Business Management Articles
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THE TELLER OF THE FUTURE

by Rene T. Domingo (email comments to rtd@aim.edu)

Front line employees and the quality of their services determine to a large degree customer loyalty, customer retention, and corporate image in any industry, whether in services or manufacturing. Customers are lost and sales deals signed at this level during the moments of truth when customers and clients get in contact with these service providers. These relatively low-ranking personnel are actually acting as company representatives oftentimes without their being aware of this critical role. Worse, management, who is behind the scenes, may not even be aware or appreciative of the importance of the roles these employees play in deciding corporate success or failure. As a result, front line employees are often underpaid, overworked, and undertrained. Because of their sheer number, front line personnel are often targets of the company's downsizing exercises. As service dramatically deteriorates and customer queues increase in length because of the resulting undermanned front line operations, the company indeed cuts cost, but it also cuts sales and eventually profits.

In the airline industry, customer loyalty and repeat business are not decided by the highly paid and highly trained pilots, but by the stewardesses and other cabin crew who have the most and longest contact with the passengers. In restaurants, the quality of service displayed by the waiter may be as important if not more important to customers than the quality of the food made by the chef. In gasoline stations, the attitude of the attendants is surely more crucial to deciding the motorist's repeat business than the talents of the station manager or owner. We could make an exact analogy with the banking and finance industry.

The front-line tellers, through their quality and efficiency, are more important in creating customer satisfaction than bank managers, vice presidents, and other higher ranking personnel. Not only are tellers more visible and have more contact with clients, but they actually determine the speed and the quality of the delivery of most bank products. With this role, tellers may be most responsible in creating or destroying any bank's corporate image.

As the banking evolves and globalizes with fast changing technology, bank managers should make sure that tellers could cope with these changes and demands of modern times, and still play their role of keeping and not just serving customers. Presently, tellers are expected to be fast and friendly transaction processors. Most of their working hours in the booth are spent accepting check and cash deposits and processing withdrawals, check encashments, and miscellaneous payments. Though routine, there is still room for improvement in these traditional tellering activities, for the queues can be long and frustrating especially during peak hours and days. At the rate the industry and the market are adopting and accepting information technology, I estimate that it would take least another decade or two before we virtually eliminate these paper transactions. The paperless and cashless society is still a faraway vision. Meanwhile, customer delight in banking is still fast moving queues served efficiently and courteously by dedicated and competent tellers, in the same way we get served in fast food restaurants.

Overtime however, tellers will evolve into multi-product and multi-service providers. They will become promoters and cross sellers of the banks other products. Selling will no longer be an add-on job, but as important as tellering itself. The teller of the future is not only more rounded but also empowered with more authority and responsibility. Supported with technology, she will be able to issue in a couple of minutes credit and debit cards, ATM cards, and open saving and checking accounts for clients while standing up. There will no longer a need for a special new accounts section with its long sit-down service. She may be able to even approve and release small loans for regular clients, again standing up. This scene should not be too radical to think about, as we could presently get huge cash advances from ATM machines with our credit cards in seconds. Capitol Federal Savings and Loan provides its tellers with fast cash dispensing equipment to dramatically enhance their productivity. The backroom operations of the bank of the future will correspondingly shrink or transferred to a remote place electronically linked to the front line tellers. The scarcity and rising cost of real estate will put additional pressure to relocate more backroom operations into cheaper sites. In effect, the bank of the future will be run by tellers and machines, without the support staff or even managers in sight. Tellers will be more like receptionists who teaches clients how to use ATM and other electronic products and facilities.

The tellers of the future will also be information gatherers and will be responsible for updating and using the banks customer data warehouses for marketing purposes. They will be able to distinguish profitable accounts from unprofitable ones. Using customer data which they see on the terminal screen, they can customize service and cross sell products to the right client at the right time. They can confidently adjust and even eliminate service fees to clinch a deal as the computer informs them of the profitability of the transaction. They can offer new products and proactively advise a client to move his account to another type of account to improve his earnings. In effect, these tellers will no longer act as tellers, but rather as consultants and financial advisors to the banks customers.

Tellering without tellers will be the wave of the future as more customer front line transactions are transferred to machines. Another phenomenon will be tellers who do not do tellering, as they gradually become receptionists, salespersons, advisors, and consultants. Technology and capital investments will not be enough to create the bank and teller of the future. Teller training and trust will be just as vital. Banks should consider and hone their tellers as strategic resources and partners for the future.


 

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