A community bank seeks to set itself apart by training staff to provide the highest level of service delivery.
The Independent Community Bankers of America estimate that there are more than 7,000 community banks in the United States. New York Community Bancorp (NYCB) is number 21 in the nation, with $43.5 billion in assets, more than 3,700 employees, and branches in five states: Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. NYCB's employee development and training (ED&T) function employs 23 professionals who report to director Claudette Nuñez and corporate director Robert Gillespie.
The environment in which community banks operate is highly regulated and very competitive. "Consumers usually choose a bank based on convenience of location, rates, or service," explains Gillespie. Community banks as an industry have benefited in recent years from an anti-Wall-Street, anti-big-bank sentiment—but, locations being a capital expenditure and rates being pretty much fixed, service is one of the key opportunities for differentiation, Gillespie says. Therefore, increasing the level of customer attention and service has been a major focus for the ED&T team during the past year.
"We needed a strong platform for service delivery across the bank," Gillespie says. Benchmarking against such companies known for customer service as Ritz-Carlton and Disney, NYCB set out to develop a curriculum that would leverage its "fairly traditional" delivery methods—still primarily instructor-led sessions—but extend the learning experience beyond the event and the classroom. Its new initiative, named "Every Customer Every Time," was rolled out in January 2011 to frontline employees, and subsequently across the entire retail organization.
"We wanted [the initiative] to be a cultural change focused on the client experience, not your ordinary customer service class," Nuñez says.
Her staff created a new customer service model with the customer at the center of everything. They established four service standards as the rules of engagement—courtesy, accuracy, responsiveness, and relationships—and reviewed their processes through the lens of the customer.
Initial classroom sessions for employees included an engaging, activity-filled, four-hour workshop that is now part of onboarding for new hires. Once employees understand the customer service model, coaching, training, and support are provided to enhance or correct behavior. Reward and recognition are built into the program to celebrate success.
NYCB retains one outside firm to provide mystery shoppers in retail locations, and also uses former employees to pose as current or prospective customers. ED&T uses their feedback to continuously refine the program. Additionally, the national sales and service team sends monthly coaching tips to branch managers based on comments from customer surveys. Results have been impressive: Customer service scores have increased from 89.5 percent to 97.5 percent since the program was rolled out.
To best understand learning needs across the organization and their link to strategic objectives, ED&T managers regularly attend and participate in business unit meetings. During these meetings, business partners set goals, recap performance, showcase business successes, and so forth. They also leverage an NYCB best practice known as "In the Trenches," or ITT.
They spend time in the field (in the business units) learning the job, doing the job, training the job, coaching the job, or evaluating post-training performance on the job. ITT can meet a variety of needs, including support for the needs analysis phase of program design, support for the evaluation phase of a program, or production support for the business units during times of heavy production or staff shortages. ED&T team members gain increased knowledge and understanding of the job for which they're designing training, and gain insight into possible enhancements to training initiatives and existing programs. Further, they develop stronger relationships with business unit participants and managers that equip them to assist in improving business processes.
"We take the information we obtain from our ITT experiences and continuously evolve our programs to support and meet the needs of our business partners," Nuñez says.
ED&T also rolled out a new leadership development program during the past year. Known as "Amazing Leadership," the program focuses on developing 12 critical leadership competencies that were previously identified by bank executives. Those competencies are then mapped to performance goals for managers, executives, and officers. Participants, most often mid-level managers, are nominated by their division heads to attend an interactive half-day workshop for small groups of 12 to 15. They are introduced to the leadership competencies that are then mapped to individual development plans and tied to annual performance review goals.
Efficiency in completing critical subject matter was a challenge when it came to training new employees, especially college students recruited through NYCB's College Applicant Program. These new associates work part time and are not available for full-time training. Sometimes they had to wait as long as three months to get into a classroom-based training program. Managers needed their new employees to get up to speed much more quickly, so they often would just train the students in the branch.
To address these challenges, ED&T designed and developed the Part-Time Limited Hour training program to provide efficient, consistent training that promoted flexibility while still imparting the critical content. The program combines in-branch on-the-job training with mentoring, classroom training, assessment, and practice that results in the student employee receiving a certificate of completion.
"The structure of [this] program produces a better informed, more effective team member, which reduces risk to the organization," Gillespie says.
NYCB is interested in using social learning but, as a financial institution, is concerned about security. Focusing its efforts on the ED&T intranet, the group is populating the site with quick-hit video clips, wikis, frequently asked questions, and discussion boards. Instant messaging via Microsoft Lync allows employees to get instant support from trainers or subject matter experts and facilitates collaborative learning.
Employees at NYCB complete an average of 34 hours of learning annually, at a cost of $1,265 per employee. "We're still pretty lean in terms of dollars expended, and we're still pretty traditional in our delivery methods," says Gillespie. "But we've come a long way in a short amount of time."
He adds: "We couldn't have done it without the level of executive support we've received. There's a real understanding within the bank of the difference employee development can make."