There’s a conundrum that currently exists between the customer and the seller in financial services. The customer buys and the seller sells. The customer is focused on their wants as much as needs, and whilst the seller often says they are focused on the customer’s needs, all too often the focus is on products and profit. Indeed a wider examination of the decline in customer service might also do well to address the issue of remuneration systems which reward sales but not customer service. This latter practice merely confirms the customer’s suspicion that the seller has more to gain from any advice or transaction than the buyer. Included in the mix is regulation. Regulation was meant to assist and protect the consumer. Instead, we have witnessed a massive exodus from providing advice whilst compliance costs rocket skywards. The continuation of bad press on sales practices; fines of major firms; and the inability of the industry to speak with one voice leads many to believe that protection for the consumer is a by-product not an aim. In addition the customer is now faced with an overloading of the sales or customer relationship process with paper, which include endless questions to complete even the simplest transaction and massive fact finds covering every conceivable piece of information imaginable. Rather than act as a comfort to customers these processes have merely heightened their suspicions. Yet insofar as technology is concerned, whilst the customer trusts the technology, they do not trust the person operating the technology.
Point of Sale systems
In this scenario it is hardly surprising that Point of Sale systems continually fail to pay back the investment. In most cases it’s not that the system doesn’t work, it’s just that working the system requires different skill-sets and a realisation that the customer is wary of being asked questions. These are behavioural issues and yet whilst Point of Sale systems by design are based upon a customer’s past buying behaviours and potential future buying propensity they tend to lack an appreciation of: - a) The reluctance of the seller to use technology at the point of sale b) The physical environment in which customer interactions take place c) The amount of time it takes to learn to operate new technology with confidence in front of a customer
Reluctance of sellers to use technology at the point of sale
Many experienced and qualified advisers now rely heavily on technology. This explosion of the use of technology has led all software and hardware suppliers and IT departments to believe that the future is bright, the future is technology. In the rush to design and implement systems however, some basics have been overlooked:
a) Sellers are as opposed to sales processes as are customers
b) Introducing technology at the point of sale involves a significant change of behaviour on the part of the seller
c) Sellers experience great difficultly in changing their behaviour
d) Most sellers in the type of financial services organisations that can afford to buy Point of Sale systems are junior front-line staff with the consequence that
- their feedback on the reality of using these systems in front of customers is often ignored
- where they provide feedback it is often guarded
- pilot launches are always used with ‘champions’ who provide a minute insight into the difficulties which will be faced when launching the system to a wider audience. In addition many of the results of pilots are widely exaggerated in order to bolster the confidence of those who have already embarked upon considerable expenditure and of those who will continue to be used as champions
e) The ability of sellers to convince managers that the system is being used when it is not (this in itself is one of the main reasons for Point of Sale systems not realising any return on investment)
f) The ability of sellers to convince managers that customers do not like the new system whereas the opposite is almost always the case. What customers do not like is the behaviour they experience from the seller. Clearly if the seller is reluctant to use the system they will adopt a less than enthusiastic set of behaviours in front of the customer
g) The ability of sellers to convince managers that changes should be made to the system in order to make the customer feel more comfortable
The physical environment
Most Point of Sale systems are information hungry and therefore the programme requires the seller to either input or to read a significant amount of data. This results in the seller and customer seating positions being such that almost always exclude the customer from seeing what is going on. The customer becomes wary. The seller senses the discomfort of the seller and reacts accordingly. The customer senses the discomfort of the seller – and so the cycle continues.
Time to learn
In all cases, the time estimated and used to teach sellers the new system is inadequate. By the time sellers return to the workplace most will have forgotten 90% of the details of the system. This then requires them to teach themselves how the system works during lulls in normal customer interactions. This fragmentation of learning takes place without reinforcement or feedback and certainly without the practice of using the system in front of a customer. Within a very short time-scale sellers have taught themselves to use the system without the customer being present. When the opportunity then presents itself to use the system live with a customer the leap from theory to practice is too daunting and therefore delayed until the seller feels more confident. This simply never happens.
In an environment where the cost of Point of Sale is significant the solution is simple but unpalatable – it requires more time and resource.
DESIGN OF THE CUSTOMER INTERFACE
The system has to be designed with the customer in mind not the seller. The customer has to see what is happening and in this way can be encouraged to take part in the exploration of their needs and wants
DESIGN OF THE TRAINING
The first step for sellers is the need to convince them that the system will work in front of a customer. They have to be shown how it will work. The second step is to convince the user how much effort is required to learn how to use the system in front of a customer. The third step is to provide sufficient time and to ensure that the design of the training balances technical knowledge with physical selling skills
The most critical aspect of field implementing is often overlooked – the involvement of the line manager. The manager must act as a coach which means they have to be trained to use the system – but do not need to become experts. They need to experience the learning. In this way they will be able to gauge when sellers are resisting because of learning difficulties or emotional difficulties. They need to taught how to recognise the difference and how to behave accordingly. Coaches need to be taught how to transfer training to the field and the crucial element – how to improve performance. The whole point of Point of Sale is to improve performance.
Frank Salisbury has worked on a number of successful point of sale implementation projects. If you want to find out how he can help you make a success of your project contact him at: Business & Training Solutions Ltd, 28 Rye Close, Banbury, Oxfordshire. OX16 1XG. Telephone 01295 250 247; Mobile - 07836 267039 firstname.lastname@example.org