The first 90 days of almost any relationship…personal, romantic, business, sports, etc…is, by far, the most important stage.

It’s when the parties get to really know each other, become familiar with the “rules” (formal or otherwise), realize what boundaries exist, learn about options, see how this change fits into their current lives, understand what issues or difficulties may exist, and so forth.

It’s also commonly referred to as the “feeling each other out” period.

Well, this principle is vital to understand, to embrace & to take immediate action when warranted.

We see this important timeframe take on increased importance when it comes to both new employees as well as new customers/clients.

Extensive data is available that clearly shows that the highest incidence of attrition – – be it new employee leaving a company as well as new customers discontinuing transacting with a business – – occurs during the first 90 days of the new relationship.

It’s impossible to overestimate how very important this early stage in the relationship is.

New employees.

Regardless of how good a training program you have (or you think you have), the proof of the pudding is when the new employee is now longer in that sterile, learning environment.

The real world tends to startle them, smack ‘em in the face at times, especially since it’s hard to perfectly replicate the delicate Employee-Customer interaction in the classroom.

Even buddying up the trainee with an experienced old pro doesn’t truly cover the full spectrum of being “out there by yourself & facing off directly with a customer”.

People most often leave jobs during this 90-day period.

Some companies actually go so far as to “mask” their attrition rates by completing excluding resignations during the first 3 months. This “let’s look good first before we actually try to do good” philosophy is so dangerous for any organization to adopt.

Areas with big problems, e.g., attrition rates during the first 90 days that are signifantly higher than the norm, also present the company or business segment with the greatest opportunity to improve!

What to do?

First off, you need to spend extra time with your new hires & devote more time & resources to them.

Have a daily, individual 15-minute (minimum) review session with them (with a trainer, manager, support person or an experienced, proven worker)…if daily sessions can’t be supported, then 2-3 times/week.

The new employees need to keep a log of every customer interaction that they found difficult (irate customers, solving problems to the customer’s satisfaction, figuring out complex situations, understanding different terminology that customers may use, handing systems problems, explaining things that the customer doesn’t understand or won’t accept, etc.) during the day. That will provide the fodder for these regular review situations.

Buddy them up with an outstanding employee. During these side-by-side sessions, each party needs to take notes…what interactions the recent hire found difficult while the experienced buddy keeps track of all interactions, both good & bad.

Weekly review sessions with the recently-graduated class of trainees. You need to hear from them on those situations where they feel that they “weren’t trained enough” (either improperly, insufficiently or not at all) to effectively provide the customer with a quality service interaction. And both line management as well as representation from Training must attend these sessions so there’s a more holistic approach to the situation. After a few of these different sessions, Training will get a much better idea of what improvements must be made to their programs.

This approach (of ensuring that Training has the appropriate tools & materials and that the information is being properly delivered) can be greatly facilitated by having the Trainer “follow the class onto the floor” so they’re able to see what really is happening out there. They’re more capable of now self-identifying areas of improvement, in both the training curriculum as well as their delivery of same to the student.

In larger working environments, recent graduates are either all teamed together as one group or spread throughout the floor onto different teams. Regardless of which approach is used, it’s vital that there be sufficient resources available (in person!) to assist the new employees. And if they join “regular teams”, ensure they’re sitting next to experienced workers who are willing & able to help. When a new employee needs help, they will immediately ask the person nearest to them before raising their hand or calling an internal Help Desk. There is no way to stifle this informal network so it’s better to realize that it, indeed, exists & to ensure they’re surrounded by knowledgeable people. New people don’t want to appear “helpless” or “stupid” or “unable to handle every customer interaction themselves” so recognize that this is reality & provide the necessary & proper resources accordingly.

And when a new employee decides to resign, find out why. What could we have done differently? Is the relationship salvageable? As a last resort, ensure that the organization (usually, HR) conducts an exit interview with them. You’ll be surprised at some of the things you hear…and how easily it is to address these “issues” (opportunities for improvement) going forward.

New Customers.

The same phenomenon that happens with new employees leaving during the first 90 days happens with new customers as well.

But you don’t have the opportunity to “train your customer”, right?

Or do you?

You need to ensure that during the initial sales session, customers are educated about they should be expecting. Materials & handouts provide an excellent opportunity to reinforce or supplement the discussions that took place. At Citi, we created checklists for our employees to help them on what topics should be covered with every new customer.

And we went one step further. We created a special First 90 Days Customer Care Unit for our retail banking cilustomers.

Checking customers were contacted during the first month of having their new account to proactively review their impression of the account opening session…Were things explained well? Have you encountered any situation for which you were unprepared? Were you told about or shown all the different channels (branches, Customer Service, on-line banking, phone app, banking by mail, direct deposit, etc.) that you can use to transact or ask for help? Did you receive your checkbook order in the mail? Get your first statement?

A follow-up call is then made around the 45-60 day mark. Have you read & understood your statement? Are there opportunities to enhance your personal financial picture by taking advantage of different products or services?

A third call is attempted during the 90-120 day timeframe to further provide support, address & resolve any issues/problems, attempt to deepen the relationship by focusing on the full spectrum of products & services.

This whole program has been incredible successful over the past 20 or so years.

Not only has the bank put a significant dent in the customer attrition rate, but they’ve also had tremendous success in expanding the customers’ total Citi relationship!

Will a similar effort help you to retain more customers? Most probably & you’ll also discover that they’ll be more profitable customers as well!

And remember, you’re not trying to sell them other products or having them increase their balances with you…you’re attempting to look at their individual financial picture & see how your company is able to better address that specific customer’s needs & wants for today & for the rest of their lives.

Kids that’ll be going to college one day? Saving & planning for retirement (the earlier, the better)? Buying a home? Exploring home equity & other credit options? Insurance? Wealth advisory services? Brokerage?

And while you’re not able to speak directly with every new customer, that doesn’t mean you can’t get their valuable input. Targeted surveys (mail, on-line, etc.), statement messages & inserts, “new customer” alerts at various touch points (Customer Service, tellers, advisors, etc.) to assist your employees, focus groups…these are all helpful to obtaining input from your new customers & assisting your employees in bring better prepared to provide an exceptional level of service.

Good luck!

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