In any business, the main aim is to maximize returns through the provision of quality products and services and maintaining a competitive edge over the competitors. However, the main focus of a business is treating the customer right in a valuable and respectable way no wonder it is said that the customer is always right. Customer satisfaction and service depend on how they are treated at the business premises. The front-line staffs are the actual implementers of the objectives of financial institutions and have a great influence on how a customer feels about the institution. Management has a responsibility of supporting the frontline staff since their satisfaction levels spill over to customers and vice versa. This report explores the importance of front-line staff and the ways that management can support them. Additionally, it reviews ways through which financial organizations can assess the level and manner of satisfaction from their service delivery.
Important qualities of branch-based staff for efficient delivery of customer service
Branch-based staffs usually represent the brand of the company and form a significant part of the organization. This is because of their influence in anticipating the needs of the customers, customizing the delivery of service, and building long-term relationships. In fact, the branch staffs are the driving force behind customer retention and loyalty. The hiring of these staff thus needs to consider the core values and culture of the company although, in essence, no employee is perfect (Lovelock, 1995). The work of branch staff entails dealing with customers. Since their first impression is what influences the customer, they have to be presentable and in line with the standards and expectations of the company and the type of customers they are dealing with (Evans 2002). This is because this may either attract customers or push them away.
The personal appearance of the staff mainly entails grooming, body language and clothing. Personal appearance is very important since it has been found that 90% of the influence on a customer is mainly from personal appearance which creates admiration and a desire for association with the organization represented by that person (Lovelock, 1995). It is, therefore, necessary for the staff to portray high standards of professionalism. However, this does not exclude the fact that they have to ensure that they relate well to the customers so that they do not appear too serious and lockout potential customers (Evans 2002). Additionally, this has to include the way the staffs sound in terms of voice pitch and tone, accent and general facial expression since these will portray genuine interest or dissatisfaction as well as the attitude of the employees (Evans, 2002).
Branch staffs are usually faced with many customers and hence communication takes a major role in their work. It is therefore important that they have good communication skills (Gupta, Lehmann & Stuart 2004). This is manifested in their abilities to establish rapport with customers, communicate verbally and non-verbally efficiently and clearly, ask the right questions in a friendly and professional manner, demonstrate good listening skills to understand what the customer really needs, provide the right information honestly and explanations as well as carry out logical communication that entails a good beginning and a good ending that leaves the customer satisfied (Payne, 2006).
Branch staff must have the necessary skills and knowledge with an emotional attachment to the core values, objectives, and aims of the company. They have to be up-to-date with the developments and trends both in the organization and the industry (Evans 2002). They must be updated so that they can be able to deal with the various diverse issues that concern the customers. It is also necessary to enable them to answer the questions of the customers, influence them, and ultimately provide excellent services (Gupta et al. 2004). Efficient knowledge and skills boost the confidence and morale of staff thus motivating them to offer quality services. At the same time, it also makes them feel like part of the organization hence portraying professionalism (Lovelock, 1995).
Branch staff is required to empathetically deal with customers in terms of having good listening skills to understand the point of view of the customer (Payne, 2006), avoid any preconceived thoughts of the customer, understand what the customer wants, and advise accordingly (Evans 2002). According to Kotler and Keller (2006), they also need to be enthusiastic in their work and have positive attitudes to create a warm atmosphere for customers, loyalty to the company, and customers in following rules. They also need to be flexible through making use of opportunities to satisfy customers, and resilient to ensure that they have the right attitude by aiming to improve themselves and become self-motivated with love and optimism for what they do. Payne (2006) asserts that the branch staffs have to demonstrate high levels of integrity in terms of honesty and truthfulness in disclosing the right information to customers, being true to their word, and ensuring confidentiality especially in situations where the customer demands privacy. In these situations, they have to deal with customers on an individual basis.
Davies (2008) argues that branch staffs need to be able to inspire, make decisions, be assertive, show interest in working with people with great interpersonal relationships, be able to network well with people and have a vision and great stamina. Kotler and Keller (2006) argue that the staffs also need to be dynamic with the ability to remain calm even in serving many customers through multitasking. They need to be flexible and open to the challenges of customers and follow up to ensure suggestions to improve service are considered and implemented. Payne (2006) outlines the importance of branch staff having a sense of humor and the ability to hold effective conversations with people. This he argues is to create an environment of warmth and friendliness. Gupta et al. (2004) observe that since the job of the branch staff involves pressure, it is important that they possess good stress and time management skills. This is to ensure that they do not let their stress and problems affect their work. This is because the employee cycle has a lot of influence on the customer cycle which in turn affects customer retention and loyalty (Lovelock, 1995).
The role of management in supporting front office staff
The management has a great role in ensuring the satisfaction of front office staff (Davies, 2008). Lovelock (1995) argues that the management of financial institutions needs to set up structures that recognize the customer as the most important person. This he asserts requires that the front-line staff are recognized as the ones directly responsible for the customers and the entire organization should support them with the information and active involvement of top management. Evans (2002) asserts that in support of front-line staff, management needs to incorporate a visionary leadership style, allows for creativity and flexibility, involves the staff, not from an authoritarian but partnership perspective, allows growth opportunities, leads by example, and is based on teamwork.
Davies (2008) asserts that the involvement of management in support of front-line staff lies in the principle of motivation. This he explains is through the use of the theory of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand their needs and satisfy them, recognize the work done, acknowledge the achievements made by the staff, increase the scope for personal growth and advancement, and good working conditions in a conducive environment. Davies (2008) on the other hand argues that dissatisfaction of employees can be avoided through good incentives such as good pay, promotions, bonuses, hygiene factors in the organization, and reduction of bureaucratic policies and procedures.
Kotler and Keller (2006) argue that management needs to be involved in ensuring the front-line staffs are competent. This they assert can be achieved through extensive training. Training would help to improve their skills and levels of competence through increased product and service knowledge, interpersonal skills, communication skills, and other issues that are crucial in their job such as legal matters. They further state that since the job of front-line staff is dynamic, the management needs to empower them to improve their confidence, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. Management needs to acknowledge their efforts in this.
Evans (2002) acknowledges that dealing with customers is not an easy task and as such front-line staffs face stress and pressure from their work. Thus, the management needs to ensure that they remain productive not through dictatorial authority but through efficient mechanisms. These include seeking professional counsellors to offer counselling services to the staff with management bearing the costs incurred. Additionally, the staffs have to be trained on ways of managing stress. The management needs to provide recreational facilities and organise for team-building activities to boost the staffs’ morale. For example, HSBC Bank engages its employees in activities geared towards environmental conservation such as tree planting which helps them relax (Retail Banking Survey, 2007). Payne (2006) outlines the importance of involving the frontline staff in stock ownership and profit-sharing, management decisions, information sharing, problem-solving, redesigning of jobs, and reorientation to boost performance.
Methods used by financial service organizations to understand the levels of customer satisfaction they deliver
Payne (2006) asserts that because the customer is the most important person for financial organizations, it is prudent to evaluate their levels of satisfaction delivered since these forms a crucial part in major management decisions and the structure of the company. Customer satisfaction has influences on the improvement of products, changes in strategies used, and other expansion decisions. Thus, financial service organizations need to understand the changing needs of customers, set up a mechanism for gauging these needs, meet the actual needs of customers, increase their rates of retention and loyalty as well as maintain a competitive edge in the industry while remaining relevant to the customers. Further understanding customer satisfaction levels helps to allow the organization to gauge its performance and hence provide an opportunity for growth and improvement. Davies (2008) argues that in order to review customer satisfaction levels, it is important to ensure customer service is founded on a relationship with customers with the linkage of customer service and quality marketing strategies. The management of financial organizations, therefore, uses different methods to understand the levels to which customers are satisfied with their service delivery.
Financial organizations gauge the level of customer satisfaction through the use of focus strategy (Davies 2008). Davies asserts that this strategy provides for market segmentation and the building of a specialist reputation in that area. This allows customers to freely express their views, needs, and levels of satisfaction. For example, Coutts Bank engages in wealth management services. Payne (2006) argues that a financial organization can understand the levels of satisfaction of customers through engaging in social responsibilities. This can be in form of environmental awareness, charity walks, and other services that enhance the welfare of the community. This provides opportunities to gauge the turn-up, participation, and attitude of its customers. If customers are satisfied, they would want to support the organization in its social responsibilities. For example, HSBC bank has been actively involved in green marketing for environmental awareness and other activities for conserving the environment. The Retail Banking survey (2007) states that through the improvement in technology, financial organizations can gauge the satisfaction of customers through accurate maintenance of customer databases and use of social networks more favourably for the younger generation. This, according to Payne (2006), can be achieved by setting up links and blogs that allow customers to express freely their opinions and ideas about the services or products offered by the organization.
Although research takes time and effort, Davies (2008) asserts that it is efficient in understanding the levels of customer satisfaction. This can be in form of customer surveys or more extensive research studies that entail interviews and questionnaires based on service delivery. Customer surveys may be done by statistical organizations that gauge industry performance or can be individualized for the organization (Payne 2006). For example, the Retail Banking survey (2007) revealed that customers wanted more respect from the banks through offers that are services helpful to them, being respected and valued, connecting personally with the banks, and communications that were clear enough. Questionnaires may be given to customers to fill as they visit the organization while interviews may be organized at the bank and though brief, they would provide the necessary information (Payne, 2006).
Davies (2008) further argues that customer satisfaction can be understood through the use of focus groups. This is part of research where an organization follows the customer to see how their services have improved their lives. In this case “if a customer is satisfied, she will spread the news to family and friends and this would increase new customers,” (Davies 2008, p. 67). Further, Davies argues that the organization may gauge customer satisfaction through the retention of customers and the level of using its products and services. In this case, once customers are satisfied with the organization, they tend to remain and increase their trust thus increasing their dealings with the organization. Additionally, according to Payne (2006), financial organizations can make use of the serval method to understand the needs and satisfaction levels of the customers. Payne (2006) asserts that the method makes use of customer surveys in main areas such as reliability of the organization, tangibility – whether customers are satisfied with the buildings, personnel, communication materials or equipment of the organization, and the general levels of assurance, responsiveness and empathy to customers.
Financial organizations need to create a friendly environment that allows for effective communication. According to Kotler and Keller (2006), a good environment enables customers to freely share their opinions about the product and services offered and to suggest ways of improvement. This enables an organization to gauge their levels of satisfaction. The launch of new products and services, according to Payne (2006), provides an opportunity for customers to express their feelings. As new products are launched, it is easier to interact with customers and knows their attitudes towards the services offered by the organization (Payne, 2006).
Davies (2008) argues that other methods such as monitoring the level of complaints from customers, level of savings, and inquiries and opinions raised during meetings involving customers could also be useful. According to Kotler and Keller (2006), a financial organisation can gauge the level of satisfaction of its customers from the external environment. According to them, this would include the financial market. In this case, the level of trading of a financial service organization’s shares at the stock exchange influences the levels of customer satisfaction and their speculations and perceptions towards the company. Further, information from the government and non-governmental surveys can also be useful in gauging the levels of satisfaction of customers (Payne, 2006).
- Davies, G., 2008. Customers and their needs. Canterbury: IFS School of Finance.
- Evans, M., 2002. Prevention is better than cure: Redoubling the focus on customer Retention. Journal of Financial Services Marketing, 7, pp.186-198.
- Gupta, S. Lehmann, R. & Stuart, J., 2004. Valuing customers. Journal of Marketing, 1, pp.7-18.
- Kotler, P. & Keller, K., 2006. Marketing Management. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall.
- Lovelock, C., 1995. Managing services: The human factor. Chichester: John Wiley Publishers.
- Payne, A., 2006. Handbook of CRM: Achieving Excellence in Customer Management. New York: Elsevier.
- Retail Banking Survey, 2007. Allegiance Pulse of America – Allegiance Inc. [Online]