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The Changing role of tellers in Impacting Customer Loyalty

July 4th, 2013
The Changing role of tellers in Impacting Customer Loyalty

Several years ago when I visited my bank to make a routine deposit, I was helped by a teller whom I had come to know on a first name basis.  While she was making the deposit, she looked at her computer screen, told me she had noticed some things about my activity and wondered if I would be interested in a different account package with added benefits and savings.  I knew she was an experienced teller and I trusted her judgment, so I asked for some more details and eventually gave her the go-ahead to make the change.  It turned out to be a good decision that saved me some money and didn’t require any effort on my part.  More importantly, I gained a lasting feeling that the people at that branch are genuinely looking out for me.  My accounts are still at that branch, even after I moved to a different part of town.

Much of the recent discussion about customer experience in the banking industry has focused on which types of interactions matter the most in terms of loyalty.  A routine transaction, such as making a deposit, transferring funds, or making a withdrawal, is generally seen as less impactful on loyalty than less frequent, more complex interactions, such as applying for a loan, opening an account, or replacing a lost or stolen credit card.   As more customers complete routine banking tasks using electronic self-service channels, banks and credit unions are focusing their loyalty-building efforts on the more complex “moment of truth” interactions that provide the opportunity to really impress the customer and gain their long-term trust.

In this changing landscape tellers take on a unique and important role.  With over 75% of all branch transactions being of a routine nature, tellers have more opportunity to be face-to-face with customers than any other banking position.  Customers don’t expect a “moment of truth” experience when they go into the branch to make a deposit, but an alert, informed and skilled teller can identify just such an opportunity and convert it into a loyalty-strengthening experience.

Avannis research completed in 2012 shows that there are three teller skill-sets that impact customer likelihood to recommend (a key measure of loyalty):  “Retain”, “Connect” and “Guide”

Of the three teller skill-sets, the GUIDE group of skills has the highest correlation with loyalty (as measured by “likelihood to recommend”).  It involves identifying needs and offering solutions that will genuinely improve the customer’s ongoing experience with the bank.  Solutions may involve new products or services, but they may also come in the form of education about how to take full advantage of services the customer already has.  The objective is to step-by-step help the customer build a unique set of services, knowledge and relationships that he or she feels would be too difficult to rebuild at another institution.

The GUIDE skill-set differs from the others in a couple of ways.  First, it is not effective if tellers try to deliver it at every encounter without considering the presence of a true need.  The conversation has to be based on a genuine need of the customer, not the need of the bank to sell more products.  Second, the skill-set is more complex, requiring tellers to be well-trained and have good information in front of them.  As more emphasis is placed on guidance, teller profiles and expectations may need to be modified.  And third, for most customers who visit a traditional branch where sales and servicing functions are still separated, a teller providing guidance is out-of-the-ordinary.  Done properly, it will set your institution apart in the mind of the customer as being proactive in looking for ways to meet their needs.

Traditionally tellers have participated in loyalty efforts by delivering a consistent set of skills and behaviors at every encounter.  However, with more routine transactions being done using self-service electronic channels, the proportion of routine transactions performed in the branch will not remain at 75%.  Banks and credit unions that build loyalty now by taking advantage of the existing face-to-face opportunities routine teller transactions present, will be ahead of the game in two respects:  1) They will have already begun “retooling” their teller staff with skills that will be more relevant as branches transition to a more “consultative” and less “routine” banking centers , and 2) They will have developed a base of loyal customers that will not defect when inevitable changes come in how banking services are delivered.