In a highly undifferentiated industry, how do you set yourself apart in the hearts and minds of your customers, adding value both to their experience and your business?
Once this objective has been set and with thousands of employees in hundreds of locations to consider, how do you then go about achieving it? These were the major challenges facing leading South African banking group, First National. As we shall see, the solutions they found are not only bringing considerable change, but also delivering measurable, sustainable results.
Following a lengthy strategic planning process, First National Bank (FNB) identified the need for a culture of improved customer service with much greater sales awareness throughout the entire organisation. The development of appropriate skills was seen as key to meeting this need.
Indeed, from an early stage, the bank’s senior management had recognised that the right skills would empower their staff, giving them the tools with which to influence their customers’ decisions whilst adding value to their experience within the retail banking environment.
FNB set out to find a consultancy partner who would not only implement sales training but also, importantly, first familiarise themselves with the bank’s culture as it currently existed. Based on the positive outcomes of a previous working relationship, FNB engaged Huthwaite Africa (H Africa).
The programme implemented was significant for three reasons:
- The course content was developed and customised in a way that would reflect the reality of the daily challenges faced by both the sales force and customer-facing staff at FNB
- Breaking with tradition, FNB asked H Africa to manage the implementation of the training programme
- The level of investment in sales training was unprecedented in this sector.
As a first step in this process, the H Africa team immersed themselves completely in the bank’s culture, systems and business processes, so gaining a complete ‘real world’ understanding. Initially, the project team carried out a diagnostic phase consisting of research in various branches. This included observing staff doing their daily jobs and interviewing managers to evaluate the current sales culture, as well as the challenges faced by the sales-force to take that leap into the future. This led to a comprehensive, bespoke training solution, one based on the platforms of service, relationship and value. The learning material is presented in a seven step solution, called the ‘FNB Success Formula’. Its overall aims are to influence the customer experience by uncovering and meeting needs whilst placing an increased focus on sales-related activities.
Because of the huge scale and scope of the project, a decision was made to roll it out in phases. Phase one was therefore rolled out to 5000 frontline FNB staff and 2500 Wesbank staff. To measure and analyse the extent of the new skills and behaviours applied, a process was also put in place to track and compare each delegate’s sales figures, both before and after course attendance.
As with any training implementation of this kind, mechanisms had to be developed that would maintain motivational levels and support the integration of the new skills among sales staff. Some of these mechanisms include staff assessments at branch levels and in-branch coaching, carried out by branch managers who receive sales coaching training as well as ongoing telephone support from H Africa. Not only does this allow the measurable application of the new skills, it also equips branch managers with a set of coaching skills that enable them to support and nurture the behavioural change required.
Increasingly, staff are realising the true value of their new skills and feel more confident in cross-selling to other product or service groups. Customers, on the other hand, are benefiting from a more focused approach, where frontline staff are committed to understanding and meeting the customer’s needs. All of which has greatly contributed to the creation of a genuinely customer-focused culture at branch level.
Johan van der Westhuyzen, coordinator of the sales portfolio at FNB Learning says “Increasingly, staff are realising the true value of their new skills and feel more confident in cross-selling to other product or service groups.”
Jaco van Schalkwyk, a Senior Sales Director at First National Bank adds that this intervention was essential to support the bank’s strategic plans for the future. “It is imperative to equip our staff with the necessary skills and knowledge before we can expect an increase in revenue and sales. It is our duty and responsibility as employers to provide the necessary tools to assist them to achieve amazing results.”
To Huthwaite’s knowledge, no other financial institution in South Africa has yet adopted this type of partnership approach, mobilising the sales skills of people at all levels throughout their organisation and creating a sales culture supported by coaching skills at branch level.
The question that drives all of the bank’s advertising – “How can we help you?” – is now being actively translated into measurable sales response.
The Huthwaite View
This partnering approach is encouraging for a number of different reasons:
- It illustrates the different focus required for providing sales skills when an organisation such as FNB is using different channels to market, ie, banking hall (frontline) and relationship managers
- Coaching is the only way to ensure a change in sales culture and to maintain this change at an organisational level
- The banking industry lends itself towards cross-selling and requires a very specific skills set to do so
- A project of this nature requires a careful balance between a sales focus/culture and that of the customer experience
- The success of this type of project is a combination of client commitment and the expertise of a partner such as Huthwaite Africa, who is clearly in a position to understand the challenges faced in the banking world and to reposition this in a development solution such as this
- Quite often, clients come to Huthwaite with a request for a training intervention, but with proper consultation and understanding, the project may actually require a number of different interventions consisting of different skills and behaviours to maximise the behavioural change required
- This is a powerful example of the relationships between blue-chip clients and Huthwaite, where the solutions require an in-depth understanding of the client’s scenario in order to develop and deliver a bespoke solution.