Laurel Egan Kenny

If your commercial bank’s organizational structure and culture are like most, your back-office team takes its place, well, behind the scenes – out of the way and most certainly out of limelight.  

Back-office teams consist of support staff that drive the bank’s innovation, client relationships and operations before and after the sale. But critical functions such as product development and product management, implementation and client service cannot be performed well without interfacing with – and empathy for – the client.  

For that reason, banks are tripling down to ensure back-office teams know the client (particularly highly valued ones) through goal alignment, sophisticated tools and training.  

No one, not even back-office professionals, can hide from direct accountability for the commercial bank’s goals in an environment where differentiation is hard to come by, competition is unprecedented and margins are lean. Complex client systems track client interfaces, interactions and evaluations, and tie performance to compensation and job security.  

Empathy Leads to Better Service 

Still, some back-office staff members are out of touch with human touch – lacking empathy for end clients and the opportunity, ability or desire to engage with clients/end users. Pioneering bank leaders are taking the unprecedented step – or perhaps a leap of faith – to invest heavily in back-office teams’ professional development with the recognition that educating these employees about the bank’s clients will have a direct impact on the work they produce and how well they work with or for their customers.  

Empathy training, or “A Day in the Life of …” training can be an impactful, enlightening approach to professional development when it teaches participants to have an appreciation for the end user’s challenges and how they overcome them in the course of their role in their organization.  

Training helps learners understand how, when and why the end client and his or her team perform certain tasks, the nuances of specific roles on the team and with whom and with which applications they interface with and how they use technology in the scope of their jobs in a course of a day, week, month, quarter or year.  

Empathy training is especially compelling when a seasoned practitioner not only provides insights for, but presents alongside, an industry professional as part of a structured curriculum. It is advantageous for back-office team members to interface with a client directly and dynamically on their own terms. Testimonials and quotations from focus groups, surveys, evaluations or other written documentation is not a substitute for interpersonal contact and the ability to learn directly from a human being with thoughts, emotions, experience, opinions, perspectives and stories.  

Interestingly, back-office professionals often reject “client intelligence” from salespeople at their bank because they view it as tainted, incomplete, inaccurate or too highlevel as compared to their detailed knowledge of individual and aggregate client volumes, payment types, timing, cash flows, process flows, customer service requests, systems interfaces, etc.  

Training Puts Human Face on End Users 

Empathy and day-in-the-life-of trainings pick up where back-office professionals’ knowledge leaves off.  

The training puts a human face, senses, emotions and behaviors into the client relationship, thereby allowing the back-office professional to have empathy for the end user. Ideally, the end user will provide back-office team members a sense of his or her short-term and long-term goals, the challenges she or he faces or has faced and how he or she overcomes challenges. Back-office professionals are engaged in the conversation when they are able to ask the end user/practitioner questions that pertain to their respective job functions. 

Learning directly from a sample of actual clients or prospects is best, but if it is not possible, empathy training is the next best thing if it is done right. An effort should be made to find a training company with broad networks that is likely to result in access to “clients” in the same role, industry and similarly-sized company. Any nuances should be understood, noted and explained.  

Finally, it is very important that the training is fully vetted for accuracy by senior executives to avoid offering up clients who are similar in scope but not quite right. This may cause more harm than good. For example: perspectives and goals of accounting professionals and treasury professionals are very different. 

An investment in empathy training for back-office professionals is an investment in a commercial bank’s future given its profound effect on new and seasoned employee morale and perspective – and the bottom line. The impact of empathy training can be life-changing for back-office professionals, in that they learn directly from industry practitioners how to significantly improve the tactical and strategic functions of the client/end user and how his or her team performs within an organization.  

Laurel Egan Kenny is president and CEO of Boston-based Turningpoint Communicationstreasury managementfocused marketing, business development support and training company. 

Give Your Back Office More Empathy for Your Clients

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min