Community banks and credit unions often pride themselves on their superior customer service — and they should. According to the recent Consumer Banking Insights Study,1 68% of customers at community financial institutions say their customer service is an advantage when compared to other institutions. Only 38% of megabank customers say the same.
Yet, great customer service doesn’t happen on its own. It’s the result of clearly established expectations, ongoing training, consistent employee monitoring, and rewards for positive behavior. As community financial institutions grapple with growing regulatory burdens, increased competition, and other challenges, it’s becoming harder for many institutions to sustain exceptional, difference-making customer service programs.
Additionally, megabanks have caught on to the fact that consumers want great customer service. The Consumer Banking Insights Study found that 97% of Americans say personal customer service is important to them when it comes to choosing where to bank. Many megabanks have begun upping their training budgets, monitoring the quality of customer service phone calls, and marketing the friendliness of their banks. According to J.D. Power’s 2014 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Survey, customer satisfaction with big banks improved by 40 points this year compared to 2013, nearly closing the gap between big banks and their smaller competitors, who used to hold a significant lead.
How can community financial institutions hold on to their reputation for stellar customer service, even with comparatively limited resources and time? The answer lies in finding more effective methods for training and monitoring.
For example, many banking services companies now provide mystery shopping and training services. The service allows credit unions and community banks to discover targeted opportunities in their customer service program and then develop customized employee training programs that address those shortcomings — at minimal cost to the institution.
What’s more, banking services providers are often already familiar with the products offered through the financial institution — especially if they provide those products — and usually possess extensive in-house expertise on training and incentive programs. This often results in major bottom-line gains for community institutions, as banking services providers can use that knowledge to identify missed sales opportunities that can be corrected through training. In a recent targeted training initiative designed to increase sales of a specific product, we found that frontline training boosted sell-through by 35%.
Here’s how it works: To perform the mystery shopping analysis, the banking services company has trained, knowledgeable screeners call the institutions with various questions and problems, record the calls, and then score the representatives’ performance and, in essence, the consumer experience. The mystery shopping service can usually be provided on a quarterly basis, for multiple branches, and at a frequency level determined by the community bank or credit union in order to ensure consistent performance across the board, throughout the year.
Once gathered, the monitoring results can then be used to identify overall performance trends, including top-performing customer service associates and those who may be in need of additional training. Additionally, many institutions use the results to help determine staff promotions and dole out incentives through employee rewards programs.
Monitoring services can also catch and flag technical glitches that the average community bank or credit union may miss. For instance, a phone system error could direct customers to the wrong department without leaders realizing it.
The real value in mystery shopper services, though, lies in their ability to pinpoint the exact areas where training may be needed. General training programs often cover a broad range of topics and can take several days or weeks for employees to complete.
However, because mystery shopping identifies the exact areas where a customer service team is thriving or struggling, banking services companies are able to tailor their training programs to specifically address the areas where help is really needed. This not only boosts the effectiveness of the training, but also reduces the amount of time employees must spend in the classroom and away from their jobs.
Ultimately, community financial institutions wind up with a thriving, sustainable customer service and sales program without stretching their resources. By relying on a third-party banking services provider to handle monitoring and training, credit unions and community banks don’t have to pay for phone recording services and the staff necessary to pore through those recordings. Institutions will also reap savings by foregoing long, expensive training programs that may not even address customer service issues that are relevant to their particular organization.
Additionally, as customer service programs improve, community financial institutions often see a major benefit to their bottom line. Happier customers are easier to retain and will often provide referrals, and stellar customer service can help convince prospective clients to choose that institution.
Mystery shopping programs can also help leaders pinpoint where acquisition efforts may be falling short, so adjustments can be made to fix the problem. Finally, clear expectations, employee accountability, and results-based rewards can motivate customer service representatives to cross-sell more often.
Satisfied customers and engaged employees are hallmarks of the company sales culture for which all community financial institutions aim, but sometimes struggle to create. With the help of monitoring and training services from a third-party banking services provider, however, community institutions can draw one step closer to achieving that goal.
1 Kasasa, “Consumer Banking Insights Study,” conducted by Harris Poll, December 2013