Chicago-based Harris is an integrated financial services organization that provides more than one million personal and business customers with a variety of services including: banking, lending, investing, financial planning, trust administration, portfolio management, family office, and wealth transfer. Harris is part of BMO Financial Group, a highly diversified North American financial services organization with total assets of $357 billion and more than 35,000 employees.
Harris’ contact center has gone through a dramatic evolution over the last several years. Historically established as a service unit designed to support a network of more than 200 branches, the Direct Bank group now provides clients with a full range of products and services. The shift is yielding dramatic results.
In 2006, all the contact center’s performance goals were exceeded by a wide margin. In addition, the Harris contact center team was named the 2006 Center of Excellence, an award based on their performance in 2005 when they were rated No. 1 against 17 other large, U.S. financial services companies.
To learn what drives their success; we talked with Hilde Betts, Senior Vice President in charge of the Harris contact center operation and our longtime client. What follows are excerpts from our interview along with our own perspectives on what made this service to sales transformation particularly successful.
Interview with Hilde Betts, Senior Vice President, Harris Bank
Q. First, tell us about your philosophy for your contact center. What role does it play in your organization?
A. I view our contact center as a gold mine because we have the most frequent contact with our company’s clients, and as such, I believe we have a tremendous responsibility to deliver the organization’s brand promise.
I also believe we have great opportunities to build relationships because we interact with clients so frequently. Now, as we all know, relationships can be deepened in a number of ways. Taking care of whatever the client’s needs are at the moment is always first and foremost.
I believe another important part of providing good service to our clients is to take another step and ask, “Is Harris doing everything we can to help you achieve your financial goals?” I don’t see this as a sales component, per se, or being something separate from service. I see this as being part of the relationship-building interaction. It isn’t high-pressure sales. Our “guiding vision” is to be helpful, to discover what the client needs and to ensure that we are taking care of those needs.
Define your sales philosophy. Share it with your contact center team as well as the entire organization.
Q. Looking back at your transition from service to sales, which elements had the greatest impact?
A. There were a number of factors. We had a multi-layered approach mapped out to help us achieve our business objectives, which included training and ongoing performance improvement initiatives. But before we could do any of that, we needed to focus on something very intangible: we needed to help bring about a “mind set shift” for our entire staff. We called these activities “will-building” activities to differentiate them from the training or “skill-building” activities.
First, we asked the question, “Do we have people who are fitting the role?” We designed a “fit to role” assessment, which everyone took. It helped us get a better view of how closely each team member fit their role. And, of course, it helped us identify gaps in terms of behaviors and skills that needed to be developed.
Running parallel to this initiative was a body of work that focused on understanding what made the high performers in our organization successful. We ended up creating a “high performer template,” which was very helpful in identifying what performance gaps needed to be closed for those team members who had poor “fit to role” assessments.
If someone’s skill set was not a good match with their current job, and they weren’t willing or able to develop themselves to close the gap, we connected them with other opportunities within the company.
Key takeaway: Create a team with a common vision and a mindset for sales success. Identify and replicate the behaviors of your high performers.
Q. Did you change anything about your new hire process?
A. Yes, we did. Interestingly, we learned that what made a high performer was more about personal attributes that they possessed and less about their skill set or past experience. So, now we are looking for a very specific profile in our candidates. We are also very clear in articulating what the job will entail and what role the new hire will play in our organization.
We also learned that most managers are not the best interviewers of new job candidates. We established a “peer council” of high performers who interview every single candidate coming in. Only candidates who make it through this screen will speak with a manager.
What we found is that because candidates are more comfortable speaking with their peers, we get greater insights into what motivates the person, and we’re making better hiring decisions. We also found that, by giving the peer council the authority, responsibility, and accountability to bring in top talent, they are further motivated to perform and contribute to our team concept.
Key takeaway: Develop shared accountability for recruiting and developing the best talent.
Q. With the right team and mindset in place, what else did you do to transition to a sales organization?
A. Obviously, training is a big focus. We’ve been working with our LSA Solution Expert for a number of years. We really consider them partners in our success and feel they do a great job tailoring training to fit our needs. I can’t say enough how important coaching is to our contact center. Our folks needed to see us walk the talk—we were the role models for performance improvement coaching. I believe this was a key to our success in making the mindset shift.
The entire leadership team, including myself, went through the customer service coaching training. The simulations and group exercises in the training provided us plenty of opportunities to practice and perfect our coaching strategies and conversations. We didn’t want our team members to be afraid of being coached by their own or other managers in our center, so we focused first on implementing a routine with which they’d be comfortable.
Initially, our coaching conversations centered on discovering “wonderful nuggets” or compliments on an aspect of the agent’s performance during the call. Along with these compliments, we also gave chocolates that said “Thank you for doing such a great job with our clients.” After we had conducted 200–300 of these sessions, we felt we were ready for the next stage, which was to have agents listen to their own calls and provide us feedback on what they heard. Using this technique, they immediately identified what they could do differently.
We found that our agents were much more critical than the coaches would ever be. There were many times we had to tell our folks that their calls weren’t as bad as they thought! And we were quick to point out what they did well and then agreed on the one behavior that they’d want to work on, which is part of the coaching strategy we learned in the customer service training.
We wanted coaching to be a collaborative effort and it now is. In the beginning there was a lot of concern around how people would receive feedback or how the process was going to work. Now the process is in place, and they can’t wait for the feedback!
Key takeaway: Evolve your coaching culture over time. Lay a solid foundation for collaboration and teamwork.
Q. You’ve had a lot of success in 2006. Can you share your thoughts on the past 12 months?
A. I’d say it was a “confidence builder.” We were asked to achieve huge financial goals in 2006, and we knew that to accomplish our goals we all needed to undertake enormous change—and we did it. But people were concerned at first that they couldn’t do it. So we provided them the tools and support they needed. This helped bring about a mindset shift, which I feel was the key to achieving our goals. If you believe it will happen, it will.
In the beginning of 2006 when we were putting all the pieces together, we had a “Yes we can” campaign that we adapted from a company campaign called “Yes we can grow revenue together.” As the year went on, this changed to a “Yes we will” campaign, and we ended the year with a “Yes we did” celebration.
Our team members put this campaign together. We all own our success, and we know what it takes to have another successful year. There was a point in the year when our people truly realized that they would meet their goals because they supported each other. The team felt pressure to not let any of the members fail.
For example, our folks coach their peers regularly. If there’s someone who’s not yet up to the level of the team, we’ll have members from that team come in on their day off to help raise that individual’s performance. There’s an agreement among the team that they’re all going to work together to meet the goal.
Key takeaway: Help people visualize sales success. Build a team based on trust and accountability.
Q. With a successful transition from service to sales, what will you do to keep the momentum going?
A. It’s all about building and evolving to even higher levels of performance. I am really bottom-line driven, so our frontline folks will continue to be stretched in terms of sales goals and performance expectations. To achieve this, we know we need to invest in the leadership of this organization. All the right pieces are now in place, but it’s our managers, team leaders, and supervisors who will make or break our performance going forward.
To that end, we are committed to ongoing skill development of our sales managers. In addition to training, peer coaching will continue to be part of the mix. That’s become a very acceptable way to improve performance here. People regularly ask their peer coaches to help them with a particular challenge.
We will also continue with group coaching and calibration. We have brown-bag lunches where folks get together to listen to how they’ve handled a particular call or coaching interaction and then ask the group for feedback. We have entire business groups doing this. It’s become a standard part of our coaching process. People want to be competitive and successful…they don’t want to fail. As a team, we will continue to build a high performance culture that’s built on trust. With our trust in each other, I know we can accomplish anything.