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Friday, September 20, 2013

Bank Call Centers May Be the Key to Revenue Growth

By Lee Clayton, Senior Consultant

This post is part of Gallup's ongoing series on the shifting landscape for financial institutions. It provides insights into channel optimization, emerging customer behaviors and preferences, product penetration and relationship growth, engaging the most critical affluent and business customers, and reshaping banks' overall value proposition.

Banks are struggling to grow revenue. This may be hard to believe given that the banking industry reported record-high profits in the first quarter of 2013. For many banks, however, the profits are coming from greater efficiencies and job cuts, not actual revenue and sales growth.

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At Gallup, we know that layoffs and operational cutbacks are short-term fixes, not models for sustainable growth. To achieve long-term growth, banks need to focus on engaging their customers. Fully engaged customers provide short-term and long-term financial value for banks. They are more likely to consider opening new accounts and signing up for additional products and services with their primary bank.

Banks that are looking to gain efficiencies and cut staff may seek to move more of their interactions online or rely heavily on automated calls, but these tactics may backfire. Gallup finds that call center interactions with a real person remain one of the most powerful drivers of customer engagement. Banking customers who have a satisfactory interaction with a call center employee are 14 times more likely to be engaged with their bank.

Traditionally, banks have overlooked call centers as an area that can generate sales and revenue. However, banks are increasingly using call centers to not only provide customer service but to also drive sales and real revenue growth. Driving sales and achieving high levels of customer service are not mutually exclusive; call center employees can have sales conversations without weakening the customer experience.

Coaching call center associates on how to provide sales and service can be difficult, and performance varies widely among associates. Gallup finds that call center associates typically fall into four categories: Associates who succeed at both sales and service; associates who perform well at service but not sales; associates who perform well at sales but not service; and associates who struggle with both. Here are tips that managers can use to coach all four types of employees.

Great at Sales, Great at Service:
  • Recognize high levels of performance in a way that engages these associates. For example, give an iTunes gift card as a reward to a higher performer who loves listening to music, but don’t give a Starbucks gift card to a high performer who doesn’t drink coffee.
  • Continually challenge them with new goals and responsibilities.
  • Document and share these associates’ best practices as a form of recognition and to share with lower performing peers.
Great at Service, but Struggles With Sales:
  • Help these associates understand that every service interaction is an opportunity to talk with customers about the bank’s other products and services.
  • Build on these associates’ strengths at serving customers to increase cross-sales. For example, an associate with extensive product knowledge can listen for ways a customer could benefit from additional products or services and apply that knowledge to a sales conversation. The associate could also listen to recorded calls with successful sales interactions and sales struggles, then ask the associate to describe the differences between the two.
Great at Sales, but Struggles With Service:
  • Help these associates connect the company’s overall mission and objectives with their service performance. For example, each product or service can have a higher purpose or solve a problem for customers.
  • Role play with these associates to help them learn to graciously accept a “no” on sales, so customers aren’t disappointed with -- or disengaged by -- the service interaction.
  • Make sure these associates know that it is OK if not every call ends in a sale -- and make sure that your call center’s messaging and measurements reinforce this.
Struggles With Sales and Service:
  • Talk with these associates about what is expected of them and what high levels of performance mean for the company. 
  • Determine whether performance problems are attitudinal, behavioral, or conceptual. Behavioral and conceptual barriers can be broken down through coaching, studying, and practice. Attitudinal barriers require a different conversation and realignment of expectations.
  • Partner these associates with high-performing associates. Witnessing peers succeed can re-engage these associates.
  • It these tactics don’t work, recognize that these associates may not be the right fit for this role.
Call center leaders must have honest discussions with all associates about their performance level, then tailor their coaching and feedback to meet associates’ individual needs. These interactions don’t have to be formal reviews with each team member; they can happen quickly, informally, and in real time. Regardless of how and when managers give feedback, this coaching is vital to improving customer engagement and, in turn, your bank’s revenue.

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