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Remote Control

Remote Control

Source: Peter Richards, BT

Peter Richards, global head of retail banking marketing at BT, on the role of remote advisors in the branch and at the call centre, and the bottlenecks preventing progress.

A customer arrives in a branch with the desire to speak to a sales person or advisor about a particular product. Yes, it still happens and increasingly European banks are belatedly waking up to the fact that their high street branches are not just cost centres but sources of new business and potential profit.

Nearly half of all banks are expanding their branch networks. Recent research by BT and the Economist Intelligence Unit revealed that 46% of banks expect to increase the number of branches they operate over the next three years and about three-quarters believe that investment in their branches will either stay the same or increase.

The branch has the potential to give bankers back what they lost to technology first time around; human contact.

It also has the potential to transform (again) the customer experience on both sides; keeping eye contact at a maximum and staffing at a cost effective minimum level. Welcome to the age of the remote advisor. Even despite the re-emergence of the branch, staffing levels are unlikely to afford specialist help at every branch, five days a week. It is common place for customers walking through the door looking for a specialist to be told that because they are shared regionally, they may have to wait some time for an appointment. They may be asked to come back later or visit another branch where there is available staff.

Talk about fall at the first hurdle.

With a remote advisor, a member of staff can within minutes set up a “face-to-face” meeting between the sales person and the customer. All the specialists can remain in a central location and the time between appointments and travel can be dramatically reduced.

Value can be continually added through a co-browsing facility. Documents can be shared between the two points and filled out by the specialist or flagged for clarification on both sides.

People will always question technology like this but it is happening. BT is working with two major financial institutions to implement a remote advisor solution at a number of key branches. The trials are proving that it is a popular application and a reliable one. It is also suited to all kinds of complex financial products and capable of generating sufficient incremental income to justify investment and operating costs.

Internally there are major benefits as well. Video on demand via IP is a powerful and low cost communication and training tool and can help complete the transformation of branch tellers to sellers. As technology increasingly makes self service easier and automates basic tasks, it frees available human resources to retrain and specialise in a more profitable area of customer service.

So why aren’t these trials up and running full time if the technology performs well and there has been widespread customer acceptance? The technology works and is available, consumers have welcomed the ‘remote advice’ as opposed to waiting to see an advisor and the ‘remote agents’ have adjusted well to the technology. But so far we have seen the bottlenecks appear elsewhere.

End to end processes just cannot currently match the throughput achieved by even a relatively small number of virtual advisors. Banks will have to look hard at these processes and improve them to deal with applications more efficiently.

The advisor system has the potential to remove the paper trail, but currently FSA regulations are complicating matters as electronic signatures are not recognised. Paper is being re-injected at the signing stage and back into the process slowing down approvals.

Commissions are another major issue. Centrally approved applications remove branch manager commissions and this will never prove popular.

But it will be short term pain when you consider the potential benefits this approach could have on a bank and the majority of its staff including those in the call centre. As well as turning branch workers into experts, the combination of video advisors, collaborative software and retraining applied across a bank’s customer service agents will have profound transformational affect on call centre staff.

Imagine every call centre operative having a specialist area that is profit generating? From agent to expert, a low value position often with a hundred per cent turnover is transformed into a well trained profit generating position; with the financial incentives to match.

There is widespread belief that the bank that gets this right is the template for the 21st century – maximising the potential of its technology and setting the standard for the 21st century customer experience.

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