Don't Confuse Courtesy For Competency

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I grew up in New York. I’m used to walking into a New York-style deli, sitting down, and within 7 seconds, being approached by a waitress who rudely wants to know if I’ve made up my mind yet, and if I haven’t, being told — snarkily — that she’ll come back later, because she doesn’t have all day to wait for me to make up my little mind.

And while you might find this hard to believe, I actually prefer that to waiting for 10 minutes for that oh-so-friendly Southern waitress to get around to paying my table a visit. And getting my order wrong half the time.

You might prefer the latter to the former, and be willing to tolerate the extra wait, and possibility of getting the wrong order, in order to get friendly, courteous service.

To each his own.

At this point, you’re likely thinking: What the hell are you talking about, Ron?

I’m talking about confusing courtesy and competency.

My friend Jim Marous recently blogged about BankSimple and said:

“Today, BankSimple set themselves apart from any of my current or previous banks. They sent me a personalized, seemingly non-promotional email from a Customer Relations Representative named Rachel acknowledging my request for an invitation to try their bank and asking for my ‘story’. Rachel asked for my “loves, hates, quibbles, desires, hopes and dreams” regarding my financial life. Rachel went on to say that the bank was committed to building the best service a bank can offer and wanted to know “what’s up?”

I don’t disagree for a New York second that this is not the type of email today’s banks send out. Definitely a differentiated approach on the part of BankSimple.

But it’s not — I repeat, not — necessarily a “better” approach.

According to BankSimple’s site, Rachel has been “handling social media outreach, online fundraising, and website maintenance for MADRE, a nonprofit organization in New York City.” I don’t mean Rachel any disrespect — really I don’t.  But how does this experience qualify her to help me realize my “hopes and  dreams” regarding my financial life? In fact, exactly how is BankSimple going to do that regardless of who they hire as a customer service rep?

In addition, let me share a lesson I learned from the CEO of a firm I used to work for. This is one of the best pieces of sales advice I’ve ever heard: Don’t ever call up a customer and ask “how’s it going?” That’s what the CEO called a”dumb touch”. Customers, he said, don’t want their time wasted with dumb touches (and he’s not even from New York!). If you’re going to call a customer, figure out, in advance, how you will add value. That’s what he called a “smart touch.”

Putting a smiling, friendly face on top of a poor product, service, or process is often referred to as “putting lipstick on a pig.”

You gotta give the folks at BankSimple credit for creating so much positive buzz about the firm. But the proof is in the pudding, and to date, I can’t say I really see anything more than a promise that the lipstick will make the pig look better.

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