Updated Monday, July 28, 2014 as of 4:17 AM ET
Blogs - Taking it to the Bank
The Smart Way to Turn Tellers into Sellers
by: Brian Porter
Friday, May 23, 2014
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Many banks have attempted to generate more revenue in recent years by turning tellers into sellers that is, by asking frontline staff to peddle a broad range of products and services. Unfortunately, this strategy has yielded poor to moderate results at best.

The problem is that banks have tried to change tellers' skill sets without changing the type of people they hire into those roles. If banks are serious about staffing their branches with universal tellers, they have to find people who have the relationship-building abilities needed in this new environment. Tellers must be able to clearly explain financial products and services and possess the outgoing, personable presence of a salesperson.

These skills are crucial if tellers are to understand customers' financial goals and problems and thereby increase sales. People who have these abilities are likely to come with higher salary requirements. But the returns to banks will be much greater.

Banks would do well to take a cue from Apple store's approach to staffing. I recently went to an Apple store to buy an iPad for my wife. I knew the price point I was willing to pay and the basic type of iPad I wanted, but needed some education on the accessories. I was met by a very capable, energetic young man who asked how he could help. He explained the pros and cons of all the products involved and I made an informed decision. If I had walked in and asked for help only to be told that the sole person with the expertise to answer my questions was with another customer, it would have been an extremely negative experience. But this happens in American bank branches every day.

How fast a person could count money and balance a drawer were necessary skills for tellers between 1877 and 2007. Today, banks have self-service and assisted self-service devices and recycling technology that automate these transactions. Sales-oriented skill sets are far more important in today's competitive branch environment. By allowing technology to do the heavy lifting, the branch staff can do focus on what is truly important: the customer experience.

Banks that want to embrace the idea of universal tellers should consider tying compensation to consumer experience and revenue generation. By incentivizing the right behavior in conjunction with hiring the right people, increased profitability will come.

Another smart idea could be to develop clear career paths for branch staff. Today, the teller position is a stopgap job at many banks while people figure out what else they will do with their lives. By laying out a process by which tellers can become experts in mortgages or securities and move into more senior roles, banks can keep talented employees in the fold and groom them for success. This would not only dramatically reduce teller turnover but also improve the consumer experience. Engaged, knowledgeable associates will ultimately bring in higher revenue.

These are not complex ideas, but the banking industry has yet to experience the massive shift in hiring practices that other industries have undergone. Banks that change the way they hire may take on larger expenses in the short-term, but these investments will ultimately pay off in terms of both profits and reputation. With branch transformation upon us, the first and most important component to be addressed is the people who work in them.

Brian Porter was appointed director of branch transformation and advisory services at Diebold in April. He joined the company in October 2012.

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(1) Comment
Interesting article. The challenge is to ensure that unlicensed tellers are not trying to sell securities products. I see this a lot with 401k/payroll service providers. While the Apple analogy was interesting, the regulatory nature of bank and investment products is a minefield, and folks could get in trouble in a hurry.
Posted by Kelly G | Friday, May 23 2014 at 12:24PM ET
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