Getting Close to Your Customers

Today I had a fabulous day.  One of the initiatives at our workplace is for non-customer facing staff to spend a day out in the business.  They call it a ‘Gemba’ day.  Wikipedia defines it as:

Genba (現場 genba, also romanized as gemba) is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.”  In business, genba refers to the place where value is created; in manufacturing the genba is the factory floor. It can be any “site” such as a construction site, sales floor or where the service provider interacts directly with the customer.

I decided to spend the day at my local branch because I wanted to get as close to my community as possible.  I drive past the branch every day but thanks to the internet, never set foot inside it.  With my Rotary background and an appreciation of small business, I wanted to learn more about our branch and the people who work in it.  More importantly, how they service my local community needs.

I needed to get back to basics and see the real and personal side to banking.  The ‘bread and butter’ stuff.

I was excited about the day but there was some slight angst because I thought, “I have to face customers… actual customers.  Customers like me – who have problems that need to be resolved, who have time pressures, who might be angry!”   However, I needn’t have worried because the day passed pleasantly enough as I observed and interacted with both the staff and customers.

My key learning by observing the customer and banking advisers was that they had a connection and relationship with their customers.  They called them by their names.  They asked after their family members.  They had a laugh with them.

This got me thinking.  What service provider do I have who really knows me?  (And I’m not talking about one who pulls up my records on the screen and pretends to know me).

No one.  Not one.

I felt a tinge of sadness.  At one stage, I caught myself thinking that I was observing the last days of a retail operation – a tradition –  before this service goes entirely online over the coming years.

Was this something I was going to recall to my nephews and nieces in the future when I’m old and grey?  But then I remembered, I can’t recall the last time I actually went into a branch. What story am I going to tell?  

The majority of the people visiting the branch were retirees.  My assumption is that this demographic of people still enjoy the personal banking experience as they may be inexperienced or fearful of the internet or of changing the financial products and services they know and trust.  However, the younger ones who entered the bank only to leave it just as quickly as they deposited their cash and cheques through the express service.

My highlight for the day was chatting with one customer who told me that he worked for the same bank back in 1958.  For those who know me, know how I love stories.  I love to listen to them about people and places of the past.  Stories are inspirational, they connect you with others but we just don’t say enough of them anymore at our work where we are wrapped up in our own thoughts determined to get through our massive task list every day.  I wrote about it in a previous blog titled, “Is Story Telling a Dying Art?”

He regaled stories of the accountant sitting at the front of the branch back then with a stern look in his eyes, and he told me his day would be determined by the accountants face.  Bank managers were revered.  He talked about the telephone being the tool for communication.  Meanwhile his wife looked up at our chalkboard of interest rates and commented that we had left out an apostrophe for “Manager’s Specials” and that “nothing had escaped her English Teacher eyes”.

It got me appreciating how they see banking through their eyes and wondering when I’m 80, how will I see the future world?

What else did I learn?

I learned a lot about our products and services but more importantly, the Learning and Development person in me had to sit back and watch how the staff learned from each other.  I watched an experienced team member coach another to process Telegraphic Transfers all under the pressure of customers watching and a queue that was building.  I saw how staff coached and supported each other to process items they hadn’t come across before.  I saw them use performance support tools (job aids) that served as memory joggers for codes to input into their systems and heard them debrief the actions of the day at the end of the day.

This is learning.  Real time, real life and on-the-job with the support of expert peers and performance support tools.

So overall a productive Gemba day for me that resulted in a true appreciation of the people who service our local community’s everyday banking needs.

Maybe this is my story.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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