Building Deep Customer Relationships: Financial Services

An Interview with Hilde Betts, Senior Vice President

Client Case Study


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.

Strategic Approach

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.

Key takeaway:
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.

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.


What Next?

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.

Related Information

We needed a way to improve customer training. We had to reach a disparate group of people in a very short period time. LSA gave us a new training methodology and a better way to go to market with our customer training that improved their experience and our brand positioning.

LSA delivered exactly what we needed and exceeded our expectations.  Thank you.

Hinda Chalew
Vice President of Marketing

I want to personally thank you.  The effective presentations skills and leadership coaching  exceeded our expectations.

You gave our consultants practical tools and insights they could walk away with and immediately utilize.

Thank you for being so professional, yet fun, to work with.

Jennifer Morgans
VP Customer Experience

We engaged with LSA Global to train our Call Center Customer Service Managers and Team Leaders how to be effective coaches. We wanted our CSMs and TLs to be able to conduct the “hard” conversations around performance, to create a coaching environment that encourages our agents to be self-motivated, and ultimately to create a better experience for our consumers. LSA’s facilitator was able to tailor the content and deliver it in way that really demonstrated a deep understanding of our needs and left our CSMs and TLs wanting more!

Jane Pearson-Wray
Continuous Improvement Manager


We engaged with LSA Global to support our Customer Service Improvement initiative to develop and enhance the awareness and importance of good customer service within our Corporate Business Services group. We wanted to deliver a solution that would positively influence and shape internal behaviors and customer behaviors.

LSA Global, through their partnership process, demonstrated their value proposition. By first understanding our desired outcomes, only then could an effective solution be designed and delivered. Their consultant was well prepared, engaging and really drove a cross-functional, multi-level audience, to see a “basic” concept in profound and impactful ways.  We will look to LSA Global for these and future needs.

Stanley Newman
Customer Service Manager


We engaged with LSA Global to share best practices around Rapid Instructional Design and to develop, design, and deliver an session that taught our property owners the benefits of our Customer Loyalty program.

We found their experts to be collaborative, insightful, prepared, and nimble, especially given that the time frame for the project became compressed.

We look forward to continuing our strategic partnership.

Annmarie Fairweather
Vice President Brand Service

Having gone through many leadership development programs it can be said that my approach was reasonably skeptical at first. The analyst in me has concluded it was your method; which was almost conversational and so cleverly delivered I initially missed it, which is the mark of a great facilitator.

In the program several leadership tools were employed, props such as the familiar movie clip, interaction games with peers; the text and reference guides, the analysis and profile of team members by peers and facilitated conversation to name a few. These tools, created scenario based, referenced learning that could be immediately translated into the work place. That coupled with the follow-on coaching sessions have been the key to the development. I am pleased to have attended the LSA Global Program and even more so feel privileged to have had you as teacher and coach.

Edison Stephen
VP Customer Service


We were all very impressed with LSA’s call center consulting efforts and extremely satisfied with the recommendations. Our intention is to take the many recommendations and implement them in our Call Center.

Ron Shell
SVP Business Development


We partnered with LSA Global to help us provide the most effective customer service skills for our associates. Guided by our Promoter Satisfaction scores, we sought to partner with an organization that could provide customer service training and consulting programs for a diverse set of employees, communicating with customers via phone, email and in person, and with varying levels of knowledge and tenure. I’ve already gotten emails from customers saying that they’re seeing a change.”

Field Service Leader


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