Teller Referrals Rock!


I have a question for you. Where do you get most of your repeat business? If your answer is anything other than the teller line, you may be missing a major opportunity to help and serve your customer base.

Over the years, tellers have gotten a bum rap. In many cases tellers are the lower paid associates in your organization. They are often asked to work odd hours, travel to multiple locations and work weekends. With all this going for the job, as you can expect, tellers have one of the highest turnover rates in our industry.

Now, ask yourself, which associate in your bank spends more face-to-face time with your customers? Yep, it is the teller. More of your customers talk with your tellers than any other employee. So, who in your organization could have the most impact to generate new business? I think you get the point. Tellers are valuable members of your relationship building team. Successful organizations achieving high levels of quality teller referrals understand the most important factors that affect teller referral success.

OK, let’s start with the basics. Let’s talk about communication. (that’s a big 10-4 good buddy--over) No, I am not talking about communicating with someone over a CB radio. I am talking about communicating with your customer. When communicating with your customer, a teller uses both verbal and non-verbal communications. Verbal communications are the words we say and how we say them. Non-verbal communication is how we look and act when in the customer view. Both verbal and non-verbal communications are extremely important when we are trying to deliver a message or have a short discussion with our customer.

If 100% of communication is made up of both verbal and non-verbal communication, which one is most important? Well, you may be surprised to know that non-verbal communication is most important. Your customer will pick up on your teller’s attitude, body language and eye contact more so than the actual words that are said. More than 55% of the message that we send, will be through the use of non-verbal communication. This is the reason why personal grooming, the clothing we wear and the way we act when onstage is so important.

Onstage vs. Offstage – When in your branch, a customer expects you to act a specific way that is consistent with your role in the organization. They have learned this through their own life experiences. You can not change their perception of what a teller should look like or how one should act. It is just a given. In your branch, you have two main areas where people work. One area we call onstage and another we call offstage. An onstage area is any area where you would be in clear view of a customer (Teller line, CSR desks, waiting areas etc). The offstage areas are the backrooms such as the copier room, lunch break room or anywhere a customer does not normally see us. It is extremely important that when we are onstage, we play the role that our customer is expecting us to play. If we are a teller, we need to act like a teller when onstage. We don’t want our customer to see us doing backstage activities when we are onstage.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you just flew your whole family down to Walt Disney World expecting a wonderful vacation. Once you walked through the gates at the Magic Kingdom, you went immediately to see the star attraction—Mickey Mouse. As a customer with preconceived expectations of Disney World, what would your reaction be if you found Mickey sipping a beer and smoking a cigarette over near one of the attractions? Wow. That’s just wrong. Mickey should not be smoking. Doesn’t he know that smoking can be harmful to his health? Surely he must. OK, back to banking. Yes, this can happen in your institution as well. When onstage, everyone must play their roll when in customer view. When we don’t, it creates credibility problems even before we start talking about referrals. So, here are four key items to achieving teller referral success:

1) Non-verbal Communication – When a customer walks in the door and enters the teller queue, they are watching your tellers at work. When viewing a teller, your customer can easily see if the teller is happy, sad, angry or upset just by watching their actions and facial expressions. When the customer watches the teller work, they are looking at just about everything that the person is doing and how they look from an appearance perspective. So, if the teller is a major contributor to your bank or credit union brand, how they look and act is extremely important. Make sure your tellers are dressing and acting appropriately to match your institutional brand. If you are a casual organization, everyone should dress casual. If you are more of a formal organization, everyone should dress formal. Consistency is very important so that your verbal messages will be properly received by your customer with minimal distraction.

2) Verbal Communication – The words we say and how we say them is also very important to generating a referral. This is exactly why a positive attitude generates positive results. Excited and motivated tellers show genuine interest for serving the customer. This is expressed in the words they use and how the words are delivered. Something as simple as the words “Good Morning” can be delivered with a positive attitude and excitement or they can be delivered sounding like Eeyore (Ohh bother…). Which do you want for your institution?

3) Listening Skills – When looking for referrals, it is so important that we listen closely to each and every customer. What we are listening for are real life events that have an associated financial need. Customers often talk about things that are going on in their life while they wait for their transaction to be complete. As tellers deepen the relationship with each customer, the customer will talk about different activities or events that are happening in their life. Maybe it is a new baby in the family or perhaps a change of job, etc. Each of these life events has a specific financial need. Why not be the one to help fulfill the need instead of letting it walk out the door?

4) Engaging Questions – Just as important to listening to your customer, it is also important to engage a customer with a few questions. Yes, I just heard the gears in your head churning-- if we ask lots of questions, won’t that slow down our teller lines? Yes, it may slow them down a bit but it does not have to. Showing genuine interest in your customer by asking a few focused questions builds and deepens a relationship which is exactly what leads to increased customer loyalty. Here are the two magical words that you can use to generate interest. The words are “I’M CURIOUS.” That’s right. I’m Curious. Here is how it works.

“I’m curious, I noticed you are depositing a paycheck today, many of our customers use direct deposit. If you have a minute, can I have one of our personal bankers talk with you about direct deposit?”

“I’m curious, I noticed that you have a CD maturing later this month. If you have time today, could I have Mary, your personal banker, talk with you about renewal options so you maximize your interest?”

“I’m curious, I see you have many checks for me to deposit today for your business. Have you heard about our new service called remote deposit capture? This new service saves you time and effort in traveling to the branch each day to make routine deposits. If you have a minute, I would be happy to have Mary, your personal banker, discuss this with you in more detail.”


Teller referrals can be a major source of repeat business with just a little bit of extra effort. If you want quality referrals, everyone needs to think about both verbal and non-verbal messages that are being sent to each customer. With every customer touch, you have the opportunity to enrich a relationship and generate true customer loyalty. Don’t miss your next chance for teller referral success.

Teller Referrals Rock!