Competition to retain and win customers is stiff between banks and credit unions. Delivering a superior customer experience to members is one way credit unions work to distinguish themselves from a traditional bank. Yet, as the economy struggles to right itself, some credit unions are faced with a difficult challenge: continuing to provide high-quality service while carefully managing operating costs.

One way credit unions can strike a balance between service and costs is to adopt a workforce optimization strategy across their entire branch network. An effective deployment of workforce optimization capabilities will allow you to continue to provide excellent service and even increase sales while carefully managing branch labor costs.

Workforce optimization is a common software tool in use with many credit unions throughout the country that helps deliver an excellent customer experience by optimizing the scheduling of your branch staff to ensure their ability to handle expected customer demand.

But tools can’t stand alone. An effective workforce optimization strategy is about people, processes and adoption. To drive adoption, people must be motivated to use the tools and processes created for this purpose.

Create a change management program. Change management is the structured approach to proactively managing changes impacting individuals and organizations. To get started, have a plan for how you will introduce the workforce management program to employees and create positive awareness. Prepare your employees for change and set expectations. Then, reassure your employees that change will be positive for them, as well as the credit union. Ensure employees are given knowledge so they can change behaviors successfully. Finally, reinforce the process.

Track the quality of schedules. A high-quality schedule is one where your branch employees have steady work throughout the day and members are not waiting in line for a longer time than is acceptable. To effectively measure schedule quality, your workforce optimization tool should integrate capacity modeling, scheduling and performance management capabilities in a single package and provide key performance indicators around schedule quality on a branch, area and overall basis.

Deploy performance monitoring systems. Activity monitoring systems-small software widgets that sit on workstations and monitor activity-can easily be used to track transaction duration and how effectively a teller uses the teller transaction system. Use of these performance-monitoring applications can uncover inefficient processes, as well as opportunities for teller coaching. Your time clock system can also be used to compare its data against your branch employee schedules to determine if your branch employees were deployed as recommended by the branch capacity model.

Provide incentives to top performers and improvers. The old adage “measure what matters” is especially important when driving branch adoption of workforce optimization. By defining the key performance indicators that matter most to the credit union, you can reward behavior that has positive impact on bottom-line profitability. As a result, employee incentives can be formalized into a compensation plan that drives the behaviors that lead to profitability.

To qualify for an incentive, employees can be measured based on improvement, an absolute score or a combination of both. These incentive programs can take many forms including cash prizes, extra personal days or even goods, such as big-screen TVs, tickets or other products.

Use a balanced scorecard system for incentives. Incentives can be focused only on schedule adherence or a balanced scorecard that includes adherence along with other performance measures. We recommend using adherence as one part of a balanced scorecard that includes other metrics, such as branch performance, meeting sales and service objectives, and member satisfaction.

By making adherence part of a scorecard and incentives dependent on the overall score, you have the ability to align incentives with credit union objectives. As a result, you can easily identify what is important to the credit union in order to create a measurement plan that institutionalizes these objectives.

In our experience, virtually all branches that successfully deploy workforce optimization programs find they are much better able to align branch staff cheduling with expected member traffic. This results in a better member experience, improved member retention and increased sales and service in the branch.

When you are ready to improve your branch’s sales and service and create a branch culture that embraces workforce optimization techniques, keep three principles in mind. Managers need to know what’s in it for them, for their branch, for the credit union and its members. Decide what is important to measure and then track, compare and coach. Reward those behaviors and behavior changes that result in improvements to the member experience, member satisfaction and overall operational performance of the credit union.

Dave Marcus, senior vice president of strategic programs for GMT Corp. He can be reached at 770- 416-6000 or dave@gmt.com