The Importance of Branch Staff Ownership in Technology Initiatives: Learning from Alamo
A growing number of banks are embarking on branch transformation initiatives. This is important work that is long overdue. In researching the topic of video banking for the recently published report Video Banking: Lights, Camera, Transaction?, I had the pleasure of interviewing a number of banks and credit unions in various stages of implementation. While there was fascinating variety in why and how video banking was pursued among these financial institutions, two important pieces of wisdom emerged.
1. If you Build it, they won’t come – consumers are a fickle lot, and old habits die hard. Even the most elegant initiative is destined to fail without a purposeful and well-executed plan to enrol customers in the new way of things. One credit union deploying personal teller machines (PTMs) in drive-through lanes stationed employees outside the branch to explain the PTMs to approaching members, encourage their use and answer questions. They did this for several weeks. Later lobby deployments used a similar approach. People often need encouragement to try new things.
2. None of this happens without branch-level ownership. Several banks and credit unions enjoying successful initiatives spoke of the importance of a sound change management plan – one that inspires ownership broadly throughout the organization. As Stephen Covey asserts in his best-selling Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, without involvement, there is no ownership. With this in mind several early adopters of video banking devised a variety of ways to inspire involvement in the new initiatives:
- Distributed customer testimonials solicited during an early pilot
- Organized an internal Q&A web presence so the curious (as well as the detractors) could get questions answered
- Sponsored happy hours (after close of business) in newly reconfigured branches. Employees working in traditional branches were invited so they could see things up close and personal and ask questions. One credit union spoke about how transformative this one effort was; how many entered sceptical and critical, but left thinking the new branch was pretty cool.
The end result of several of these efforts was an excited and energetic team at the branch level. And it was the enthusiasm of the frontline staff perhaps more so than the technology that led to successful initiatives.
As an example of how not do launch new initiatives, consider Alamo. It installed self-service kiosks in most of its airport rental locations, with the objective of better serving customers as well as doing so at lower costs (sound familiar?). While I can’t comment on the results broadly, I did see them in action a short while ago while traveling through Boston Logan airport. It was early on a Saturday afternoon. The place was packed, with a queue of 15 to 20 waiting in line for counter service. Meanwhile the three kiosks had no activity. I was tempted to try the kiosks, but was fascinated by their lack of use. I decided to wait in line so I could chat with the Alamo staff. Perhaps I could learn why no one was using the kiosks.
After a wait of roughly 15 minutes, I was well-served by a pleasant and knowledgeable Alamo associate. Moreover, I enjoyed personalized assistance finding my car and loading our oversized luggage (we took our tandem bicycle with us on vacation). The self-service kiosk mystery was also speedily solved with one simple question posed to the Alamo associate. “Hey, how come no one uses those self-service kiosks over there? The place is packed, yet everyone seems content to wait in line to see you.” His thick Boston accented response was telling. “Yea, corporate installed those a while ago. I guess they work all right, but no one seems to use them.”
Four Alamo staff worked busily behind the counter that day. If one of them had stepped out from behind the counter to introduce the long line of customers to the new self-service kiosks, it could have been a very different Saturday for its customers. That would have required branch-level ownership.