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Elevating Retail Banking Service to Meet the Wider Scope of Customer Needs

Traditional retail banks are struggling to attract and retain customers.

The rise of digital entrants has equipped consumers to bank with more independence than ever. For this reason, 55% of bank executives see these new solutions as a threat, according to research from PwC, which surveyed 560 client executives from major financial institutions across 17 markets. As a result, “fewer than 20% of executives feel well-prepared for the future.”

These challenges are intensifying as the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) encourages financial technology (fintech) companies to deepen their footprint. Last year, the OCC announced its decision to accept applications for national banking charters from nondepository fintech companies. This move will accelerate the growth of nontraditional banking entities.

As a result, retail banks are rethinking their strategies.

Despite these considerable challenges, leaders within the retail bank industry are discovering they have a new way to compete.

Effective retail banks are turning to their service professionals. This group is uniquely positioned to render a dimensional picture of the customer’s needs. This capability outpaces the flat reading of customer needs through wide but shallow data that is “context-blind.”

Information learned during a service conversation reveals customer details that are more personal than any database. For this reason, retail bank service professionals have become one of the most critical roles in the selling organization. They are privy to the customer’s concerns, needs, and interests. They also have a read on the customer’s tone and emotions. This breadth of information, like many tiles in a mosaic, creates a detailed picture. What matters is how retail bank service professionals use this information.

Effective retail bank service professionals use this detail to discover unexpected value for customers. They examine the customer’s broader set of needs. In doing so, they create a sale. Making this approach work, however, requires a new mindset.

Traditionally, retail bank service professionals are focused on solving the customer’s problem. They are not sales professionals and do not see themselves as such. Moreover, they consider the idea of tacking a sale onto the conversation as unseemly. However, an additional product or service is not just a sale — it is part of the solution.

Here, we examine the three key steps to enhancing the retail bank service role through consultative selling:

BUILD A BETTER MINDSET

Bringing sales into service means adopting a new mindset. Retail bank service professionals must view the sale as an opportunity to address the customer’s unfulfilled needs. Making this change requires active listening, self-awareness, and open-mindedness.

ENGAGE THE CUSTOMER

Retail bank service professionals must find the right tone and language to engage the customer in the limited span of a service interaction. A strong opening helps the retail bank service professional connect with the customer. It defuses negative emotions (if needed), fosters openness, and builds credibility. The idea is to create a setting in which broader needs can be explored. This capability is critical when facing competition from fintech entities, which now generate 36% of personal loans by dollar volume in the US.

ENHANCE VALUE

After engaging the customer and solving their problem, retail bank service professionals have an opportunity. They can position products and services that address a wider set of needs. Making this approach work means tuning in to the customer. Retail bank service professionals must read the broader and deeper issues underlying the customer’s words. Developing enhanced value is critical, as global players bring competitive pressure with offerings like Amazon Credit Builder, the Apple Card, and Google Pay. These solutions include checking accounts, credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, auto loans, and wealth management.

Build a Better Mindset by Rethinking the Retail Bank Service Professional’s Role

It is time for retail bank service professionals to change their thinking.

Service and sales can and should coexist. It is reasonable to use the service conversation to solve, then sell, in that order. Joining these practices is necessary for three reasons:

First, creating a sale is often a part of creating a solution. The customer’s initiative represents an unfulfilled need. In many cases meeting that need means accessing an additional product or service.

Second, pairing selling with service is fast becoming an economic necessity. Reaching sales goals means seizing opportunities wherever they are presented. A service conversation is a prime opportunity to explore the needs that lead to a sale. retail bank service professionals who can recognize this opportunity provide a better customer experience. The primary challenge is one of perspective. Retail bank service professionals must look at their role, and selling, differently.

Third, retail bank service professionals, unlike purely digital offerings, can identify the solution that is appropriate to the customer’s needs. As a body of research from Deloitte concludes, “problem-solving skills requiring intuition, creativity, judgment, persuasion, and empathy could command a premium in a machine-dominated world.”

To many, it may seem that mindsets have little to do with margins. In truth, mindsets drive business value. Consider that “one pilot study at a consumer-services firm found that improvements in customer-service scores accrued from behavioral-psychology initiatives rather than from improvements in operations,” according to research published in Harvard Business Review.

Retail bank service professionals can develop a new mindset with three key practices:

Foster Self-awareness

Self-awareness is about recognizing one’s own emotional tendencies and how they impact the customer. By recognizing these tendencies, the retail bank service professional can manage them. They can develop awareness around the kinds of emotions that will help or hurt the dialogue and choosing the right ones to express. Moreover, self-awareness changes the retail bank service professional’s mindset by keeping them focused on how well they are meeting the customer’s needs. As a result, professionals become more vigilant about their assumptions. They ask more and better questions, which illuminate otherwise overlooked aspects of the customer’s needs. Self-awareness gives the retail bank service professional an accurate, honest read on how well they are addressing the customer’s challenges and what more they can do to handle the full scope of their needs with an expanded solution.

Engage in Active Listening

As businesses engage in an escalating arms race for superior CRM systems, they often forget that one of the most powerful tools in customer service is not a program or piece of technology — it is active listening. When someone engages in active listening, they are focused on the other person’s words. They are making a concerted effort to understand the other person and respond in a meaningful way. Active listening is different than passive listening, which seeks only to hear without truly understanding. Several studies have shown that “participants who received active listening responses felt more understood than participants who received either advice or simple acknowledgments.” Customers who speak to a retail bank service professional engaged in active listening feel satisfied. They know they have been heard. Biases, expectations, emotions, and assumptions all get in the way of active listening. Active listening requires one to be:

  1. Intentional: It is not automatic and requires mindfulness and effort.
  2. Open-minded: To be an active listener, you cannot be judgmental.
  3. Dedicated: Active listening is an acquired skill that must be honed over time.

Avoid Anchoring

Building a better mindset requires moving past our automatic tendencies. Anchoring is one of these tendencies. When we rely on too little information, we are succumbing to the anchoring bias. Assumptions drive anchoring. As a result, the professional may jump to a solution without a complete understanding of the problem. A retail bank service professional may make assumptions based on the customer’s communication style or age. In doing so, the professional may falsely assume that the customer is not interested in a broader solution. Uprooting anchors means having an open mindset in which all solutions, even new ones, are on the table when attempting to solve the customer’s challenge. The solution is to ask more questions and listen to the responses. In doing so, the retail bank service professional creates a dimensional picture of the customer’s needs.

Engage the Customer to Create a Competitive Advantage

The long-term success of a retail bank requires the service professional to deliver on the customer’s expectations. The challenge: those expectations are higher than they have ever been.

Retail banks are quickly learning that excellent customer service has become a competitive advantage. The benefits to those who can deliver on these heightened expectations are considerable. Research from Bain and Company shows that “a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit.” Achieving this increase, however, requires a concerted effort from the retail bank service professional. They must ensure that the customer feels respected, understood, and important. The customer must believe that the retail bank service professional is confident, caring, and capable. Put simply, retail bank service professionals must be able to relate to the customer.

A more meaningful customer relationship is important in a world of digital banking in which “only one-half to two-thirds of customers rate their experience as excellent,” according to research from McKinsey. The same research shows the measurable benefits to understanding the whole customer. Consider that “in the US, top-quartile banks in terms of experience have had meaningfully higher deposit growth over the past three years.” However, “excellent” customer service means more than it ever has. That is, developing excellence in this area means discovering and addressing every layer of the customer’s needs. Retail banks in the top quartile of customer experience grow 46% faster than those in the bottom quartile.

They develop a connection that does not feel scripted or coached. As a result, retail bank service professionals avoid the trap of assigning a feeling to a customer. Relating sets the stage for meeting a customer’s expectations in five ways.

Own the Issue

Customers are often forced to play hopscotch in their search for a solution. They are shuttled from one service professional to another. “The result is that, in many organizations, the first-call resolution rate hovers around 40 percent,” according to research published by McKinsey. Effective retail bank service professionals take responsibility and own the issue. Doing so minimizes the effort required from the customer. Moreover, redirecting customers to different retail bank service professionals makes it difficult to explore the customer’s needs.

Personalize the Experience  

A personalized customer service experience is rare event. Customers are often pushed through a matrix of yes/no questions to arrive at a prepared response that falls short of a solution. A personalized experience recognizes the customer’s need, challenge, or question. Therefore, it’s important to adapt to the customer’s pace. The key is to take the time to listen and read the customer’s tone and empathize with them. Professionals must use acknowledgment, rapport, and empathy to connect. Relating starts with having the right presence and projecting confidence, credibility, and conviction to show interests, gain respect, and inspire trust.

Be Authentic  

Authenticity means speaking to the customer as a person. While this may sound easy, it quickly becomes difficult over the course of numerous conversations. Retail bank service professionals work with a variety of customers, often in quick succession, throughout the day. This frequency is exhausting. Therefore, remaining authentic across every interaction requires a mindfulness and authenticity. Authenticity is about being natural even if doing so does not come naturally. It’s about having a genuine interest in the customer and curiosity for learning about them and solving their problems.

Understand, Then Solve 

The customer wants to be heard. Their words do more than clarify the issue. They also reveal ways in which the retail bank service professional can go further in the resolution. Understanding the customer helps reveal underlying issues. Once the customer has been understood, the retail bank service professional must solve the problem. They must use clear language that outlines next steps. Language must be concise and linear. Additionally, they must use specific language, which encourages the customer’s confidence. Rather than, “I will help you solve this problem,” a more effective retail bank service professional might say, “I will help you correct the account setting so the defaults reflect your original preferences.”

Be Curious to Exceed Expectations

In the rush for a solution, customers rarely volunteer more information than is necessary to reach a resolution. Therefore, the retail bank service professional reveals broader needs. They can reveal underlying needs by focusing on cues and clues. A cue is a detail found in the customer’s words. A clue is a detail found within the customer’s account information. These details help the retail bank service professional find a more expansive solution.

Deliver Unexpected Value for the Customer

Retail banks need to offer more to retain and grow existing accounts as digital-only options pervade the marketplace.

Many of these digital-only options are nonbanking financial companies (NBFCs). While fast and convenient, NBFCs operate without a banking license. Despite this, they are permitted to offer services like loan issuance, underwriting, credit facilities, and more. NBFCs began their rise after traditional banks were forced to scale down offerings amid tighter regulations in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

In the years following the crisis, more than 3,330 tech-based financial service firms have entered the marketplace. Though these firms excel in areas like financial data storage, big data analytics, AI, and data security, few can uncover unseen value for the customer, which presents the possibility for a mutually beneficial outcome. The customer benefits from a solution that addresses the root issue. Simultaneously, the retail bank service professional grows revenue.

The retail bank service professional has a unique advantage in driving this outcome. They can link the additional product or service to the customer’s stated need. This approach is different than an outbound approach. A service conversation, or call means that the customer has taken the first step. Therefore, the retail bank service professional can position the sale as an extension to the customer’s request for a solution. As a result, the sale is more authentic and salient because it is part of the answer to a question the customer asked.

This equal exchange is known in social psychology as reciprocity. Reciprocity is a norm in which positivity from one is rewarded with positivity from another. A service conversation sets the stage for reciprocity to unfold. The reason: the customer is providing the professional with the opportunity to make the first positive action.

A customer service setting is primed for reciprocity because the professional has an opportunity to express positivity. By understanding and solving the customer’s issue, the retail bank service professional has earned the right to take the conversation further. When taking the conversation to this next level, retail bank service professionals must set out to accomplish three goals:

Pique Curiosity

The retail bank service professional must be able to spark the customer’s interest. They must make them willing to stay engaged in the conversation. This engagement is necessary for the professional to be able to address the wider scope of needs. The best way to do this is to reference a cue or clue from earlier in the conversation. Remember, a cue is a verbal statement from the customer that reveals an additional opportunity for the business to add value. A clue is additional customer information seen within their account profile. There is no need to spend a lot of time differentiating these two things. What is important is that the retail bank service professional tunes in so that they pick up on this additional information. With this extra information, the professional can set the context. They can articulate a solution that might be unknown to the customer. Then, the retail bank service professional can link the value of that capability to previous cues or clues.

Position with Organization

When linking the capability to the customer’s needs, it is important to position with organization. If a customer doesn’t understand the offer, they will end the conversation. Restarting is near impossible. Therefore, knowing how to position is critical. The professional should position the headlines first. Once the next steps are clear, they should check with the customer before proceeding to the next stage. This kind of structure limits the burden placed on the customer by clarifying the path forward. Additionally, an organized delivery is expedient. This efficiency is critical because positioning an expanded solution will demand more time.

Resolve Objections

Positioning unexpected value can incite defensiveness from the customer. The retail bank service professional must engage in a dialogue to understand and resolve the customer’s resistance. First, the professional must acknowledge the customer’s concern. Next, the professional must ask broad, open-ended questions. Doing so uncovers the underlying concern and reason for the concern. The response to these questions must be tailored to the customer’s specific concern using clear, concise phrasing. Finally, the professional should ask additional follow-up questions to get feedback on how to proceed. The key here is to take the time to truly understand the customer’s position, then ask questions that seek to reveal the detail behind that position. Resistance from the customer is common. It is important that the professional doesn’t push back. The key is to stay calm and use the objection resolution model.

The Takeaway

Personalization drives the quality of customer interactions, and “quality has the biggest impact on loyalty in banking,” according to research from Bain.

As digital options push speed and efficiency, retail banks must leverage the competitive advantage that comes from being able to read the customer’s emotional cues. As the same body of research concludes, retail banks must “cultivate emotional ‘Elements of Value.’” Doing so means reducing anxiety, resolving the customer’s issue, and offering unexpected value. This approach is so powerful that “delivering one more emotional element increases the Net Promoter Score 1.5 times more than adding one functional element.” Functional elements include factors like reduced costs and variety of offerings.

The retail bank service professional has a level of access to the customer’s thinking that is unmatched. Capitalizing on these opportunities, however, requires a new mindset in which selling becomes part of the solution. Retail bank service professionals must:

BUILD A BETTER MINDSET

Build a better mindset by acknowledging that service and sales can coexist in the same call. Solve the immediate problem, then set the stage for taking the conversation further. Making this work means:

  • Fostering self-awareness
  • Engaging in active listening
  • Avoiding anchoring

ENGAGE THE CUSTOMER

To properly engage the customer, professionals must think of customer service as a competitive advantage. To do so, they must make the effort to relate with the customer. They must tune in and use the customer’s words. They should offer non-scripted responses. Retail bank service professionals must:

  • Own the Issue
  • Personalize the Experience
  • Be Authentic
  • Understand, Then Solve
  • Be Curious to Exceed Expectations

ENHANCE VALUE

Expanding the relationship means finding unseen value for the customer in the form of additional products or services. Solving the breadth of needs means connecting the value to the specifics learned earlier in the interaction through cues and clues offered by the customer. To do so, professionals must:

  • Pique Curiosity
  • Position with Organization
  • Resolve Objections