5 Steps for Effectively Onboarding Commercial Banking Clients

Here's how financial institutions should be effectively onboarding their commercial banking clients to create a "wow" experience that generates real results.

If there’s one industry that knows customer experience its hospitality. The best known customer-centric property in this space is the Ritz Carlton. They’ve so perfected ‘world class service’ that they founded a leadership academy to teach managers and professionals how ladies and gentlemen serve ladies and gentlemen.

It’s not just the big brands, though. Boutique hotels provide a similarly personalized service level. My wife, Mrs. Hubbard, has a much more discerning eye and nose when it comes to hotel rooms — more than once we’ve moved rooms, floors… even buildings.

As for me, a frequent road warrior, it’s less about the five senses and more about the overall service experience. Here’s an example involving the Nu Hotel in Brooklyn from last December. It was cute and quaint, and passed the initial sniff test. But what made the experience come to life though was the phone call.

“Hello Mr. Hubbard, this is Ben at the front desk. Do you have a couple of minutes?”

“Sure Ben, what can I do for you?”

“I want to introduce you to your room,” Ben says, “and share a couple of the unique benefits of staying with us.”

With Ben on my iPhone, I proceeded to tour the bathroom (including whether we had enough towels), opened and closed the drapes, checked all the lights, and scrolled through the TV channels. I even got an email from him during the conversation to be certain that the wifi was up to speed. Ben told me about the wine hour — which got Mrs. Hubbard’s attention — and he suggested a car service in case we had places to go. We used the car service and Ben booked it for us. I now use this transportation company regularly when I am in New York.

This was onboarding at its best.

In February 2016, in partnership with Kadince, I fielded a study encompassing over 200 financial institutions. The survey focused on marketing and business banking can work together in greater harmony. Sadly, in one question, we found that less than 8% of respondents had any systematic welcome program in their commercial banking arm; the tracking was haphazard at best and no one was measuring any results.

What Onboarding is Not

Even the majority of banks that suggest they have an onboarding program admit the experience is likely “mediocre” for the client. That’s because many banks give control of the program to a third party that believe letters, emails and product pushes are the best way to roll out the welcome mat.

This process is not about dumping a slough of additional products in their lap. It’s not impersonal correspondence signed by a heartless robot. It’s not a tick mark or a check box for a sales manager or sales associate. It’s not a “campaign.”

The process won’t survive long without on-going coaching either, nor without continual engagement from key internal stakeholders.

Now that we’ve defined what onboarding is not, here’s a case study about a bank that really nails it. We’ll have to call them “Experience Bank” for privacy purposes.

Experience Bank has harnessed the power of systems and human interaction built on five C’s: Connecting, Collaborating, Conversations, CRM and Coaching. This process goes into motion when a business joins the bank as a new client.

Connecting: At The Closing

Onboarding at Experience Bank begins with a new client orientation. Just like when a new employee joins the bank, this introduction helps clients assimilate faster, and take advantage of the human and monetary resources available to them.

The orientation takes place at the loan closing or when the deposit/service account is opened. It includes a variety of questions about how the client might use the bank, the day(s) they tend to make their deposits, who makes them, what concerns they have, etc.

There is likely an introduction to other bank associates, too. At the very least, the new client receives a fact sheet that includes bios and color photos of key team members. Finally, the banker seeks permission to reach out at various points during year one of the relationship and provides an overview of the future steps the bank will take in the onboarding process. This takes less than 10 minutes, but clients find it one of the more unique experiences they ever have with a bank. This rareness is not lost on company employees or outside trusted advisors that might be present. It also takes the whole process away from a “closing” to a potential long term partnership opening.

Onboarding at Experience Bank is successful because multiple associates are engaged. It starts with the senior sales manager, moves to a board member (yep, that’s right) then on to the sales assistant. There is a joint call midway through the process and it all concludes with a customized message from the CEO.

1. Initial Follow-Up at Three Days

Three business days after the relationship begins, the senior sales manager telephones the new client. We’ll call her Jane.

“Good morning, Jane. This is Bill from Experience Bank. Is this a good time to chat for just a few minutes?”

“Sure,” Jane says.

“Excellent. At your loan closing, Mark Kress, your Resource Manager, suggested I might reach out to you.”

Here’s where Bill asks about how the loan closing went. Bill is made aware of any hiccups or issues, and is ready to address them if they come up.

“What has your experience been with the bank so far?” Bill asks next.

Sure, it’s been only three days, but if something happens, it can be dealt with immediately. If something positive occurred, Bill can share that with the team as well. Once, in fact, a new banking client’s daughter tried to apply for an auto loan the day after the client’s loan closed and her experience was not up to par. That was fixed right away.

“How was our relationship development process from start to finish and how that worked for you?” Bill asks.

When was the last time a new client had an opportunity to share thoughts around this?

“Your banker Mark is one of our very best. If you could coach him, would you have him continue doing what he is doing or is there something he could improve or do differently?”

Bill asks the client to provide details about what worked and what didn’t. He gets candid, uncensored feedback, and clients usually find this approach refreshing. Bill ends the phone call by saying, “Let me give you my cell phone and email address. If I can ever be of help, I am at your service. We appreciate your business. Thanks for your trust and for choosing Experience Bank. And if it’s okay with you, I would like to connect with you on LinkedIn.”

2. Board Outreach at One Week

Experience Bank has a Customer Experience Committee as part of their Board that is made up of both inside and outside Directors. Each board member is assigned one week every two months to make these calls. They typically last less than 10 minutes each. The goal is to welcome the new client, ask about the experience, learn why they selected the bank, thank the client for their business and ask if there is anything else the bank can do to be of help. Referrals are made back to the Resource Manager when there is an opportunity — which occurs often.

The board member sends a brief follow up email to the Resource Manager with details from the call. If there is an opportunity, a phone call is made to the Resource Manager. The Resource Manager inserts the board member’s notes into their CRM system. Directors often connect with new clients on LinkedIn as well.

3. Checking-In at Six Weeks

At the six week mark, an Experience Bank sales assistant steps to the plate. At this point, the new client Jane has received her first statement and it may look unfamiliar. Here is the assistant’s conversation:

“Good morning Jane. This is Ben, a relationship assistant at Experience Bank. Is this a good time to chat for just a couple minutes?”

Ben moves into his questions.

“You received your first loan statement, and it may look a little different than what you are used to. What questions can I answer about your statement, if any?”

Ben is aware of the different look of the previous bank’s statement from the documents shared with him prior to closing.

“You’ve been with us for six weeks so far. What has your experience been with the bank to this point?”

While Ben likely can’t fix any issue directly, he can pass the information along to the Resource Manager who can provide help if needed. If the experience has been positive, it is passed to teammates who always need to be reinforced for good service.

“We want to always be certain that we are serving our clients well. To that end, what initiatives might be on your plate over the next three to six months, and how can Experience Bank be a partner in your success?”

Ben isn’t looking to sell anything, but he does want to be able to refer something on if there is a need, which happens quite regularly.

The call ends with Ben providing his contact information, thanking the client for their business, and scheduling an onsite meeting between Jane, the bank’s resource manager, and the bank’s senior sales manager.

4. Face-to-Face at Three Months

The three-month milestone marks the time for the face-to-face meeting Ben setup with Jane. The goal of this meeting is to put faces-to-names and do some cross-solving.

The Experience Bank sales manager also provides a brief economic update and shares some best practices about the client’s industry. The bank provides great resources like Vertical IQ to help the banker and the manager stay current on industry issues.

5. Celebrate the Anniversary at One Year

Experience Bank has partnered with its marketing department to create a blind embossed card that is personally signed and authored by the bank’s CEO. This anniversary card arrives at Jane’s business via Fed Ex on the one-year anniversary of the loan closing. Depending on the profitability of the company, the bank might also send a copy of the latest bestselling sales or leadership book. Nice touch.

These Conversations Don’t Happen By Accident

Each representative from Experience Bank receives Conversation Training, but not a script. There is an overarching onboarding process and underlying strategy, however each banker employs their own style when asking questions and offering help.

Various visual and training aids outline the bank’s approach, how each banker fits within it, along with some general bullet points as to how to implement their particular portion of the program. New bankers go through the training and shadow a veteran bank employee through this process to see it in action.

Everyone Loves Using CRM Now

Experience Bank uses a well-known CRM system. Like many sales-focused organizations, the initial adoption rate had been less than optimal. Most business and commercial bankers dismiss pretty much ever system as pretty well worthless. But under the bank’s onboarding process, the CRM system has become an essential and non-negotiable part of the sales culture. It is the only way each banker can stay on top of their key dates and deliverables. The system automatically creates triggers and reminders for everyone.

Utilization of the CRM system has steadily increased since implementing the onboarding process. As an unintended benefit, bankers now use the system for other things too. They have actually found the system to be much more helpful than they ever imagined.

Coaching Critical to Onboarding Success

Prior to implementing an onboarding system, manager-to-banker conversations focused on deals, operations and compliance. Onboarding is one of the many changes brought about by a new performance-driven culture focused on both sales and sales management skills. Everyone at Experience Bank now has some client-centric routines they are accountable for.

Team meetings now tie in the onboarding process, and successes are regularly shared as well as best practices that add value to the program. There is a significant new energy that permeates these meetings. Sales managers and associates have weekly 15-20-minute meetings to touch base and discuss sales strategies. Bankers’ telephone conversations are monitored from time to time to ensure they are executing the process correctly. They are then coached as to what went well and what could be improved.

Onboarding at Experience Bank is not just a snazzy buzzword. It’s a strategic process that improves client retention, the client experience and increases referrals. It’s a win-win all the way around.

The next time you check in to a hotel, buy a car or switch cell phone providers, pay attention to the onboarding process (or lack thereof). Gauge how the experience makes you feel. Then take a look at your bank’s processes and how it brings clients into the fold.

Jack Hubbard is Chief Experience Officer at St. Meyer & Hubbard. Jack is a regular featured presenter at state and national conferences and he serves on the faculty at several of banking’s most prestigious schools. Hubbard has personally trained and coached more than 68,000 bankers over the past four decades.

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