A friend reminded me recently of how similar in-bound phone banks and teller lines are.

For both, sales opportunities are determined by the ability to convert service requests and questions into additional business.

Yet we have traditionally used very different sets of metrics to measure and manage phone banks and teller lines.

Typical phone productivity measurements have to do with wait times, call lengths, abandonment ratios, and so on, all measures of efficiency. Progressive phone organizations add a sales dimension, including percent of sales off in-bound calls, profitability per phone banker per day, and referrals made by phone bankers to others in, say, mortgage or private client services.

Teller lines have traditionally been measured on accuracy and service (as defined by speed). Metrics range from teller differences to wait times, numbers of transactions, and operational losses.

But focusing on efficiency and accuracy alone misses a huge opportunity.

Well over 90% of all customer contact with our banks occur at the teller line - I prefer to call it the seller line. Tellers therefore have more opportunity than anyone else to explore additional product needs with customers, even if the initial motivation for the contact was service- or transaction-driven.

The teller's challenge is to increase the percentage of hits from their "at-bats," in other words, what percentage of customer touches turned into closed referrals.

The premise that teller referrals are an important driver of overall bank sales productivity has been proven time and again. No other variable predicts sales activity at the store level better than teller referrals. Consequently, goal-setting on a part of the teller job - effectiveness of execution - misses an important component of the position and its potential.

Start by measuring the current conversion ratio of teller-line transactions: What percentage of the transactions turn into sales? From this macro number many goals can follow for each customer contact, such as mentioning another product or a special offer, asking a relevant question (for example, "Are you a homeowner?"), and offering to do a customer financial profile.

From these main activities such secondary goals can be developed as percentage of referrals per transaction, percentage closed, referrals per hour worked, and per-day profit per teller and for the entire teller line.

Teller lines are our first line of customer interaction, the best opportunity to spot a need and delight the customer with additional attention and needs-based selling. Treating our tellers as an important sales force will not only increase their job satisfaction but also increase shareholder returns. Ms. Bird, an executive vice president of Wells Fargo Bank, is based in Sacramento, Calif.

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