Microsoft’s Bill Gates knows a thing or two about technology. As part of his foundation’s education work, Gates has also learned a lot about how technology can improve the quality of schools. One of his observations is that “technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important … we will still need to make sure every student has an effective teacher, and every teacher gets the tools and support to be phenomenal.”
The same is true for banking. Digital channels now allow most banking transactions to occur online anywhere and at any time—and at a much lower cost than face-to-face interactions in branches. Yet despite salesforce transgressions at a few retail banks, a human salesforce remains a critical asset in the fight to attract and retain customers.
Accenture’s recent survey of nearly 33,000 consumers in 18 countries shows that two-thirds still want human interaction in financial services, especially to deal with complaints (68%) and get advice about complex products, such as mortgages (61%). While digital channels can effectively provide information, most are still a long way from providing the type of personalized advice and guidance that converts a complex and often ill-defined customer need into a meaningful action.
Banks that want to compete and win against pure digital players need to create differentiation and competitive advantage by investing to integrate their human salesforce and digital channels. The right digital tools and training can make bank sales people trusted problem solvers, brand ambassadors and advisors who can orchestrate the best combination of in-person and online banking.
Apple is recognized for product innovation and design, but it’s also mastered the art of physical retailing, creating spaces where customers can both interact with products and also receive tailored, personal sales advice and on-the-spot problem resolution from engaged and well-trained staff. Those interactions have now become as essential to the Apple brand as the features and functionality of the products they sell, and that is why Apple stores have the highest sales per square foot of any major retailer in the US, including Tiffany’s.
To create a phenomenal, highly productive salesforce, banks need to adopt a markedly different talent strategy that focuses on developing new digital and social traits.
An enthusiastic, friendly and welcoming attitude will still be important, but bank executives we spoke to say that the top two attributes banking employees will need in the future are proficiency with digital technologies and an ability to quickly learn new skills.
To enable this workforce, banks will also need to equip sales people with relevant and simple-to-use digital tools that will help them create truly personalized and multi-channel customer interactions. As the digital customer experience has improved, customers have noticed that branch staff often have less access to information than the customers themselves do on their phones, hence their satisfaction with ‘seamless omni-channel’ banking has been in steep decline over the last couple of years.
To be phenomenal teachers and advisors, bank staff will need to be enabled with not only the latest technology and most up-to-date information, but also use automation to liberate themselves from repetitive back-end tasks, so they can focus on the quality and impact of their interactions with customers. They also need to work within a sales culture that values the quality of interactions and the emotional connection with customers, not just the quantity of sales made. Just as in an Apple store, bank employees need to be committed to evangelizing the digital revolution, while still recognizing the unique value added by human interactions. As technology continues to improve, the number of human interactions will continue to decline, but the value of each human touchpoint to the bank’s brand will continue to increase.
In a world where many bank staff are worried about branch closures and the migration of sales and service to digital channels, the role of leaders is to convince them that they can be phenomenal—and to provide the training, tools and incentives to lead the digital revolution in banking, not be victims of it.
To find out more, read the recent Efma and Accenture report, The banking sales force—now what?, which summarizes the outcomes of three interactive think-tank meetings with senior bank executives.