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Seven Steps to Improve Your
Branch Experience

By John Meyer, Vice President, Harland Financial Solutions

The following abstract is available in an extended white paper format. If you would like a full copy, contact your Harland Clarke or Harland Financial Solutions account team or write us at

How do your prospective account holders feel about going into your branch office? Do they have anxieties like: ”Is my finanical institution working in my best interests?” “Is this the lowest rate?” “Will I become just a number?” This white paper addresses seven steps you can take to improve the branch experience and start building longterm relationships.

step1Step 1: Create a vision of what you want your account holder experience to be.

Too many financial institutions say their number-one differentiator is customer service. But with more than 17,000 banks, credit unions and thrifts competing to be the primary financial institution for consumers and businesses, can there really be 17,000 flavors of differentiated customer service?

To truly set your institution apart, you have to first define what you want your account holder experience to be. For example, if your institution caters to small and midsize businesses, offer remote deposit capture for the ultimate in convenience. If your institution markets to retirees, deliver your service on-site — once a week, once a month or year round.

Step 2: Develop a needs assessment culture.

step2With the proliferation of free checking and account holders with deposit accounts at numerous financial institutions, it becomes more difficult to define which financial institution is truly the primary institution. Cross-selling a second or third service is not enough to claim a relationship. It’s all about discovering and meeting real needs.

Financial institutions must find a way to teach the skills required in order for an already busy, sometimes high-turnover branch staff to have a needs assessment culture. In such a culture, staff should treat each account holder interaction as an opportunity to identify spoken and unspoken financial desires and then offer the right-fit products and services to meet those needs. This type of environment cultivates long-term, lifetime account holder relationships, which are far more meaningful than simply that second service sale.

One study showed that 70 percent of a financial institution’s products and services are sold throughout the lifetime of an account holder’s relationship, beyond the early months of new account opening. Another study showed that 80 percent of these products and services are opened in the branch.

step3Step 3: Teach your team the essentials of your offerings.

A typical financial institution service representative can discuss six products or services in detail. That’s simply not enough. The key to identifying right-fit products requires knowing all the products and services well. How do you get there? The answer is train, cross-train and make sure the branch management team is involved — both in product training and service training.


step4Step 4: Increase account holder rapport.

Friendly communication is much more than small talk and pleasantries. It’s true account holder appreciation — from standing and smiling to greet new or returning account holders, to proactively calling them to check in if you haven’t heard from them in a while. Make an effort to find out real information about account holders and then send a personal thank you note the week they open an account.


step5Step 5: Reward your team for good work.

Incentives change behaviors, but only if you reward the right behaviors. Incentive plans can be very effective when they are designed properly, and when their results are measured frequently to make sure they’re actually helping you build account holder relationships. Frequent recognition programs can cost relatively little but yield a great amount in fostering an atmosphere of respect and true service.



Step 6: Reward your account holders. step6

Designing an effective rewards program starts with understanding the account holder relationship in terms of profitability, not in terms of the number of products they have. Profitability ties back to household relationships and the costs associated with servicing these households. Understanding profitability by household enables you to craft rewards based on deposit balance, loan balance and investment services.

Your reward programs can positively impact your key account holders’ branch experience — from access to special teller lines to free branch services, including document shredding, financial adviser visits, and personal credit checks, among others.

Step 7: Enable intelligent decisions and actions. sterp7

To improve the account holder experience and build stronger relationships at the branch level, your branch teams need access to customer segments, histories and profitability measurements. Equip them with the tools they need to deliver and act on key customer information at the time of service. Back-office customer intelligence can monitor customer life stages and inform teller or new accounts personnel about products or service offerings that other people in that same life stage are using effectively.

The integration of customer intelligence and branch automation addresses the challenges of team knowledge about the best right-fit products. It enables your team to offer detailed product offerings matched to specific segments. Branch automation systems can help build account holder rapport.

Improving your account holders’ branch experience requires a well-defined plan for how to treat them. Such changes include specific behaviors that make account holders feel like your financial institution cares about them and their needs. Branch team members can use customer intelligence to better meet those needs and preferences to deliver the type of experience that builds relationships for life.

John Meyer ( is a vice president within Harland Financial Solutions’ Integrated Solutions Group.