7 Ways Banks Can Win Friends and Influence People

Brand advocates are the most important customer segment you’ll ever have. But how do you get them?

Companies like Apple, Costco, and Virgin are dominant brands in different industries, but they all have one thing in common: large groups of loyal customers. They earned these fans through stellar customer service — the kind competitors struggle to match with any lasting effect.

Unfortunately, the banking isn’t known for its stellar customer service. Banks frequently rank down with the DMV and lawyers in customer experience studies. Today, banks’ survival requires that they get on board with the kind of customer focus that’s more common among strong, successful brands in other industries.

Every day, there’s more competition and more noise. The only way for a bank to stand out is by going above and beyond to serve the customer. TD Bank in the U.S. achieves this rather well. TD Bank takes its slogan — “America’s most convenient bank” — seriously, and their customers love it. TD Bank keeps hours that accommodate its customers’ needs. Their managers also regularly conduct mystery shops to better understand the customer experience — “walking a mile in the customers’ shoes,” as the expression goes. Executives encourage both customers and employees to offer ideas for better customer service options.

Done the right way and with the right motives, customer service should be an authentic and sincere goal. If you can deliver the best customer experience, your brand will win fans and increase “net promoters” in such numbers that you will feel the effect on your bottom line.

1. See Things Through Their Eyes

Don’t be distracted down by the silos, organizational charts, and product lines that often plague financial institutions internally. Focus instead on the customer experience. How do people interact with you? What difficult or confusing areas can be fixed?

Customers don’t care about your “business units” and how your institution is departmentally structured. They just want service. From you.

Start by surveying your new and existing customers about their relationships with financial institutions. Don’t ask solely about their experiences with your own bank. Dig into the details about your competitors too. Knowing what went wrong with a customer’s previous bank relationship can be extremely valuable information; you’ll only uncover your new customers’ expectations so you can serve them better, and you’ll gain insights about who to target in the future (and how to shape your marketing messages).

2. Respect Complaints

Don’t see customer issues as interruptions that should be circumvented whenever possible. Instead, view them as positive learning opportunities. You don’t have to do market research to discover how to better serve your customers. More likely than not, they’re already telling you! Fix the complaints, both in the moment and for the future. These are the pain points in the experience you’re delivering.

3. Be Straight

Employees in sales positions at financial institutions frequently don’t have the information they need about their own products. In fact, two out of three confess that they’ve outright lied to customers just to cover up their lack of knowledge. Employees should instead be encouraged to be upfront with customers in these situations. In many cases, they may even be more impressed by employees who go the extra mile to discover answers to any questions or complaints.

4. Know Your Customers

Dashboards and market analytics don’t tell you who your customers really are. What are their hopes and goals? If you can’t help them reach those goals, do you know someone who can? Taking a genuine, personal interest in people’s lives — and trying to help them, not just sell them something — does more to create brand advocates than any other tactic.

5. Let Customers Get to Know You

This is less about “delivering effective brand messages” and more about the idea behind the brand. Does your name and service delivery model evoke a positive emotional reaction? If so, you’re doing something right.

Start by building on the connections you already have with customers. Send regular updates to your audience that isn’t all about products only. Send details about the more personal aspects of the company (e.g., big events in employees’ lives). Customers who visit branches on a regular basis are building relationships with your frontline staff, and these more intimate and personal updates help grow this connection and build it into a connection with the bank itself.

6. Add a Personal Touch

Even as we get more tech-savvy, global, and geographically dispersed, nothing beats a personal touch. Acknowledge the client as a person with a phone call, handwritten note, or personalized email. Remember, you should be a valued member of the customer’s team, invested in his or her life goals.

7. Build a Customer Focus Across All Departments

Your customer service strategy should flow across all parts of the business. Few companies do it, and fewer do it well — but when everyone in the organization is connected to the strategy, you have a winner.

Companies don’t deliver stellar customer service. People do. A famous story about the early days of Zappos details how an employee answering the phone ordered pizza for a client. Find a hundred employees like that, and you can’t miss.

Technology has been a boon to banks and clients in all industries, making it easier to measure, track, and analyze all facets of customer satisfaction. But the best lesson banks can learn from technology companies is how to think about the customer experience. A singular focus on the customer, customizing every aspect of the bank’s operation to make the best experience possible, is the key to business success.

Sona Jepsen is the Vice President of Consultant Relations at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her department drives solutions for sales teams in consultant-led opportunities.

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