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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Yes, Your Tellers Can Engage Your Customers

By Beth Youra

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.

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When talking to branch managers about how to engage their customers, one of the biggest pushbacks I hear is, “Tellers only have a few minutes to make a transaction. They don’t have time or easy access to the systems that profile customers to really create connections.” But even in those three minutes, your tellers can engage customers. Here are four things you can do in your branches to help your tellers upgrade their small talk and make connections with all of your customers.

1. Elevate your opening questions. Do any of these sound familiar:

“How are you doing today?” 
“Great weather we’re having today.”


They should, as they’re the most common opening phrases used for small talk during teller transactions. But all these questions do is invite short, ambiguous responses that make it difficult to have a sustainable conversation beyond, “Fine, thanks,” and, “Yes, it’s not too hot.” It’s much easier for your tellers to engage in maintainable small talk with customers when they start with “what” questions and then follow through.

Teller: “What are you doing today?”
Customer: “I’m working, just needed to run in here on my lunch break.”
Teller: “What do you do?” 


And so on. Most tellers fail to engage customers because of their lack of follow through. It’s important for them to keep asking questions and lead the conversation to its natural conclusion, otherwise the interest they are displaying with the “what” questions may not look genuine.

2. Create community awareness. Branches are a part of their communities. Your tellers on the other hand, may not live in the same area or may not share the same interests or lifestyle as your customer base. If your tellers don’t have kids, they probably won’t know when school lets out for the summer. If they’re not into sports, they won’t know the local team only needs one more win to get into the playoffs. If they don’t live nearby, they may not know that the arts and crafts festival is happening at the town park this weekend.

Help your tellers expand their topics of conversation with customers by creating a community board in the break room with announcements about what’s happening in the branch area. Or, set aside a couple minutes in the morning huddle to talk through upcoming events. This information can help tellers keep small-talk topics fresh and relevant for customers.

3. Revamp your interviewing skills and assessments. If your potential new hire can’t sustain three minutes of interesting, non-bank related conversation with you at the beginning of their interview, chances are they will never be able to do it with a customer. There are many more people who will be able to pick up the technical skill required to be a teller than there are people who are naturally good at engaging others. Are you placing enough emphasis on soft skills in your interviewing process?

4. Practice, practice, practice. If you have tellers who just can’t seem to get the hang of small talk, you need to ensure that you are helping them practice so it becomes more natural. Make sure coaching sessions with branch managers and assistant branch managers include a lot of role play with real-life situations. Match up a teller who is great at small talk with one who struggles and have them practice together. Have the weaker teller observe the stronger teller and then talk through the differences in their styles and approaches during a coaching session. If you want your tellers to engage your customers, then you need to engage them as employees and give them the help and support they need.

In an increasingly digital world, every employee-customer interaction counts even more than it did five years ago. However, it is still the person-to-person interactions that truly create customer engagement. Don’t let any face-to-face opportunity slide by underutilized, even if it’s “just” a three-minute routine transaction.

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