How some bank cuts could improve customer service

Yield sign with dollar signs

We talk a lot about the myriad tweaks the banks are making to repackage, rebrand and regenerate the lucrative income streams they lost to financial reform.

But what changes are they making internally to run a tighter ship, and what will it mean to us?

A new report entitled, "Is That Any Way to Run a Branch?" by Celent, the Boston-based financial research and consulting firm, found that a few cutting-edge early adapters are borrowing the blueprints for workforce optimization, or WFO, from large organizations to help them get more out of their branches for less.

By Celent's reckoning, the banks that do so stand to save $20,000 to $30,000 per branch every year.

That's obviously a good thing if you use a branch bank a lot, since the bank muckety-mucks have been eyeing branches as an easy way to cut costs.

It's also a positive sign for customer service. The goal of WFO is not to simply trim staff but to get the right people in the right place at the right time.

Done correctly, that should help avoid the two most common snafus in today's chaotic banking environment: the gaggle of suits lingering about the lobby talking fantasy football, or the other extreme, the lone teller who lacks the authority or the proper drawer key to meet your immediate needs.

I don't know about you, but the gaggle of suits scene really irks me. Couldn't they at least feign being productive? After all, we're helping to pay for those suits!

Effective WFO requires more than competent management. To do it the way the big boys do it requires software that analyzes the ebb and flow of bank traffic and optimizes staffing in a way that mere mortals cannot, since we're way too deep in the emotional woods to get it right.

Celent illustrates how WFO helped a $7-billion Midwest bank improve productivity by trimming scheduled hours and dramatically reducing the down time tellers spend milling around between shifts.

And they did it without major expense because, unlike 10 years ago, WFO tools are affordable and readily available, both online and from turnkey software vendors.

No one is certain how long bank branches will be around, but it's a safe bet that to survive, they'll need to run a tighter ship than they did when they were floating on a sea of junk fees.

Fortunately, banks of all sizes can now afford to harness the power of computers to better treat us like human beings.

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