Sharpening customer service skills of front-line staff is primary focus
Tony Hyte is passionate about the power of good customer service, especially with regard to the tellers and other front-line staff at community banks and credit unions who interact with customers on a day-to-day basis.
Helping these employees to improve their customer service skills - and to increase their comfort level in interacting with customers to identify other products and services that meet their needs - are key aspects of the mission at Hyte's new company, FrontLine Service Solutions.
A veteran of the local banking community, most recently serving as assistant vice president for branch development at Greylock Federal Credit Union, Hyte has put together a team of associates who work with small to mid-size community banks and credit unions in the Northeast region on a range of core operational objectives – from boosting customer loyalty to increasing internal product referrals to enhancing management’s leadership skills.
“Our business is unique because our curriculum is developed for bankers by bankers,” said Hyte.
That’s an important distinction, he noted, because most training that is provided for front-line personnel – when training is offered at all – is of a generic nature that could just as readily be applied to any customer service environment. “Usually it’s a one-size-fits-all program that doesn’t really address the specific needs of the banking industry,” he said.
Hyte noted that, more so than with other types of businesses, banking depends on successfully establishing and maintaining a sense of trust and comfort on the part of customers. “It’s all about relationships,” he said. And, in his view, the most important tool in nurturing these relationships is good customer service.
“Our core product in the banking industry is customer service,” he said. “So, for a bank, what differentiates you from others is exceptional customer service. That is what keeps customers coming back.”
Hyte noted, however, that recent studies have shown a decline in customer service within the industry. “Our expectations for service have been lowered,” he said.
While many factors may account for this, Hyte said a key contributor has been reluctance by management at some institutions to make exceptional customer service the priority it should be.
“One of the major problems is that senior leadership doesn’t put value and resources into training front-line personnel,” he continued. “We’ve lost sight of what’s at the core of community banking.”
Addressing this situation is both the challenge and opportunity for Hyte and FrontLine Service Solutions. “Our mantra is: ‘Your success is our success,’” said Hyte.
Track record of success
The launch of the new business came about as an outgrowth of Hyte’s development and implementation of training programs to improve branch performance at Greylock and other local financial institutions at which he has worked.
“I’ve been in branch administration at Landmark [Credit Union] and Pittsfield Co-op, as well as my most recent position at Greylock,” he said, noting that this work focused on building teams that succeed in improving the performance of branch operations.
In this context, finding that there were no existing training programs tailored specifically to the needs of these local branch teams, Hyte developed the framework for his own programs. “The real catalyst [for starting FrontLine] was having taught these programs at the institutions I worked at, but never formalizing it,” he said.
Leaving his position at Greylock Federal last October, Hyte went live with FrontLine a month later and began marketing its programs to financial institutions throughout the Northeast.
“Our niche is community banks and credit unions,” he said, referring to smaller institutions generally under $1.5 billion in assets. “We are not going after the larger shareholder banks.”
This self-imposed limitation may have more to do with Hyte’s affinity for the community banking model as opposed to an absence of need for improved customer service at larger stock banks.
“I really care about the kind of small community banks we still have in this region,” he said. “They are the lifeblood of the community, and I want to help them compete and succeed in this difficult environment.”
Three key programs
The company’s approach to doing so centers on three key programs.
The first, and most basic, is known as Loyalty Plus, a full-day workshop for tellers and other front-line staff that is designed to enhance and strengthen their role in promoting customer loyalty.
“It’s all about customer service skills,” said Hyte, noting that front-line staff who engage with customers and make them feel that their business is valued can make a big difference in how those customers feel about banking there. “This is really the foundation.”
An extension of this ability to connect with customers comes in the form of better understanding and identifying their needs. Becoming more proactive in responding to those needs is the focus of ReferralPro, a second program offered by FrontLine. “This is designed to help front-line staff to become more efficient and effective in referring products to customers,” said Hyte.
He explained that, too often, tellers are hesitant to mention other products or services that the bank offers while completing a transaction for a customer. ReferralPro is a full-day workshop (with follow-up sessions) that gives tellers insights on how to identify those needs, while also boosting their comfort level in referring a product that they think a customer might benefit from.
“ReferralPro builds the skills and confidence to discuss and offer those products,” said Hyte.
“This can be such an important part of the overall banking relationship,” he added, noting that appropriate product referrals address the genuine needs of the customer while also improving branch performance.
A third program offered by FrontLine targets branch management. “Leadership Pro is designed to help new managers understand their roles and responsibilities in the retail banking environment,” Hyte explained.
Beyond these programs, Hyte said his company also offers consulting services on strategic planning, marketing programs and other related bank operations.
Joining Hyte at FrontLine Service Solutions are Taylor Williams, who serves as chief program officer; Carl Ameen, chief operations officer; Garnet Williams, director of public relations; Marvin Elbaum, director of marketing; and Hyte’s wife, Leslie, who serves as vice president and controller.
Over its initial few months of operation, the Hinsdale-based company (www.frontlineservicesolutions.com) has been building a growing roster of clients in the region, including some Berkshire-based institutions. “We’ve had some great success with this,” Hyte said, noting that the Loyalty Plus program has been especially in demand, and has led to other programs and services with client institutions.
While providing front-line staff with the skills to better meet customer needs and boost overall bank performance is important in its own right, Hyte also noted that the training has other ancillary benefits.
“As a result of this training, the staff feels valued and motivated,” he said. “Tellers, now more than ever, are the next customer service reps and the next managers. We want them to feel they are moving up and that have a stake in this.”