First Impressions at a bank’s front office (1)

 …A major yardstick for customer attraction & a measure of level of service delivery  (1)

First impressions are important as you may in most cases never get a second chance to make one. Not only are first impressions registered with lightning speed but they last a surprisingly long time. Due to what is called the “Primacy Effect”, people tend to lend more weight to the things they learn initially about someone, rather than the information they take in later.

The initial impression one makes forms a kind of filter or lens through which a new acquaintance will henceforth see him/her moving forward; they will look for behaviours that confirm their conclusion, while largely ignoring that contradict it.

Once one made initial impressions on the clay of his/her mind about you, the rest of the relationship tends to follow its colours, affecting all future thoughts about you.

Making judgments about someone’s personality based on the way they look is something humans do automatically, without thinking. Once you get to know the person, those judgments gradually dissipate and get replaced by new assessments of what they are really like.

The general take away here is that first impressions are a lot stickier than people were inclined to believe, and often they work like self-fulfilling prophecies. In today’s competitive market place, the major factor that differentiates banks is the level and quality of their customer service.

THE FRONT OFFICE

Front Office is an area where clients, potential customers and visitors arrive and first encounter a staff at a place of business. In other words, Front Office is related to a service delivery system, where staff, among any employees at a financial service firm or bank, have the most direct contact with clients.

Each interaction carries with it an opportunity and a possibility – every person you meet is a potential need friend, lover or client. However, whether these possibilities turn into something, more often, hinges on the first impression you make on whether you are able to make a connection and inspire the new contact to want to get to know you better.

Traditionally, Front Office staff are the folks in contact with customers or clients, while the Back Office staff are the people behind the scenes working in administrative or supporting roles. On the other hand the Front Office largely consists of client-facing roles. The role of the Front Office staff is so crucial to the survival of a bank that it ought to have been a place for competent and experienced staff to provide efficient customer service which will culminate in customer retention and attraction of new ones to enhance the image of the bank.

INAPROPRIATELY PLACED FRONT OFFICE STAFF

However, in some banks, this all-important place is manned by inexperienced staff, Contract staff or National Service Personnel with inadequate training. In addition, the Front Office is perceived to be dumping grounds for non-performing and disliked staff. This perception makes staff feel not being accorded the needed recognition. Staff feel de-motivated when they are posted to the front office. The Front Office should be seen as the engine of survival for a bank since it is the beehive of branch banking activity. All the encounters or interactions with existing and potential customers initially occur at the Front Office.

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Consequently, the perceptions or misconceptions conceived by existing/potential customers emanate from this point. The discourteous manner, rude or arrogant attitude normally portrayed at this stage cause irreparable damage to a bank sometimes leading to account closures, products/services not well- patronized since it leaves a negative indelible mark in the minds of the customers involved.

 

CHALLENGES FACED BY FRONT OFFICE STAFF

It will be unfair to quickly accuse or put the blame on the Front Liners without considering the challenges they face since their attitude may be a reflection of administrative gaps that need to be fixed.

In a situation where knowledge and skills in the bank’s products, services, procedures and policies are lacking as a result of inadequate training, absence of coaching, inadequate resources, low motivation, ineffective monitoring and supervision, it will be difficult for the Front Liners to live up to expectation. There are occasions where the Front Liners report challenges they go through but never receive a hearing or at best receive a hearing only after a considerable period of time had elapsed. Meanwhile, irrespective of the situation, customers have to be served. Staff are therefore handicapped and this, at times, affects their performance.

SUGGESTED SOLUTION

It is difficult to make a sweeping generalization about what “all customers” want, where customer service is concerned. However, research tells us that there are some commonalities we can look at when setting the bar.

Below are some salient factors or steps that need to be considered to address the situation:-

  1. THE ROLE OF STAFF

 

  1. MEET CUSTOMER EXPECTATION

Customer frustration stems from a discontinuity between the expectation of a service interaction and what is actually delivered. The key is to measure and understand customer expectations; only then can you begin to manage them. It is often advantageous to “Under promise and over deliver” in order to increase the likelihood of exceeding customer expectation. Regardless the approach, it is imperative for banks to manage customer dissatisfaction.

  1. PROVIDING CONTACT OPTIONS

Customers want options in how they can contact the bank. In a nutshell, customers expect banks to communicate with them on their preferred channel, be it in person, online or on the phone. The channel preferred depends on the type of interaction. For example, for simple inquiries (like “what’s my balance?”), online self-service and e-mail are preferred channels. This calls for the need to recommend Internet Banking and ATM services where they can have access to their accounts without entering the banking hall. However, as the inquiry gets more complex, speaking with a live agent becomes the dominant channel choice.

  1. SOLVING CUSTOMER PROBLEMS

At the root of every customer inquiry is a desire for a quick resolution. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that customers don’t want to jump through hoops to get their problems fixed and their questions answered. Excessive or frequent delays in solving or responding to customers` requests, make them lose patience with the bank resulting in a loss of goodwill which can significantly affect the bank`s ability to retain and grow the bank’s customer base.

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Solving customer problems right away is a sure fine way to avoid issues from the bank’s customers down the line.

 

 

  1. GARANIMALS FOR BUSINESS

It is necessary to ensure that everything matches – your website, your domain name, your email address, and phone number can be set to match your business name. This creates a good impression because it’s easy to recognize you and build trust. Trust makes it easy to refer you (Angel Tuccy of Expenditure Pros).

  1. PAY ATTENTION

Pay genuine attention to how you get along and interact with others. Let the other party do the talking because active listening is a skill for really engaging with what others are saying, allowing them to feel like their thoughts are heard, understood and respected.

  1. MAKE GOOD IMPRESSION PERSONALLY

Eliciting laughter and showcasing quick wit is a great way to establish rapport with someone. Channel your inner comic but be sure to relinquish the spotlight when it is appropriate. Be positive and show it with smile since people are attracted to positive people. Naturally, everybody needs attention and recognition so you may have products or services which rates are quite lower than that of your competitors or have what it takes to satisfy customer needs; however, because of the attitude of your Front Line staff, customers prefer to seek services from where they will be accorded the needed recognition and reception at a higher rate.

  1. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Having in-depth knowledge in the bank’s products, services, procedures and policies builds ones confidence and competence. Therefore, adequate training and coaching coupled with effective supervision are the key ingredients to enable Front line staff to serve customers in a professional and efficient manner. Exposing your ignorance before a customer makes you lose respect as an ambassador of the bank which in the long run affects the image of your bank.

A typical example is where a customer asks a basic question at the front office and it has to go through several staff before an answer or feedback is given.

I will pause here. I hope this message has been useful. Next week, I will look at the role of management in addressing this problem. Stay tune.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ROBERT OWUSU is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers (Ghana). A seasoned banker with wide experience in Retail Banking, Internal Auditing, Project Management, Electronic Banking with high specialty in Internet Banking. He is also a Consultant and a Supervisor /Invigilator of CIB examinations.

CONTACT

E-mail address:  kwa_rob@yahoo.com

Telephones: 0240 821597, 0546 907904

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