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Most Valuable Data Is Free-If Staff Knows To Dig

Member: Hello, I need to add an additional name to my credit card account. My son's going off to college, and I would like to have a credit card in his name that is attached to my account-you know-for 'emergencies only.'

Teller: Sure, no problem. I just need the following information from you...

At this point, the teller inputs the member's information and issues the member an additional credit card that "will come in the mail in seven to 10 business days."

Ideally, if the teller were a skilled and trained salesperson, he/she would have picked up on the fact that this member is about to experience a major life change - a child going off to college. Employees who interact with members on a daily basis need to be armed with the training and knowledge of how to pick up on subtle clues provided. Major life changes such as a new baby, a new job, college, engagements and relocations also result in major financial changes and adjustments. If employees are able to recognize this type of information when it is offered freely by the customer and are armed and ready to respond appropriately, the credit union can better tailor to its members' needs.

The conversation should have continued:

Teller: That's great news! Perhaps you would like to open an additional account in his name? That way he can have his own card with an 'emergency only' credit limit and you can set up automatic transfers from your account to his. And college is expensive; would you like to talk to someone about your options for paying for college?

In this scenario, the teller picked up on the member's "life information" and offered the member an alternative solution to meet the financial need. The teller could go even further, digging gently deeper for additional information that could better enable the credit union to offer products and services that meet the individual's needs, such as a retirement or savings account. Life information is up-to-date, readily available and given for free during a natural conversation between the member and a credit union's frontline. In an ideal situation, the salesperson will pick up on this information and then make relevant and meaningful suggestions for identifying potential product and service needs. Why shouldn't every interaction be ideal?

Employees need to know how to prompt members to provide this information and also be able to capture it quickly and unobtrusively when provided in simple conversation. Members appreciate the fact that their credit union is taking the additional time to learn more about their needs, being less likely to take offense to teller questions. On the reverse, not capturing member information may lead to repetitive and possibly irritating questions and product or service offers that the member does not need.

Members evaluate their financial institution with "loyalty." When they come to a credit union with a new financial need- whether fully aware of it themselves or not - or have an issue to resolve, and the credit union can fulfill that need-loyalty increases.

Credit unions already have member demographic information. So how do employees know how to recognize this information and how can they learn how to prompt the members to provide more? Most people are very willing to talk about themselves and provide information about their personal lives. It is up to the credit union employee to pick up on these clues and make additional sales offers based on the member's financial needs.

However, not every credit union employee is a natural salesperson. The good news is that the right training and the right tools can make a mediocre salesperson a great salesperson. Financial institutions should invest in training and/or software that can guide an employee's behavior to help him/her capture and utilize valuable customer information.

Sales effectiveness tools can greatly enhance productivity. In most credit unions, staff-related expenses can amount to nearly half of overall operating costs. Frontline software can contribute to member responsiveness and relationship building with members as well as make the staff happy by providing them with the right tools to perform their jobs well.

According to a survey released in 2005 by the Bank Administration Institute (BAI) titled, "The Frontline Factor," 25% of branch staff feels they lack the required sales skills. Additionally, 68% feel they receive inadequate sales training and coaching; while 30% say they are not prepared to sell at all.

Using life information can deepen member relationships and drive sales. Armed with the right information about a member, the credit union can more effectively and productively use its staff to present the right offers. Sales effectiveness software can help credit union employees know how to ask for and enable them to recognize and act upon this invaluable information.

In turn, employees need to be encouraged and rewarded for "going the extra mile." Incentive programs and positive reinforcement can motivate employees to cross-sell the credit union's products and services. Using what the employee knows or picks up on about the member, he/she can better tailor to the financial needs of the member. By cross-selling a savings account with a checking account, or a HELOC with a first-purchase loan to someone who qualifies for it, both the member and the frontline staff reap the benefits. It's truly a win-win situation.

Colin Piper is president of Econiq, which provides financial institutions with a solution to maximize competitiveness and productivity at the point of contact by enhancing frontline sales effectiveness.

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