Traffic Report

Integrated teller and queue management systems that harness data for greater branch efficiencies

By Jennifer J. Salopek

Research has shown that branch transaction volumes have declined by 45 percent since 1992. Studies by Knowledge@Wharton, the industry research arm of the Wharton School of Business, have revealed that, as recently as 2011, 82 percent of consumers use branch banking services—but the nature of many of their branch visits is changing.

“The emerging class of digitally savvy bank customers, including small and medium-size enterprises, increasingly wants to use bank branches more for sophisticated financial advice, support and products, and less for conventional transactions like cashing paychecks,” write the authors of the Knowledge@Wharton/Wipro Industries white paper, “New Contours for Bank Branches as Customers Get Digitally Savvy.”

So with customers, especially business customers, still seeking advice and complex financial solutions in person, the decision by some banks to close branches could result in longer waits for service at other branches that remain open. But this potential challenge also brings an opportunity: Integrated software solutions can help community banks manage lobby queues and, in the process, glean valuable data to inform their staffing models and resource planning.

This approach is consistent with one of four major trends shaping the future of business identified by the Wharton/Wipro researchers: “increasing use of business analytics to draw insights for optimizing delivery channels, launching new products and extracting savings, among others.”

The biggest surprise? These systems are surprisingly affordable and accessible.

Options galore

Lobby queue management systems are Web-based applications that allow customers to sign in on a screen, and then the system notifies appropriate branch staff. The systems can be configured in a number of ways based on how the hardware is deployed, among other variables. For instance, the screen can reside in a self-service kiosk, it can be a digital tablet used for self-service, or a greeter can manage the tablet and sign customers in (an approach similar to that used by Apple Stores). Depending on configuration, customers can be asked what service they are seeking and can request a specific staff member.

The tablet is the 21st-century version of a clipboard, with greatly enhanced security features, says Meredith Deen, executive vice president at Financial Management Solutions Inc. in Atlanta, one of the players in the integrated solution space. “Lots of bank branches were using sign-in sheets to track customer arrival times and ensure that they were helped in the correct order,” she says. “But there were many disadvantages, including the quality and quantity of the information entered, the lack of privacy for customers and the impossibility of tracking that information and turning it into usable data.”

Customer acceptance seems likely to be high, according to the Wharton/Wipro study. When asked whether they liked the idea of floating financial advisors using tablet-style mobile tools during peak branch hours, 68 percent of consumers thought it was a good or excellent service concept.

The lobby queue management systems are used most commonly to manage visits to non-teller platform staff, says Rick Poulton, president of Better Branches Inc., another player in the space that is headquartered in San Francisco. In that regard, “queue management system” is really a misnomer. Customers wait on average three to six minutes for a teller and tend to stand in line, Poulton says, whereas customers seeking help from other staff on average wait five to 45 minutes and tend to sit in a lobby gathering area.

As financial systems try to get a handle on staffing costs, they need to know what services are being provided and how long it takes, Poulton says. Lobby management software solutions can provide rich insight into branch activities, essentially serving as an “automated, ongoing time and motion study,” he adds.

Poulton says it’s pivotal that community banks distinguish between a customer visit and the more specific data of the services banks are providing. For example, the Better Lobby system can clock teller transactions and track whether tellers are serving customers back to back, indicating whether a line of customers have formed. This information allows these systems to quickly match staffing schedules to anticipated workloads, a task that can be time-intensive for branch managers.

The systems also use historical data to make projections about branch traffic and highlight times when planned staffing is likely to be inefficient. “Staff scheduling may not be very high-tech, but it can be very time-intensive,” Poulton notes.

Service streamlined

Financial Management Solutions offers a queue system targeted at managing customers waiting for non-teller staff. Depending on the information requested of customers at sign-in, the system can save staff members time by allowing them to prepare for the customer visit by knowing who is there and what they’re there to do. Further, it allows the branch to serve customers more efficiently by alerting staff qualified to handle each customer’s issues or sell the desired product.

Another feature permits staff to capture the interaction with the customer even if there is no queue, and prompts them through a checklist of service and cross-sell items.

Financial Management Solutions’ system also uses data to forecast branch activity and matches staffing needs to teller work preferences. Reports analyze key productivity metrics, including staff idle time, unit labor cost per transaction, average teller salary and benefits cost, actual staffing effectiveness costs and workforce utilization percentages. The company’s system aggregates information across its North American customer base to issue monthly comparative data reports against which a bank can benchmark.

Deen and Poulton acknowledge that, unlike credit unions, community banks rarely have long lines of customers waiting in their lobbies. But they emphasize that the data generated by combining lobby queue management and teller management systems can result in increased efficiency of human resources in branches that translates to significant savings.

The solutions are surprisingly affordable, starting at $4,000 for Financial Management Solutions’ products; Better Branches offers its solutions via rent or buy arrangements and pricing is based on the number of branches for deployment.

“Time savings is not where you get the bang for your buck, except perhaps in matching customers to staff and giving staff time to prepare,” Deen says. “The key benefit of these systems is the ability to understand the branch environment via performance metrics in real time.”

“If you have our system, you will know who has been served and by whom,” says Poulton. “The system enables surveying and segmenting, and customers are confident that they’re in a queue that is being monitored.”

Financial Management Solutions’ system is in use in financial institutions with assets ranging from $229 million to $700 million. Poulton emphasizes that the Better Branches solution is even affordable for institutions with only a single branch.

Jennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer in McLean, Va.