Small things can often make a big difference in any business, but particularly in one where success depends on quality of service. This is fully recognised by DBS Bank (Hong Kong) Limited which pays special attention to customer service staff in its phone banking centre in the knowledge that, if they are treated well, customers will be also.
This year, for example, each staff member at the bank's service centre received an Easter egg as a token of the management's appreciation of their hard work and achievements. This was also the first step in kicking off the bank's "You've Got the Power!" campaign to build positive team chemistry and urge employees to provide an even better quality of service.
One of the highlights is the "Mr/Ms Sweet Voice" competition in which staff are encouraged to adopt the VOICE motto. This represents certain qualities seen as essential for enhancing phone banking services: versatility, ownership, initiative, cheerfulness and empathy. The intention is to make staff more resourceful and proactive in their daily work. They are expected to ensure all customer needs are addressed, dealt with positively and politely, and that problems are considered from the client's point of view. The winners of the competition's grand awards will receive a free tour package to Macau.
Henry Wu, DBS Bank's head of customer centre and service quality, consumer banking, points out that phone banking, supported by sophisticated technology, is growing in popularity. "Younger customers nowadays readily accept new technology," he says. "They are too busy to queue up in the branch and believe all transactions can be done within minutes over the phone. However, as more functions come to be handled by phone banking, customer expectations about the quality of service have become higher."
The main challenge is managing different customer expectations
Mr Wu explains that a series of in-house initiatives are being undertaken to improve the quality and efficiency of the current 350 customer service staff. "Phone banking is like the work of a bank branch, but in disguise, as the functions are similar," he admits. "In addition, though, it provides a 24-hour service, covering almost everything from opening accounts and applying for personal loans to money transfers and selling bank products. As we widen the scope of service, it is important to match the changing needs of customers."
In daily operations, customer service executives are responsible for handling inbound calls and enquiries. They are also expected to conduct cross-selling when opportunities arise. Telemarketing salespeople, in contrast, focus on outbound selling of bank products and handling calls from potential clients. They also follow up with customers who have earlier received direct mail about the bank's latest promotions.
The main challenge for a phone banking executive, according to Mr Wu, is knowing how to manage different customer expectations. Most people expect their problems to be resolved in one quick phone call. As an executive cannot see the customer, he or she must be an excellent listener and also possess the intelligence, technical skills and ability to see things, when necessary, from the customer's perspective. This, though, may change. With the rapid advance of Internet technology and 3G services, phone banking may one day operate more in the form of video conferencing, Mr Wu predicts.
He also notes that, while many banks have moved their call centre operations to mainland China in order to cut costs, local call centres still have a role to play, especially for high value transactions. Consequently, there is consistent demand for professionals in the sector. Those interested in the career opportunities on offer should have a post-secondary education, one to two years' sales and service experience, and be fluent in Cantonese, Putonghua and English. A pleasant voice, common sense and readiness to implement new ideas are also expected. Remuneration is made up of a basic salary with extra incentives for successful selling.
Anyone recruited undergoes intensive classroom training to learn hard skills such as the bank's products, procedures and systems. Soft skills are also taught for handling complaints, selling and listening to clients, and working within a team. Regular workshops are held to help staff relieve stress and sessions are arranged to share experiences and talk about difficult cases that have been encountered.
An experienced mentor monitors the progress of every new member of staff for the first two months. Each person's performance is then assessed by recording data on individual scorecards for a monthly review and a formal review every six months. In addition, the bank's quality assurance team listens in to conversations between staff and customers to identify areas for improvement. Reports are given to team managers along with any recommendations. Furthermore, the bank commissions an outside company to conduct a year-round survey to gauge customers' opinions and level of satisfaction with the phone banking services. Specific findings will cause the service to be adjusted.
New recruits are expected to acquire the necessary qualifications and relevant licences for dealing with investment related bank products within the first two years of employment. In the third year, an outstanding executive may become a team leader, supervisor or sales relationship manager, or may be transferred to work in a treasures priority banking centre to deal with the bank's top customers. "Besides this, all staff continue to receive training every year in a number of investment related courses, as stipulated by the Securities and Futures Commission," Mr Wu concludes.
Getting better all the time
- Steady demand for staff in the phone banking sector
- Wide range of customer service skills and banking knowledge
- Application of new technology means flexibility is essential
- Comprehensive training covers both hard and soft skills
- Constant drive for improvements based on customer feedback