To Transform Banking Start with Employees

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Most organizations want to become customer-centric. Unfortunately, they often focus on the wrong things, believing that somehow they can create a customer-friendly layer around their existing customer-ignoring culture. They can't.

Engaged employees are the cornerstone of a customer-centric culture. Our data shows that, compared with unengaged employees, engaged employees are more than four times as likely to do something good for the company that is not expected of them, four times as likely to make a recommendation for an improvement at the company and 2.5 times as likely to stay late at work to get things done.

The challenge is most organizations fall short of inspiring this level of enthusiasm in their entire workforce. Only 26% of employees in the financial industry are highly engaged, according to the 2016 Temkin Employee Engagement Index, and the percentage of highly or moderately engaged employees in this industry is down seven points from the prior year.

When we researched how large organizations can successfully become customer-centric, we uncovered a critical insight: The way to change the customer experience is to change the way employees do their everyday jobs.

To succeed in aligning employee behavior with this desire to change, organizations must master five practices:

1. Vision Translation: Connect Employees with the Vision. Clearly define and convey not only what the future state is, but why moving away from the current state is imperative. When BMO Financial began its customer experience journey, it aligned employees to its vision by explicitly translating its brand principles into eight actions that every employee could demonstrate, like "Our heads are up, not down." Managers led the rollout and received a launch kit with materials that covered key messages along with anticipated Q&As to prepare them to lead discussions with their teams.

2. Persistent Leadership: Attack Ongoing Obstacles. Realizing that change is a long-term journey, leaders commit to working together until the organization has fully embedded the transformation into its processes. One way leaders can actively sustain momentum during the inevitable ups and downs is by highlighting successes. At Eastern Bank, "wow alerts" are sent to leaders when a customer survey response mentions an employee who delivered great service. Alerts like this can be used to celebrate those who demonstrate the behavior that will make the change successful.

3. Middle Management Activation: Enlist Key Influencers. When asked which groups of employees are the toughest to change, executives almost always say middle managers. But if you want to create sustainable change, then middle managers are a critical building block. ATB Financial's branch managers were one of the earliest audiences to learn about its new brand story and culture. The launch event began with a bankwide livestream, and managers were charged with leading discussions with their teams immediately following the broadcast. Managers received a launch kit built around a series of questions to ask their teams (for example, what does the story mean to us, and how are we already doing some of the things the story talks about?).

4. Grassroots Mobilization: Empower Employees to Change. Front-line employees should help to both shape the change and deliver it. SunTrust gathers input about upcoming changes from an online community of employees. A weekly set of company-generated posts spur discussions, and when changes vetted by the community roll out, they are branded as "reviewed by the Bright Ideas community."

5. Captivating Communications: Share Impactful Messages. In any transformation, communication plays an essential role. Share information about the change through a variety of means that balance the practical with the inspirational for each target audience. One way Fidelity Investments shares customer experience messages is via its "Voice of the Customer Ambassadors" program. These ambassadors inspire their peers with local evangelism and dialogue around customer experience efforts in their respective phone centers and branches.

Is being customer-centric a goal at your bank? Then focus on your employees.

Aimee Lucas, a vice president, and Bruce Temkin, a managing partner, are customer experience transformists for Temkin Group.

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