Talk about a wake-up call.

Surprising as it may seem, banking roles are evolving to include more - not less - face-to-face time with customers. This is true despite the increasing popularity of the Internet. That's why bankers need to make high-quality, meaningful in-person interactions imperative.

One way to accomplish this is to expect more from tellers, the first people - and many times the only people - customers interact with at a bank. Keeping that in mind, it's important to reexamine how banks select, train, and retain tellers in an effort to reduce an alarmingly high turnover rate.

Consistent service should be a given at banks, as it is at other customer-oriented businesses. To illustrate this point, consider a simple comparison: If attendants can follow a script, so to speak, at a Jiffy Lube service station, so can tellers.

Each time I visit my local Jiffy Lube, the experience is the same no matter who takes care of my car. I know that someone will take care of crucial mechanical needs, and then go further.

"Jiffy" connotes speedy - but not necessarily cheap - service.

This company adds value by cleaning my windshield, vacuuming my floor mats, inspecting all fluids and filters, and checking the warranty. And here's what they do best: At the end of my visit they recommend add-ons I might need. Successful marketing at work here!

Not enough banks follow that model. In most cases, tellers focus more on the transaction at hand than on the client's broader financial needs.

Bankers have strayed from asking tellers to be sellers. Surveys show that these employees play a major role in customer service and satisfaction. They can easily sell the bank's capabilities, and if they don't seize the opportunity to refer or sell other products, no one else may.

Where does a bank start to improve tellers' salesmanship?

The first step seems basic, but it is crucial: hiring. Most banks hire tellers for their ability to add, subtract, and balance their drawers. Looking at people skills is far down the list of requirements.

It shouldn't be. In fact, the order should be reversed. Banks need to train tellers, first and foremost, to be sellers, or at least feel comfortable letting customers know what' s available to them. Those traditional skills are important, and so is a basic knowledge of legal requirements such as check endorsement, but people skills and selling ability dramatically increase a teller's value to the bank.

How do tellers become sellers? Consider that they see about 100 people a day and spend about three minutes per transaction; they could easily spend another minute pitching other products and services.

How do you get tellers to spend extra time with clients? One way is with incentives for referring them to other product areas - give them bonuses based on the percentage of transactions that produce referrals.

For example, you can start a quarterly contest with a grand prize of a trip to the Bahamas. This type of thing can help you retain good people and at the same time make their jobs more enjoyable.

Another good idea is to hire someone who can help your tellers sharpen their salesmanship. Nothing beats customer-oriented leadership on the teller line, and you need people with strong coaching skills.

Some will scoff at the notion of tellers as sellers. Let them. The same type of people laughed at Jiffy Lube.

Banking has changed, and so has the teller's job. You should train them differently and reward them differently. You've got nothing to lose (except customers) and everything to gain.

Mr. Swindle is vice president and director of consulting and executive leadership practices at Frontline Group FTR, a financial services, sales, and call center training/consulting firm in Lombard, Ill.

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