Here at the Escher-Goldberg School of Service Process Design, we pride ourselves in helping students learn tried and true methods in customer service process design. While our mission is centered on promoting manual and confusing service processes for banking customers, we also strive to help staff employees learn how to accept and embrace a world of confusing and redundant process. Here at EGSSPD, our expert instruction is founded on three enduring principles:
The coursework breaks service tasks and processes into several major categories:
These processes usually evolve over time, adding new steps and technologies along the way. It’s as beautiful as rotting barnacles under a stinky pier. Let’s look at a few key rules related to process design, which is usually mistakenly seen as a way to make work life and customer service easier:
1. Be a co-dependent slave to your core system. Don’t worry about the process you need; simply accept what the system does out of the box and convince yourself that functionality that’s not available on the core application is simply not necessary.
a. If new functionality is needed badly, simply make a request to your vendor’s user group and hang on for a few years like a bleeding patient in an HMO waiting room.
b. Remember to never disturb busy I.T. staff with vain attempts to reduce manual steps, such as a “single log-in” to multiple applications or reducing the re-keying of basic customer information on each system. The bank can run just fine without such “luxuries.”
c. If additional applications can be used to make life easier for customers, make sure to create policies that add extra administrative steps and negate the unnecessary ease created for customers.
d. If additional functionality becomes absolutely necessary, simply bolt something new on top of the old technology. Repeat the “new over old” layering process for each generation of technology until the environment is sufficiently complex and fragile. Such environments help gridlock the operation to promote stability in the company.
2. Forget convenience – keep it a “people” business. We believe one of life’s great joys for customers is standing in line and visiting with other customers.
a. Our research indicates that a large number of customers cling to time-honored traditions like bringing their payroll in on Friday. This social activity creates a fun, family branch environment. Cookies anyone?
b. Attempts to “educate” customers to use remote channels are misguided. Our research indicates that they want to come to the branch, especially the bookkeeper with business deposits who can do a little shopping on the way to the bank – now that’s a happy customer!
3. When opening new accounts, demonstrate the sophistication of your bank with the extensive use of paper forms.
a. While “online” forms may seem to be a time-saver, and pre-filled information already in the system might appear to make sense, there are other more important things IT needs to do, such as locking down customer data files so that no one can actually get to them.
b. Remember that IT does not have the responsibility to “improve” business processes – its role is to ensure that unnecessary access to data is not granted willy-nilly all over the institution. Employees being able to access information would result in pure chaos.
4. Don’t forget the value of paper in the call center. The mark of a best practice call center is the large “phone book” binders with policies and procedures, rules and restrictions right beside the agents.
a. Tabs can be used to make finding information easier, and paper clips and sticky notes interspersed in the pages are also quite impressive.
b. Make sure call center staff have plenty of sticky notes – they will have to remember what they promised customers in completing transactions, address changes and such. Entering information into the customer information files can always be done later. Remember that sticky notes on the computer monitor are “badges of pride” similar to stickers on a college football helmet!
5. Make sure customers experience the dizzying levels of your phone tree. Isn’t it remarkable that systems today provide such sophistication? Ensure that the phone tree has at least five levels so the customer is eventually routed to the exact person they need to talk with. If that person is out sick, the call can be routed to another call center agent that can take a message and have the appropriate person call the customer back later. Final note: a convenient “0” out option is simply for users – our hold music and marketing messages are fun and entertaining.
6. Preserve lending as a collaborative process involving lots of people.
a. Go slow in attempts to centralize loan underwriting and processing and even slower in adopting automated loan approval tools – experienced lenders can make decisions almost as fast as “software” programs and there is always someone to blame if the loan goes south.
b. Consumer lending is a function that can involve a number of different people, departments and systems. A borrower will feel more valued if lots of employees touch the loan over multiple days. This can create a wonderful experience for customers trying to track the status of their loans.
7. Process improvement is an overrated and expensive academic theory.
a. It is simply not realistic to assume that IT will be open to spending its time improving processes outside IT – get over it.
b. The “efficiency ratio” has very little to do with actual process efficiency. Instead of improving process, simply cut the marketing budget, forget training, forgo charitable donations, fire people and dump the free coffee.
OK, THAT’S ENOUGH!
While most of us would find the intro here oversimplified and ridiculous, I challenge each of you to reflect on how much of the ridiculous advice is actually operational in your institution today. Much of the silliness here is really happening all over the country, and our industry is still working at much too slow a pace to put ol’ Escher-Goldberg out of business. This isn’t rocket science – the financial services industry is simply behind the curve.
Manufacturers have been systems thinkers for years, using tools like process improvement circles, TQM and Six Sigma to reduce product defects and improve operating processes. What will it take for bankers to catch up with other industries? From our experience, there are several basic mandates:
- Senior management must stop viewing technology as a necessary evil. While we know we have to comply with regulatory requirements for data security, customer identification and data privacy, there is no mandate for efficient processes. While examiners are grading us on how secure we are, they are NOT grading us on how effectively we serve our customers.
- IT must move beyond “plumbing” to business process. The majority of tech staff is still too focused on ensuring that hardware operates properly, that the data is secure, and transaction cycles are turning. These are all activities that BECU CIO Butch Leonardson refers to as providing “dial tone.” How many institutions today have internal IT functions that formally partner with business units to update and innovate processes designed to make customer satisfaction go up and costs go down?
- Focused system integration and development efforts are non-negotiable. Many institutions do not have the stomach to improve the environment around out-of-the-box core systems. Some hire third parties to enhance particular processes, such as a teller front-end or more robust loan origination system, but many just learn to live with what they have and complain loudly at user meetings about the slow improvement cycle. Focused efforts with Web technology, database, middleware and work flow tools are the only way to support real process improvement.
- Dump the culture of workarounds. While development can be necessary, it’s important not to stumble into an environment of constant workarounds. Given an instinctive fear and perceived cost of data conversions, some institutions have created entire subcultures dedicated to “making things work.” GonzoBankers have long been willing to take the steps necessary to replace outdated systems, leaving staff free to pursue more innovative activities than nurturing workarounds.
- Morph the bank Web site into a process improvement channel. Those that have taken this step have dramatically increased self-service functionality, such as customer profile updates and event-based alerts.
- Organizationally force IT and business units to “see the other side.” IT and operating business units traditionally do not really understand each other’s functions and are not incented to help each other. Some have added project management and process improvement specialists designed to partner with business unit managers to improve end-to-end processes, reducing time and cost while increasing customer satisfaction. These professionals typically pay for themselves big time. While IT leadership in business process improvement is still a rarity, we are beginning to see more technology leaders that have a good balance between technical and business expertise.
- Accept that process excellence can be developed at any size. Bankers may believe that advanced workflow design and process efficiency are skills only possessed by the big national players. However, even credit unions today of less than $1 billion have broken the mold and taken responsibility for improving processes. Some even have developed a Kaizen-like culture of constant process and workflow improvement and have applied for national Malcolm Baldrige awards. The amazing thing is that the core systems they work with are no more flexible than those in the banking industry; in some cases, they’re worse. So, size is not an excuse – quality can occur for the $100 million bank as well as the trillion dollar behemoth.
Given the current earnings environment, top management has to be truly committed to operating efficiency. Many GonzoBankers have come to the conclusion that technology, combined with well-trained process improvement professionals, can limit the growth of front-line headcount and actually make the bank money in the long run.
Bank leadership has to be committed to continual process improvement. In most cases, formal process improvement and re-engineering training is needed. Good training is readily available through most universities. Many offer on site instruction and seminars that range from simple process mapping through full-on Six Sigma. If a process culture can be incubated that is relentlessly focused on better, faster, cheaper – the institution will have more satisfied customers and employees, as well as increased scalability and profitability over time.