Dear Readers, last week I talked about first impressions at a bank’s front office – the role of staff and their challenges. Now let us look at the role of management.
Role of Management
There is a saying that “a good tree is known by its fruit”. It should be noted that before someone takes a decision on which bank with which s/he wants to open an account certain factors are considered. Some of the key factors are convenience (efficient services), safety, and availability of credit opportunities. Hence, the need to address the challenges at the Front Office should be seen by management as crucial and very urgent.
To enable front-line staff to live up to expectations, the following suggestions should be critically examined and considered by management:
- Stable IT Platform
Now that banks have networked their branches and most of the products/services are IT-based, there is need for a robust and stable IT platform to support the entire operations of a bank. The IT Department is a support unit that serves as the ‘tap-root’ that supplies all the necessary nutrients to various departments and branches of a bank. Consequently, any negative situation or challenge that happens in the IT department brings all activities to a halt and greatly affects customer service at the front-office.
Management should therefore ensure that the IT department is:
- Well-resourced and equipped.
- Manned by the required number of staff, well-trained and motivated; and
- Issues going to that department should be treated with a sense of urgency.
- Periodic evaluation of Service Providers to ensure compliance and their capacity to support the department.
- Effective coordination between IT department, branches and other departments.
- Staff Training in Products, Services Procedures and Policies
It should be realised that when a bank`s branches are networked, customers no longer consider their dealings with employees as branch staff but staff of the bank. This means that a customer can conduct his banking activities at any branch and not necessarily where the account is domiciled.
Under this circumstance, customers can no longer be directed to go to where the account was opened. Therefore, every staff is seen as an ambassador of the bank and is expected to have in-depth knowledge of its products, services, procedures and policies in order to provide efficient and timely services to customers.
It would then be unacceptable for any staff to tell a customer that s/he is not working at that branch or department, and therefore cannot do anything to assist the customer. Normally, staff who are not abreast with developments in the bank – or take no interest in what goes on around them apart from their work schedules, give such responses to customers.
It is therefore prudent in an era of stiff competition among banks for management to take a second look at the contents of the bank’s training programmes to ensure that staff have adequate knowledge of the bank’s products, services, procedures and policies.
- Effective Internal Marketing
Staff’s lack of knowledge regarding products and services introduced by a bank is one of the major factors which contribute to poor customer service at the front-office. The old adage “you cannot give what you don’t have” holds true in this case. Internal marketing is about treating your staff as your customer and communicating clearly, selling the vision of the bank to them. In other words, internal marketing is when all staff are customer-oriented and work together as a team, no matter who their ‘customers’ are. This gives everyone direction.
Internal marketing is as equally important as external marketing, because your internal staff are your business. They are a big part of your brand, and it is important that each and every employee needs to understand the bank’s direction and really believe and live the brand.
Internal marketing offers the following benefits:
- It ensures that staff effectively buy into what the bank wants to achieve and are more effective at what they do.
- Informed staff are usually ‘engaged’ staff – there is a purpose to work for.
- Happy staff equals happy customers.
- They are empowered to make decisions within certain guidelines and begin to feel more respected and valued for their contributions.
- Helps banks to deliver better customer service. Employees feel more motivated and experience higher job satisfaction.
- This feeling leads to a greater sense of belonging to the ‘team’, as well as responsibility and accountability to employers.
- Increased compliance with standards and protocol.
- Staff conflict wanes and people have better dispositions at work.
Who wouldn’t want to work for a bank with a culture like the above? And all it really requires is openness, flexibility and a desire to do things better for better results. It is a mindset.
- Provision of Operational Manuals
One of the most useful systems to streamline a business is having a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual. There are specific measurable outcomes if a bank has an SOP manual in place.
Below are some of the key benefits:
- Reduced learning curve/training time for new employees (i.e. when someone is new on the job, a well-written SOP can be a lifeline to them to be able to learnhow things work).
- Ensured business continuity – When a key staff is on leave or not in the office for some reason, work does not have to stand still. By referring to the SOP, someone else can take over the urgent tasks and do them correctly the first time.
- Standardised processes – The SOP makes it easy to find out what policies and procedures are in place to handle repetitive situations/tasks.
- Delegating tasks becomes a no-brainer – A good SOP will include the organogram of the business, as well as have a short job description and contact details for each staff member. If you need to delegate a certain task, you can see at a glance who will best be able to help you or advise you.
- Ensure that your clients are getting the best possible experience with you – Because there is a standard way of dealing with clients` queries, refunds, follow-ups, etc.; you can make sure that each client is treated fairly and equally, enhancing their interactions with you.
A SOP is a living document, which should be subjected to periodic reviews. It is therefore important to have it in electronic format on a web-based collaborative system so that all staff can have access to the latest version.
- Fair Distribution of Staff
Management should ensure that the front-office is strengthened with the required number of staff having the requisite knowledge and skills. It is observed that some branches and departments are overstaffed while others are understaffed. As a result of this situation, security personnel are sometimes seen in some banking halls performing the role of the front-line staff. Customers find this unacceptable, and see it as a sign of administrative lapse when there are many cubicles and yet only one or two Tellers are seen serving customers at a time the banking hall is choked – and some staff are seen at the back-office chatting.
Allowing Security personnel to perform the duties of front-desk staff is very unprofessional and risky, because in the first place they don’t have the requisite banking knowledge or training to do so. They also abandon their core duty as security men when performing duties that they have not been mandated to perform. Consequently, any negative results from their activities can cause vicarious liability to the bank (this refers to a situation wherein an employer is held responsible or liable for the actions or omissions of its employee).
- Provision of Adequate Resources
If there is one certainty in today’s business world, it is that the lack of resources in a job leads to inefficiencies and diminished results. Every job has its own necessary tools, from computers to task-specific items. No matter how skillful an employee may be, s/he will never be able to function at full capacity if a lack of resources is holding him/her back.
Availability of resources encourages employees to work in an effective and disciplined manner, utilising their skills to the best of their ability and employing the techniques that they feel will make the greatest impact. The same problem exists when there is a lack of resources compared to the number of employees who need to use them. Just as traffic slows down where there is a lane closed on the highway, production slows down when there are not enough resources for the number of people who require them.
For this reason, it is clear that any issue regarding lack of resources should be quickly resolved by replacing the item or purchasing it for the first time. A procedure should be implemented in order to keep the Procurement Department on top of any items that need adding to or replacing, to address the issue of lacking resources.
- Holding Frequent Review Meetings
Business meetings are a necessary part of operating in a professional environment. They allow for time to network among staff, share ideas to emphasise teamwork and inform employees and management alike of new developments within the bank or among clients.
It might seem unfair that people form such a firm assessment of you in such a short time and think that these snap impressions are bound to be faulty. Yet, dozens of studies have shown that first impressions are actually highly accurate in gauging a person’s true personality and abilities. It turns out you can actually judge a book by its cover after all.
Our moods and personalities are also invariably translated into our body language – how we stand, walk, gesticulate and generally hold ourselves say a lot about whom we are and what we are like.
This means that first impressions are not superficial after all, and that changing yours begins not without words, behaviours, but with inner values.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ROBERT OWUSU is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Banker (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.
E-mail address: [email protected]
Telephones: 0240 821597, 0546 907904