In the highly competitive world of retail banking, customer retention is one cornerstone of profitability. Customer retention strategies can take many forms from improving the overall experience when customers visit a branch through to managing a request for specialist advice and services more eficiently.

Handling enquiries smoothly and efficiently in a busy branch environment is critical if banks are to enhance the overall customer experience and
ensuring an appropriately qualified member of staff is available to deal with a customer query often makes the difference between success and a walk away.

Leading global bank HSBC recognised there
was a chance to improve the way it managed non-
transactional enquiries within its UK branch network and turned to queue management specialist Qm Group to help it drive innovation, reduce waiting times and improve customer service.

This case study looks at how HSBC has deployed Qm’s
Matchmaker solution in 100 of its busiest
branches and has plans to roll it further afield in future.

With more than 1,700 branches across the UK, HSBC is a true leader in retail banking. In
common with all UK banks it offers a counter service designed for transactional activity such as deposits, withdrawals, bill payment and general enquiries.

Central to the bank’s overall customer proposition is the delivery of a broad spectrum of financial services products beyond current accounts that span everything from mortgages and loans through to insurance, savings and credit cards.

In common with many retail banks, the start point for the sales process of such products is the point at which a customer walks into a branch in search of advice.

This immediately presents a number of challenges to a bank which, if they address them correctly, are likely to secure a sale, but if they fail to deal with the customer successfully, this will impair relationships with existing customers and cause prospects to walk down the high street to another bank.

In more detail the key challenges can be summarised as:

  • On arrival in a branch the customer is unsure where to go or what to do to secure the information they need. This situation is exacerbated if there is a large queue for counter services and the customer may be reluctant to wait simply to get information or advice with the result that they are likely to go elsewhere. Such a scenario has a secondary negative impact for the bank because customers with general enquiries join the counter queue with the result of increasing the overall queue length which can deter other customers from joining the queue
  • Assuming the customer decides to join the queue for counter services or general enquiries which is the most common course of action, they will receive service at the counter. However, counter staff are there to process customers as efficiently as possible as opposed to selling products, which means counter staff call upon back office colleagues to deal with product enquiries and sales and this throws up two immediate issues
  • Availability of someone to see the customer to deal with their requirement
  • And importantly, availability of a staff member who is appropriately qualified to advise the customer on their requirements and process the sale

A recognition of these four issues coupled with the fact that HSBC realised the issues were potentially having an impact on the handling of counter customers and more seriously
potentially resulting in lost sales opportunities drove them to look for a solution.

In a bid to address this need HSBC turned to queue management specialist, Qm Group. Qm Group is the UK’s leading independent queue management specialist and is the company that invented the ‘cashier number three please’ electronic call forward solution which is found in banks and retailers across the UK. Every month more than 30 million customers pass through Qm Group’s queue management systems.

The decision to implement a system is one of many innovations HSBC is building into its branch network as part of a £450m investment programme to create a distinctly
different and more positive experience for customers.

The system works by having all of the qualifications and areas of expertise of staff logged into a database.

When a customer arrives in the branch a greeter will ascertain their requirement and use a touch screen terminal to establish availability of an appropriate adviser. The system checks the availability by qualification and time for sales staff and this allows the greeter to either allocate an adviser immediately or inform the customer of the necessary waiting time.

If the customer agrees to wait (and they always do) then they are issued with a service receipt that shows their waiting time promise.

Critically the system informs the adviser of the nature of the enquiry which allows them to bring the appropriate literature and documentation with them.

Initially HSBC piloted the Matchmaker system in 20 of its busiest branches and has subsequently implemented it in more than 100 outlets.

The system went live in 2006 and HSBC estimates it has already helped reduce customer waiting times by as much as 20%.

Richard Newland, said “The system made the branch more efficient and gave managers more control because they could programme it at the beginning of the day to assign various duties to specific staff members.”

“We are delighted with the results of our implementation, particularly the response of customers who have been impressed with the user-friendly nature of the system, the way our staff interact with them and, of course, the reduction in the time it takes for us to serve them.”

“It’s not just about waiting times. It is about putting the customer at the centre of what we do, rather than expecting the customer to fit with what we think they need.”

As well as matching customer need to staff resource more efficiently, the system has also played a key role in maintaining compliance at all times by ensuring only those staff with appropriate qualifications deal with specific types of customer enquiries.

“Equally important is the fact that the system helps HSBC stream customers more efficiently and this reduces the need for unnecessary queuing for counter services with the knock on effect that it improves the efficiency of that area of the bank’s operations as well.”

Mr Newland concluded: “Gone are the days when your bank dictated how, where and when you did business with them. You went to a branch between 9.30am and 3.30pm Monday to Friday and you stood in line, whether you were withdrawing £20 or wanted to apply for a mortgage. Today, customers are looking for more control and greater convenience and
efficiency to meet their banking needs, and our branches are designed to do just that.”