By Beth Johnson Ruth
New Hampshire Business Review. March 16, 1985
Kathleen Kimball's eyes glow with missionary zeal. Her small body radiates the almost belligerent vitality of one whose diet consists primarily of raw foods. Her high-energy conversation is peppered with references to nutritional therapy, dream analysis and the 'I Ching'. She is a vegetarian.
All in all, Kimball might be the last person one would associate with the button-down world of banking; a world whose inhabitants are rarely characterized by their attraction to the unconventional.
But bankers are in fact strongly attracted to Kathleen Kimball, her husband Duane, and their Hampton company, Emanacom (an acronym for "employee-management communications"). Nearly every bank in New England has had contact with Emanacom through attendance at one of the company's public seminars, sponsored by organizations including the American Institute of Banking, the Institute for Financial Education and the University of New Hampshire. About three dozen of those banks, including nearly a score from New Hampshire, have sought the company's more intensive counsel through in-house training programs lasting several hours, days or even months.
The programs Emanacom offers cover topics that include customer relations, product knowledge training, teller certification, officer call training, interviewing skills, effective listening, telemarketing and more. Whatever the topic, the goal, is, in part, the same: to improve the ability of bank personnel to communicate with their customers and one another.
Kathleen Kimball, who holds communicaions degrees from California State University and the University of Arizona, believes that bankers need good communications skills more than most people — and that they need them now more than ever. Customers are becoming more demanding of their banks. "In this society, the most valued symbol of status is money," Kimball said. "That may be unfortunate, but it's true. And people feel very strongly about who handles their money and how."
In the past, Kimball added, "A branch manager stayed very comfortably behind her desk, with people coming to her. Now she finds herself turned into a 'calling officer,' having to go onto other people's turf to sell them services. It's scary having to make that territorial adjustment."
Mike Schuller, president of Bank Meridian in Hampton, an Emanacom client, agrees with Kimball's assessments. "Bankers traditionally haven't thought in terms of sales. They're not oriented Kimball's goal is to improve communication at banks towards active business development. Changing that doesn't mean just acquiring some new skills, but changing our attitude about what we do."
"We're having to become sales organizations now, rather than order-takers," said Dennis Bosse, assistant vice president at Amoskeag National Bank in Manchester. His bank, too, makes use of Enianacom's services. "In order to become efficient in this new area, we need the emphasis on communication skills."
Communicating skillfully, in Kimball's view, involves much more than talking. While a person may carefully plan what he or she is going to say in a business context, those words will be accompanied by a steady stream of non-verbal messages. According to Kimball, "Most of our behavior is not conscious. And unconscious body language and eye contact have higher credibility than what we say, because they're very difficult to manipulate," she said. "The body doesn't lie like words do."
Emanacom training alerts people to their own and others' body language, what it means and how it can be used to improve communication. Kimball encourages plenty of individual experimentation. She doesn't want to turn out "parrots" who practice particular gestures learned from the top (the trainer) down. Instead, Kimball encourages a "horizontal" kind of learning, in which workshop participants discuss certain forms of behavior and their connotations. Out of such a discussion, she said, a large number of participants will choose on their own to adopt the most positive behavior. Behavioral patterns learned through vertical methods "have a shelf life of about 30 days," she said. The relative permanence of horizontally learned behavior is much higher.
A few of the non-verbal behaviors that Kimball may address in a workshop is a bankers's tendency to break eye contact when quoting an interest rate; the communicative habits of each gender, ("Men make 96 percent of all interruptions; 76 percent of questions are asked by women") the amount of "personal territory" needed by people doing business in various cultures (New England, 24 inches: California, 18 inches; Saudia Arabia, "close enough to breathe on the another, or the Saudi will think you're an evasive person,"); and the intense impression made by a friendly touch.
Kimball cites surveys done on bank customers who were waited on by two groups of tellers — one group that placed the customers' money in their hands, making brief contact, and another group that laid the money on the counter. Although many customers weren't consciously aware that the first group of tellers had touched them, they consistently rated the "touchers" as warmer, friendlier and more pleasant to do business with.
Telemarketing is a field that's growing in importance for banks, and Kimball is hearing more requests for help in that area. "Bankers are finding fewer opportunities to sell new services to customers because of electronic banking," said Dennis Bosse of Amoskeag. "Customers are simply coming into the building less often." Amoskeag National is one of the banks that has hired Emanacom to provide training in telephone technique.
"On the telephone, you're in about the most intimate situation you get into in business," said Kimball. "It's your mouth and his ear. All you've got to work with is what you say and how you say it." She offers people working in telemarketing some tips "which might sound corny, but try them before you decide." They include: "Stand up if you're nervous." "Own the whole space about you." "Put a mirror by the phone and smile at yourself while you're talking." "Have a call plan or script in front of you. Be prepared to deal with the objections that might come up.
Kimball says that communications training can produce results for bankers including "reduced turnover, boosted morale and productivity and an increased return on assets." Bosse and Schuller both say that while they aren't looking for measurable results for a couple of years, they are receiving enthusiastic feedback about Emanacom's services from their own employees. Schuller and Duane Kimball are currently setting up some computer programs that will aid in "tracking" the programs' material effectiveness.
Both banks said that, whether the results are yet measurable or not, they've been pleased with the Hampton company's work.
"We'd go with Emanacom again," said Dennis Bosse. "In fact, we're working on a couple of other programs that they'll help us with down the road."
Schuller is also impressed "that Emanacom has been so supportive of our efforts. They want us to succeed for our sakes as well as theirs. They're in for the long haul — it's not just 'What can I sell you today?' "