well, let’s just say no financial services provider wants to be there.

Where does your branch performance land on this continuum? For many managers, that answer remains a mystery.

One place to start answering that question is the FMSI Retail Branch Lobby Study, which analyzed data from 780,000 interactions within banks and credit unions across North America in 2015. The study found that 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 4 minutes 46 seconds to 7 minutes 6 seconds over four years. In fact, service response time at the top 10 institutions identified in the study actually decreased more than one minute, as those financial service providers proactively set out to improve branch service by identifying problems and implementing process improvements and staff training.

Here are the top nine strategies, based on our study, which banks and credit unions can use to improve lobby service and sales:

Install self-directed technology. Introducing kiosks and smart ATMs helps decrease wait times, reduce labor costs, and position your brand as technologically advanced. Perhaps more importantly, this forward-looking strategy shifts the focus of branch employees from performing routine transactions to making sales as they engage in higher quality conversations with customers about their financial goals and need for new products and services.

Employ service alerts to head off poor service. 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 their interactions. Wait time is a crucial metric in the customer experience mix, so a real-time monitoring system can be a valuable tool for improving service.

Branch staff and managers can move the dial on wait time by monitoring and addressing assist time, or the duration account holders interact with customer service representatives. Our lobby study found that in 2015, average assist time was 23 minutes 16 seconds, compared to 17 minutes 12 seconds at top-performing branches. What accounts for this difference? That extra six minutes may be time well spent if customers leave with their important questions answered and the new products and services they need to manage their finances. Conversely, longer assist times may signal the need for additional training to improve efficiency and accuracy in transactions.

In short, monitoring the length and quality of customer interactions can help pinpoint the positive and negative aspects of service delivery. Longer assist times may result as the bulk of customer interactions shift from conducting routine transactions to conversations about how new products and services can help customers achieve their financial goals.

If assist times in a branch are indeed increasing for all the right reasons, this finding may support the need to increase staffing to maintain customer service and satisfaction and to provide the level of personal attention customers expect. On the other hand, monitoring assist times may identify the need for targeted coaching for some employees who could benefit from product or service training.

Steer lobby traffic for routine transactions to other channels. Educating customers about their options for convenient self-service online and mobile account tools, as well as how the call center can be used for routine and emergency questions and concerns, can help to streamline branch traffic to improve service there.

Recognize and minimize privacy concerns. Customers may worry, rightfully so, 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 means for customers to sign in and collecting wait and assist time data to assess service performance.

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. And needs-based training encourages sales and service staff to uncover sales opportunities by asking the right questions at the right time.

According to the branch lobby study, 52% of customer encounters in 2015 involved services, on average, with 48% focusing on products, providing a key metric on the time devoted to cross-selling. Product interactions ranged from 69% of customer contacts at top-performing branches to 30% at the lowest-performing branches. In 2011, by comparison, the average was 35% product interactions to 65% service, with even high-performing branches averaging around a 50-50 split. This data supports the conclusion that financial institutions are making progress in enhancing lobby sales efforts.

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

Introduce lobby wait-time widgets. This option allows busy customers to check on wait times at their favorite branch via the bank’s website or a mobile app.

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 while streamlining staff costs. A mobile app that allows customers to schedule appointments at branches is another useful avenue to ensure that the right service representative with the right skill based on the service requested is available to meet customers when they walk in the door.

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.

In sum, consistently capturing and analyzing lobby performance data and then effectively employing the resulting business intelligence can help management teams drive the right employee behaviors to improve branch productivity and sales performance. These metrics can improve the bottom line to measure and sustain ongoing improvement.

Ms. Deen is president of Alpharetta, Ga.-based Financial Management Solutions, Inc. (FMSI). She can be reached at [email protected].