The Eyes Have It

Looking someone in the eye has long been a signal of truthfulness and respect.

But the proliferation of mobile devices, computer screens and other distractions is causing a drop in how often people make eye contact. And it’s an even bigger problem in a bank branch.

Making eye contact with customers is an important part of conducting business, but the way tellers’ jobs are set-up, many of them are looking down counting, pushing buttons or staring at a screen. The systems they use don’t give them much time for eye contact during a transaction.

Take a minute to watch a teller in action. A customer approaches the station, which is often separated by a barrier or partition, and asks for help. The teller must then punch in account numbers, count bills or pull up information on a screen. All that time and attention is focused elsewhere, not on the customer.

But new innovations such as cash recyclers and open branch concepts are helping free tellers’ time and attention – giving them more opportunities to make eye contact with customers and listen to their financial needs.

And the importance of creating a connection shouldn’t be underestimated. Studies have shown that eye contact is crucial for creating emotional connections. Kate Murphy wrote for The New York Times that, “Only actual eye contact fully activates those parts of the brain that allow us to more acutely and accurately process another person’s feelings and intentions. Think of it as a cognitive jump-start that occurs whenever you lock eyes with another person, whether in front of you or across a crowded room.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that during an average conversation, adults make eye contact between 30% and 60% of the time, citing information from Quantified Impressions, a communications-analytics company. In order to create an emotional connection, people should be making eye contact between 60% and 70% of the time.

Research has shown that people who make eye contact are more likable and trustworthy, Murphy wrote for The Times. And since trust is one of the most important parts of a banking relationship, training tellers to make eye contact can subtly reinforce the notion that clients can have faith that their financial institution is working on their behalf.

Making eye contact also has an added security benefit.  A good way to deter theft is acknowledging people as they enter the branch and making eye contact with them, security experts say. Many potential thieves leave branches where they think they could be recognized.

Reconfiguring jobs and giving tellers tools that allow them to pay more attention to customers and look them in the eyes is an important, although subtle, way to increase trust and security.

Learn about cash recycling in the branch and how it can help your tellers maintain more eye contact.