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Opinions of Sunday, 5 August 2018

Columnist: Alberta Quarcoopome

Untrained front liners can trigger reputational damage to your company

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell six thousand friends.” - Jeff Bezos

Sometime in the latter part of 2012, I was introduced to Mr. William Adjovu, Group CEO of Liberty Group of Companies. One of the subsidiaries, Midland Savings and Loans was the main reason for our meeting. In addition to the MD of the company, Mr. Michael Adjovu, we were able to carve out a training program to enhance the customer relationship management skills of the staff in the various branches. I found William to be one of the most passionate and customer-centric CEOs I had encountered and this left an indelible mark in my mind. At the closing ceremony, I appreciated how he passionately exhorted the staff to bring out the best in their customer relations to create a niche for the company within the financial services industry. I was therefore not surprised to see him receive an award as the UT Banking and Finance Entrepreneur Award in 2013.

The power of social media as a tool to lodge complaints

I was therefore shocked to find his beloved institution being bashed from all over the country after people watched the sad scene of a video of an assault on a lady customer by the Police Guard on duty at the Head Office branch of Midland Savings and Loans Company.

During training programs, we always stress the need for bank staff to be aware of all the methods used in customer complaints, especially social media. This case really gives more credence to Jeff Bezo’s quote mentioned above. Thanks to technology, news, especially the bad ones spread like a wildfire. Last week, all the social and business whats’up platforms that I belong to, were filled with the graphic scenes in the video.

Much has been said about the case, with numerous petitions, warnings and condemnation from every known civil group in the country. I do not intend to join the fray, because I do not have all the details and this can even happen to any other company on the blind side of its Management. However, let us rather look at lessons learnt from this case, and reflect on various ways we can avoid such occurrences, especially during crises management. I will look at it from various angles.



Front Liners as the face of your Bank

The face of every financial institution comprises the Tellers, Sales are Marketing, Customer Service, Credit or Loans Officers as well as Security Guards. I can say with my experience that only about five percent of a branch’s customers ever enter the managers’ office. When it comes to the Police guard, it is only when you look around the premises that you will find them lurking somewhere. They generally do not even deal with customers, but they are there to fulfill a crucial need. In all these encounters, how these front liners welcome or snub a customer portrays their level of professionalism and training.

Staff Training

Staff training is the most important strategy that banks execute before they open for business. It is a must from the Bank of Ghana. The whole training package is preceded usually with the acquisition or preparation of documented manuals or guidelines for use by the staff. Training encompasses a combination of the classroom method, hands-on approach, and on the job coaching. A bank should have in its arsenal, a pool of experienced bankers and professionals who would make up the pool of in-house resource personnel. These in-house trainers are supposed to complement what the external facilitators do, organize regular refresher courses, e-learning programs and assessments to ensure that training is always an on-going process. In addition, there should be mentoring programs to ensure staff have role models or mentors to look up to for guidance.



Who is trained?

As banking is the most dynamic industry of all times, training should be regular and assessable. I believe that banks should not assume that by assembling various personalities together, the teamwork will naturally flow. While technical people should be regularly trained in soft skills, the general staff should also be regularly updated on some basic banking skills to appreciate the rights and responsibilities of bankers to customers and vice versa. Adherence to the legal principles in banking should always be hammered upon. When it comes to training on customer service, or customer relationship management, there should not be any compromises. It should be across board for all staff of banks. Ensuring that companies treat their customers fairly should be at the heart of every service provider. Regular refreshers are requirements for both outsourced and regular staff. Occasionally, one may find that the outsourced staff are the ones receiving constant training while regular staff are not updated, and vice versa. This creates a disjointed branch with knowledge gaps which affect customer service in the long run.

My observation over the years seems to be that training on customer relationship management has been relegated to only the staff on the shop floor. Even line managers are sometimes not represented and yet such training includes complaint management techniques as well as service recovery methods which fall squarely in their territory! Some management personnel may not appreciate the fact that being the face of the bank, a customer-facing staff can make or break a bank.

The Risks of Outsourcing Front Liners

Financial services businesses throughout the world are increasingly using third parties to carry out activities that the businesses themselves would normally have undertaken. Industry research and surveys by regulators show financial firms outsourcing significant parts of their regulated and unregulated activities. These outsourcing arrangements are also becoming increasingly complex. I have watched an interesting trend of events within the last decade and wish to share some thoughts with you about the increased numbers of outsourced staff in cashiering, guard duties, sales and front desk activities. My main worry is that training of such personnel is virtually non-existent, and they sometimes use a lot of logic to work instead of relying on the principles of banking.



Even on the outer surface, you may find some front liners working as if they are doing customers a favour. Let me attempt some of the hidden factors causing some of them to be unprofessional in their attitude and service. Banks are now being compelled to adopt outsourcing as a policy for some activities for various reasons. These involve guard duties, sales, customer service, cashiering. All these persons are working hand in hand with the permanent staff to achieve the goals of the institutions.

Do customers need to know that some of the staff have been outsourced? Obviously not! They are not interested. Banks are offering services to their customers. Who offers what service, is not their concern. They only need to receive the service as promised or as expected, and leave.

Some common utterances from the grapevine from both outsourced and regular staff is an indication that we need to manage communication and training in such a way that all stakeholders in the bank appreciate the objectives of an institution’s outsourcing policy and work better towards achieving a win-win situation. Today, outsourcing is increasingly used as a means of both reducing costs and achieving strategic aims. However, outsourcing has been identified in various industry and regulatory reports as raising issues related to risk transfer and management. Among the specific concerns raised by outsourcing activities is the potential for over-reliance on outsourced activities that are critical to the ongoing viability of an institution, as well as its obligations to customers. The need to blend the functions and the human relations among the outsourced and regular staff to enhance teamwork and achieve success, is critical.

Communication

Communication is a major tool in the dissemination of information within the bank, to its staff as well as its customers. In these days of intranet systems, SMS messaging, emails, whats’up messaging and updates on websites, communication is becoming more clear and concise. Let me ask a few searching questions before I continue?

Are the line managers aware of happenings in your bank?

Are selected decisions at the board level fine-tuned and disseminated to those who need to implement them?

How often are staff updated of the bank’s strategies?

Do line managers work closely with the staff on the shop floor to identify any red flags or alerts and best methods of managing them?

Are your line managers tin gods, for which subordinates are afraid of approaching for assistance?

Are line managers trained on crises management, customer complaint management and recovery methods?

What is the communication or relationship between the Managers and Security Guards like?

I will pause here. Next week, we shall look at the relationship between banks and their customers as well as the role of security guards and police guards as the peacemakers and protectors of both the banks and their customers.