Frontlining: Getting The Right Data To The Right Channel

In researching an upcoming report on marketing analytics, two conversations with fintech vendors stand out for reasons that have nothing to do with the report itself. In the first discussion, I asked the vendor what his firm was doing in the marketing analytics space. His response:

“We fulfill the promise of big data by getting the right customer data to the people on the front line.”

I got queasy at “fulfill the promise” and lost my cookies at “big data.”

The second conversation went much better. In the course of that call, the person I was talking to made the following comment:

“Banks must do digitally what the best-trained call center or branch rep does.”

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Here’s why these comments stuck with me:

1) Disregarding the foofaraw about “fulfilling the promise of big data,” the person making the first comment is making a big assumption–one that I’m sure that many bank and credit union marketers make–that there are people on the “front line.”

2) While I agree with what the second person is implying, I have a quibble with it.  It’s not about “what the best-trained call center of branch rep does.” It’s about “what the most successful call center or rep does.” Training is all well and fine, but I’ll take a successful person over a well-trained person any day.

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The conclusion I came to following these calls was this: The front line ain’t what it used to be.

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In a non-banking context, the front line is defined as the “military line or part of an army closest to the enemy.” The implication is that the front line is where the “battle” occurs. In the banking context, the term front line generally refers to the branch, not because it’s closest to the enemy, but because its’ where the battle–making the sale or resolving the issue–occurs.

This is a questionable assumption for 2015.

And not because branch traffic and volume is decreasing. Moving non-critical account transactions, and even many service transactions, out of the branches (and call centers) to online and mobile channels does not mean the front line is shifting.

It’s because of the shift in the transactions and interactions that aren’t widely reported (because they’re so hard to capture and measure)–the research, referral, and sales interactions. While the branchophiliacs go on and on about how many applications are taken in the branch, they’re missing the point that the points of influence are happening somewhere else.

The point of influence is the real front line, and increasingly, that point of influence is a digital channel.

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So the 2nd vendor was spot on: Banks must do digitally what (successful) reps do in other channels. The first vendor seems to think that means pushing a lot of customer data out to the point of interaction.

In fact, that’s what a lot of banks believe, as well. The mantra behind all these 360-degree-view-of-the-customer projects is having all this data about the customer instantly available.

But what data do successful reps really use? My contention–feel free to disagree with this–is that successful salespeople rely more on data that relates to their experiences than on reams of customer data.

In other words, the “data” the successful reps use is data about themselves–e.g., what did I do in previous circumstances that are like this one that worked or didn’t work?–and not necessarily data about the prospect.

To make it worse, I would also argue that what successful reps rely on is hard to classify as data–for example, facial expressions, tones of voice, perceived mood, etc. on the part of the prospect.

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So this leaves banks with a few questions to answer:

  1. What data do banks really need to pull together, and have access to, in order to increase the chance that they will make the sale?
  2. When and where does that data need to be delivered (in other words, where is the front line)?
  3. How should the data be used in the course of the interaction to make the sale or influence the prospect?

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Bottom line: What we’re really talking about, in a sense, is selling online (or digitally). That’s what the 2nd vendor I spoke to was saying.

But there’s more to it than just selling online. We’re talking about creating a marketing/technology capability to get the right data to the right channel (i.e., the front line) at the right time. In other words: Frontlining.

I might not be able to get anybody to adopt this term, but hey, a boy can dream.

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