If you are a business, talent or training leader in a retail bank, the world may feel like it’s upside-down. Customers who used to visit branches now make an appointment to see a banker, contact a call center, use ATMs or do their banking virtually. The importance of technological forms of banking has skyrocketed, and the form and nature of our interactions have changed. How do you ensure your bank personnel are prepared for the ever-changing landscape of the customer experience?

Adapting and preparing your business for market changes feels like a full-time job for everybody. Digital technology, changing customer preferences, increased competition and changing regulations are converging at the same time. Improving performance means that each part of the organization must be efficient and dedicated to continuous improvement.

Aligning Training With the Customer Experience

A key aspect of continuous improvement is the readiness of your workforce to meet the challenges it will face. Specifically, your customer-facing employees need to upskill and be ready for whatever situation may present itself. The marketplace is replete with off-the-shelf customer service training. The question is, does it align with your vision for your customer experience? If not, how will you ensure that it takes advantage of and is linked to your expectations, goals and existing training? Connecting off-the-shelf training to real roles and situations will make all the difference.

Making this connection can increase the relevance of your training and improve employee engagement. Create alignment by:

    • Defining the context of the work employees are doing.
    • Identifying stages of development and performance milestones.
    • Practicing in a way that looks and feels like the “real world.”
    • For each role, identifying the most important common interactions or transactions the most challenging and complex interactions, and the interactions carrying the most risk.
    • Presenting mastery-level performance.
    • Connecting how mastering the skills makes a difference in the specific situation.
    • Combining both the “soft” and technical aspects of the interaction or transaction.
    • Representing different customer situations (e.g., happy, angry or upset customers or escalations).
    • Using authentic and spaced practice to allow time for reflection and feedback.
    • Reconfiguring training to deliver it as guidance during an interaction.

Tailoring Training to the Context

While some aspects of customer service can be common across roles, delivering differentiated customer service means understanding how that service is unique. Consequently, each role will have some common customer service skills that employees need to apply in a unique way and some specific and different skills that they need to upgrade (and practice).

For example, in a retail bank setting, tellers or platform salespeople may be:

    • Performing transactions involving interacting with both the system and the customer simultaneously.
    • Determining customer needs, identifying sales opportunities and making referrals.
    • Maintaining existing accounts and working with customers to add new products or services.
    • Helping customers address their challenges using web services or with a call center.
    • Resolving fraud situations.

In a bank’s customer call center, agents may be:

    • Completing transactions.
    • Performing virtual banking services.
    • Diagnosing or troubleshooting issues.
    • Resolving fraud situations.

In commercial lending or private banking, the banker or underwriter may be:

    • Uncovering needs.
    • Setting expectations.
    • Answering challenging questions.
    • Saying “no” in a charged situation (such as declining a loan).

Given these different roles, priorities, customer situations and skills, organizations have the opportunity to view customer service from at least three points of view: the organization and its goals, the employee, and the customer’s needs and expectations. While every customer has a journey, in order to encourage and instill customer loyalty, it’s critical to know your customers and anticipate what they might want. Using that understanding to inform training decisions is vital, with a caveat: Preparing your team members doesn’t necessarily mean teaching and practicing every possible interaction scenario. It means selecting and practicing the scenarios that are the most representative of the variety of interactions and offer the best opportunity to teach the key customer service points.

Maximizing Value

Every customer interaction with your bank and employees is a signal about future intent. Every signal can help your company deepen relationships and grow customer satisfaction. Conversely, missteps can cause outsized damage to the longest relationship. New and improved tools for collecting customer sentiment and loyalty hit the market regularly, and the wealth of data they provide is an opportunity for the training team.

Because each customer touchpoint has value both in the moment and downstream, mastering the customer service and technical skills that result in a positive touchpoint can take on added meaning. In short, maximizing the value (to the bank and to the customer) of each interaction is a good idea.

When the informed actions of employees propel the customer journey, it’s critical to emphasize training. Having the right person, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time, helps to deliver a superior customer experience. With each superior customer experience, customer loyalty should grow, along with the reputation of the bank.

At the root is an understanding of the work context, the types of customer interactions, the environment where the interaction, occurs and the goals and expectations of both the bank and the customer. Arriving at that understanding can be an Achille’s heel for some banks. Here are a few ideas to consider:

    • Reveal reality: What is actually happening in the work environment?
    • Establish context: What is happening during, immediately before and immediately after interactions and transactions?
    • Observe: What are your customers doing at your branches or on calls?
    • Identify: What key patterns repeatedly appear?
    • Create: String customer actions together into a model.
    • Visualize how all the touchpoints fit together.
    • Diagram when, where and how roles interact.
    • Envision how you will train employees on the new customer experience.

By using all the information you gather, it’s possible to see customer service training in a different light. When you can find and procure the right program, you can use off-the-shelf training where behavioral patterns and common practices exist. There is, however, an opportunity to deliver additional value to the bank and to its customers by augmenting off-the-shelf content with real-world context, role-specific expectations and accountabilities, and opportunities for authentic practice and feedback. It may also require changes to delivery strategy and modalities — an effort that seems worthwhile.

The banking industry is changing quickly. According to McKinsey, “Banks have been under pressure from [firms like Google, Amazon, Tencent, as well as their more local equivalents] for some time. However, there’s a strong chance that this pressure will intensify as big tech firms increasingly leverage their strong consumer franchises and digital expertise to compete with banks.” This pressure, combined with a shift in consumer behavior toward e-commerce, will continue to drive change for retail banks. It may continue to change the composition of the work that happens in a branch, where a vital differentiator will likely be high-quality human interactions that fulfill each bank’s unique brand promise and customer experience expectations. To simultaneously support business goals, the ongoing — and evolving — need for skilled employees, and shifting customer expectations, the demand for going beyond off-the-shelf customer service training to deliver more role- and context-specific customer service training will likely increase.