With pandemic-driven spikes in digital activity and major changes to the in-branch experience, banks are dealing with operational stresses like never before. Managers are faced with new hygienic rules, changes in customer behavior, and much more.
Operating in such an unpredictable and fast-changing environment risks substandard customer service, lost revenue, and compliance violations. The situation also underscores existing gaps in both communications and operational execution.
The problems are significant, as Reflexis’ research has demonstrated. We recently sponsored our Second International Branch Banking Employee Survey, in which we polled 1,228 banking managers from North America and Europe on how COVID-19 has changed their industry. The findings illustrate how banks are facing the following trends:
- A reduction in both banking staff and locations
- Fewer employees in each open branch
- Inefficient branch network communications (particularly after the pandemic’s arrival)
For this discussion, I want to focus on the third issue and how its downstream effects can impact banking customers.
Internal Communications Can Affect Customer Satisfaction
The survey revealed a variety of challenges to bank performance and customer satisfaction:
- Banks overwhelmingly rely on non-sanctioned personal communications apps. The survey revealed 89% of bank employees leveraged non-company approved/provided platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, personal texting and other channels to communicate with colleagues about company business. As a result, 52% of employees had their personal data shared with third parties. This poses a massive risk to compliance and security, leading to either data leakage or a response from a branch risk management team.
- Branches leverage inefficient tools for work management. Nearly 40% of respondents indicated email was the primary platform for managing/tracking work. This makes it cumbersome for managers to mine their systems for process improvement details, especially when compared to a task management/communication system (or a customer relationship management or business process management solution). The situation means that becoming more streamlined and effective in operations is even more difficult, and there is yet another obstacle to helping customers. Today, managers must communicate with associates and specialists who may be remote, moving among branches, and without access to a company-issued device or laptop. And the lack of adequate and efficient communications and scheduling tools hurts employee morale and, ultimately, performance.
- Time spent on non-customer-facing activities is up. In 2021, despite reductions in staffing, bankers are spending even more time on things that don’t directly impact the public than they did in 2020. In fact, 57% of respondents spent seven or more hours weekly on non-customer tasks to date, up from 52% in 2020. The likely reason for this is that managers must compensate for having fewer employees available to handle the existing workload. As the survey report notes: “This should be a big red flag for those who want bankers focused on customer engagement.” However, most banks may not even be aware of the full extent of requests, or the type of work being requested. And what bankers can’t see, they can’t measure, target and fix.
Solving The Branch Communications/Task Management Conundrum
These obstacles represent a major challenge to streamlined communications and effective task management processes. A major driver of these issues (as the survey authors suggest) is the lack of best practices and technology standardization in communications and messaging. Because of the pandemic, many employees are working remotely and using any devices or platforms that are readily available.
Therefore, banks need to empower employees for real-time tasks and communications activities. To succeed in this effort, there are some things to consider:
- Review all current communications devices and platforms. Create a map of all the software and solutions and hardware components in play, and use that as a guide for future assessment and action.
- Decide which legacy/existing systems are acceptable and which are not. Ask questions: Are you relying too much on inefficient conference calls that pull associates away from customers? Are the employees sharing information on personal text and exposing sensitive data? Does the bank already have cloud technologies and apps that are easily accessed?
- Create a policy guide that employees can easily follow about acceptable/substandard solutions and procedures. In it, you can address acceptable (if any) BYOD devices and solutions. Define procedures and activities. Ask yourself: What are considered employee communications when many or all associates now work remotely? Are employees using bank-provided devices for private, unsanctioned communications? And so on.
- If you lack enterprise-grade, mobile-first communications tools, think about an upgrade. You should look at a cloud-based solution that supports real-time communications and task management. Associates can receive schedules, swap shifts, and access all necessary communications and tasks from a single application. Managers can see all relevant activities in the branches and respond proactively to any issues – and even manage by exception. The smarter and more automated your communications/task management systems are, the more value you can extract from them. You can create workflows that can route requests, apply business rules, and make your branch more nimble and responsive – without requiring more time and effort on your part.
By taking these steps, you’ll be on your way to addressing important operational issues that have been accelerated by the pandemic. This will position you well to react to continued COVID-19 disruptions and prepare for future changes and challenges.
To read more about Reflexis’ Second International Branch Banking Employee Survey, click here. You can also reach the Zebra-Reflexis team here if you need assistance in conducting your assessment or finding the right solution.