Train, transform, transcend: Boosting branches by better preparing employees

It’s as true as the ever-growing sight of empty teller windows: Consumers don’t visit branches as often as they once did. But a new study from JD Power & Associates reveals that the most satisfied customers regularly use both digital channels and branches.

What’s more, recent Celent research reinforces the solid bond between branches and customer satisfaction. When asked which experiences would motivate them to consider switching banks, respondents cited “a poor branch experience” at 47 percent—second only to “too many fees” at 75 percent. This holds true across diverse age groups, as 43 percent of millennials and 54 percent of boomers express this sentiment.

Knowing all this, how should it inform the way smart bankers embrace branch transformation in 2019?

Transformation today: Customer experience meets cost consciousness

When banks began to focus on branch transformation, most seized on it as a chance to cut costs. But as customers shifted their primary usage—from transactions to advice and complex service issues—superior customer experience and workforce engagement gained greater significance.

A 2019 BAI-Kiran Analytics joint research study confirmed that shift. When asked to rank their top branch transformation priorities, bankers named improved in-person customer experience first. This was followed by migration of routine transactions to digital and optimizing the branch workforce.

The same study revealed that banks with larger networks and greater resources have advanced further in their transformation journeys. They generally take a holistic approach to transformation: an overarching effort that includes people, process, technology and environment. The question is: How have they moved forward so efficiently?

Utilizing data and analytics rolls out the carpet and gives welcome momentum to these initiatives. “We are five years into our ongoing branch transformation journey,” says Shawn Bradley, executive vice president of Regions Financial Corporation. “We have been executing on multiple transformation initiatives with a coherent, analytics-driven strategy focused on growth and efficiency.”

Workforce engagement, efficiency: The top factor to bolster customer experience

While technology largely drives customer experience in digital channels, branch customer experience for the most part depends upon your associates. Banks that optimize staff skill sets and capacity, and provide workers with proper training and technology, will boost customer experience. Here are four ways to tackle this:

  1. Universal bankers

    To better align the workforce with work content and market opportunities, banks increasingly turn to a universal banker staffing model. Forty percent of bankers in the survey report that they’ve successfully deployed universal bankers at some or all of their branches. About 80 percent of bankers in Midland States Bank’s 65 branches are now universal bankers, excepting only for the busiest branches where transaction volume requires continued use of tellers.

  2. Digital ambassadors

    Whether called ambassadors, advocates or eagles, branch staffers get more training to migrate routine transactions to digital channels. “About three years ago, we trained all branch employees on our digital banking solutions so that they could help teach our customers,” says Rachel Chang-Cunningham, senior vice president, division manager at Central Pacific Bank.

    Central Pacific, based in Honolulu, put employees through a certification process to make them digital ambassadors for technologies such as online and mobile banking, bill pay and person-to-person payments.

    As more branches evolve into minimally staffed financial centers, they need competent, temporary resources to cover in situations such as long-term absences, training and attrition. In transaction-heavy locations or periods, float pools help to address peak customer demand without increasing headcount. Float pool associates are typically experienced, full-time staff members who can serve a cluster of nearby branches on an as-needed basis.

  3. Tech-savvy bankers for tech-heavy branches

    “In branches, customer experience is in the hands of frontline staff, but can be heavily influenced by technology,” says Bob Meara, senior analyst with Celent. For that reason, banks are also investing more in branch technologies that improve efficiency and customer experience. New tech-heavy branches come with smaller footprints, open designs and efficient technologies: cash automation, self-service or assisted self-service kiosks and video ATMs among them. Bankers who can explain and demonstrate this tech will enable customers to use it.

  4. Managers mastering workforce management software (WFM)S

    Putting the right bankers in front of your customers, at the right time and place, requires robust WFM software that aligns region managers, market managers, branch managers and branch associates. As it forecasts customer demand and work content or easily schedules and connects associates, effective workforce management focuses in-person customer experience as it moves sales and service targets within reach.

Putting it all together: Sharp transformation takes shape

Clearly, the quality of overall customer experience relies on stellar in-branch customer interactions. As branch transformation continues to evolve, look for it to provide a stellar experience of its own—balancing cost and customer experience while moving with accountholder needs.

Data and analytics will drive the critical assessment of transformation impacts; steer smooth course corrections; and guide the journey with an unparalleled calculus. Let’s begin, then, with our attitudes, insights and assumptions—and be willing to transform those as well.  

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Deb Stewart is an independent consultant working for the financial services industry.