The Art of Conversation

Add technology to enhance the branch experience.

Q&A with Carol A. Sexton, First Vice President, Head of Retail Banking, Cambridge Savings Bank, Cambridge, Mass.

What has been the biggest impact of digital on the retail environment for Cambridge Savings Bank?

We noticed that the increasing prevalence of digital tools – primarily in terms of how our customers interacted with our bank – was impacting the amount of foot traffic in our branches. Customers are going to take the paths of least resistance and most convenience, which makes sense. It’s our job to make sure we’re offering those paths. However, the branch is one of the few places left where people actually speak to a banker, so we needed to make sure we can best support customer relationships at any touch point.

What was missing or what needed to change?

For us, the reduction in branch traffic signaled the need for a newer, more effective and more efficient sales process. This was really part of a larger strategy to maximize the value and quality of every single customer interaction. It should come as no surprise that basic relationships are built on conversations, but placing an emphasis on strengthening those conversations isn’t a universal concept. All of the success from those efforts is grounded in how effective you are at making every customer feel valued.

To that end, we wanted to extract meaningful intelligence from the conversations that our bankers were having with customers to make sure we were conducting business properly and efficiently, while also making sure that we were providing the customer with a great experience every time. We knew we needed an effective tool to capture, analyze and produce conversation-level intelligence that would make every customer conversation efficient, productive and compliant. It needed to be automatic and natural.

How do you balance maintaining the cost-efficiency of automation, investing into your frontline employees and delivering the best customer experience?

It’s a fine line between all three of these things – a poor branch experience can happen outside of the branch, meaning that if I’m a customer and I call my branch and have a poor experience, I now have zero incentive or desire to physically visit the branch. The common denominator in this is the conversation, because it happens everywhere. It’s the lifeblood of your customer relationships. When we selected The Conversation Hub from Econiq, it was because the solution maintained that balance for us. It applies the conversation intelligence that it collects automatically and guides our frontline employees through each conversation. The result is actually the improved customer experience, regardless of where the conversation is taking place.

Was there “leap of faith,” so to speak, or a gap between when you selected the solution and when you were confident that it was effective?

I wouldn’t say a “leap of faith,” simply because no banker wants to describe any investment as such. In terms of a gap from when we deployed it and when we saw results, it was a very short timeframe. The Conversation Hub is unique in that it tracks every word that is exchanged between the customer and our bankers, then analyzes the conversation. That intelligence is then used to provide our frontline employees with a map to follow and progress the dialogue. Initially, there’s no benchmark, but even after a couple of conversations, the intelligence that is provided significantly enhances customer-facing conversations. We deployed The Conversation Hub across our branch network in April 2016 and quickly saw how effective it was at guiding our frontline employees through higher-quality, more meaningful conversations with customers. In just over a year, we’ve seen a 300 percent increase in the number of product referrals each month and reduced the number of items in our operational summary reports by more than 70 percent.

Frontline employees have a lot of things to be updated and trained on. How did this initiative fit into those processes?

If only all technologies were as easy to learn. The training was minimal, if at all. That’s because The Conversation Hub uses four primary colors to build the map that tellers follow: blue, which indicates how productive a teller is being; red, which notifies the teller of any compliance requirements; green, which notifies the teller of any opportunities to refer a new or alternative product; and purple, which tracks the overall customer experience.

From management’s perspective, what does visibility into the day-to-day conversations provide?

The biggest thing we’ve seen is how the intelligence enables us to identify the characteristics of the conversations being had by our top-performing frontline employees and then replicate those behaviors across our entire staff by crafting quality conversations for them to follow.

In addition, these insights allow our executives to craft conversations that are compliant, reveal key business opportunities and deliver an exceptional customer experience. Econiq works with us to align our primary business objectives with the conversation intelligence produced by the system, which allows for the development of higher quality, fine-tuned conversations that continue yielding new insights and an ever-improving benchmark for employee performance. Organizationally, conversation intelligence has strengthened the performance of our frontline employees, impacted sales and optimized the flow of internal information across departments and branches.

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