The Talk is of Mobile, But the Branch Experience Still Matters

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Despite the lure of online banking, ensuring a positive branch experience is still one of the best ways to retain existing members and grow their loyalty.

Unfortunately, as many credit unions discover, maintaining a branch overflowing with employees does not guarantee good member service. Our experience helping hundreds of CUs to leverage technology to optimize staffing levels affords us a diverse database of knowledge we can analyze to discern activities that positively or negatively affect service. This lets us pinpoint activities that make a quantifiable difference in the branch experience. This article highlights some of the key processes you can implement to achieve higher service levels-and more satisfied account holders.


Use Managers To Manage, Not Fix

When member wait times become long, a "quick fix" is for branch management or teller supervisors to jump onto the teller line. A more effective use of management (as well as lobby representative) time is to engage in member-facing activities such as greeting, asking and answering questions, soliciting feedback, and generally building a better rapport with the account holders in line. This helps pass the time and reduces the length of time the members perceive they have waited. Limiting the amount of time managers spend on the teller line also allows them to be better observers and coaches for their front-line staff.


Planning For Use Of Time

When staff members are inactive waiting for members to come in the branch, that's idle time or, more precisely, excess waiting-for-work time. These periods are often undermanaged-leaving extremely valuable personnel standing around being unproductive.

Tellers are often given the vague direction to work on a number of non-transaction activities when member traffic is slow, or non-existent. Consider using this time for outbound account-holder service support calls or special projects. Using scheduling engines to provide employees with more specific direction-on precisely which non-transaction activities should be completed during exact times-can significantly increase productivity during identified idle times. The enhanced forecasting process establishes better accountability for tellers, and minimizes unproductive time that might exist from current scheduling processes.

Conversely, having your staff focusing on the account holders during peak transaction times reinforces to members that the CU respects their time and appreciates their business. One of the most undesirable outcomes of a branch full of staff focusing on completing non-transaction activities during the wrong times is that it can lead to poor service. Identifying and managing the specific idle times in your branch leads to better service and increased productivity.


Identify Peak Periods

Scheduling efficiently hour by hour for peak staff optimization and member service is a challenge for most CUs, many of which are working from outdated spreadsheets. However, our historical data proves that accurately forecasting member traffic activity-and scheduling optimally for peak-period coverage-is entirely possible. CUs that achieve this goal generally do so with the help of business intelligence, gleaned from streamlining the extract of core-processor transaction data (one of the most powerful, but underutilized resources available to CU branches).

Optimal scheduling results in better service and, as bonuses, more satisfied employees and a lower labor cost per staff transaction.

Forecasts may suggest that you increase your utilization of part-time staff to help fill the peak transaction periods on your teller line. Once you know exactly when you need part-time staff in front of the member, you can find the talent to achieve your goals. Students, young parents, older workers and others with scheduling flexibility are frequently willing to work shifts as short as three to four hours.


Inspire Positive Outcomes

Even with the right number of employees in your branches at the right times, there will be unavoidable crunch periods. To help staff stay positive during these times, give them the tools they need to show "grace under fire."

Train staff to remain calm and good-humored under a variety of conditions. Role-playing exercises, where one or more employees play the part of an unhappy member, can be a very helpful teaching aid.

* Develop performance incentives that reward staff both individually and collectively for providing great service.

* Use peer-to-peer comment cards (where co-workers fill out cards documenting great performance that they witnessed in other staff), as well as mystery shoppers to provide further insights into which personnel are excelling at member service-even during busy periods-and which need further mentoring.

Making these few changes can garner you a wealth of member service improvement.

W. Michael Scott is president and CEO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based FMSI. For info:

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