Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Are You Giving Your Customers the Right Experience? If Interacting with Your Bank Is Mediocre or Worse, What Does That Do to Your Brand? and How Can You Make It a "Wow"?

Academic journal article ABA Banking Journal

Are You Giving Your Customers the Right Experience? If Interacting with Your Bank Is Mediocre or Worse, What Does That Do to Your Brand? and How Can You Make It a "Wow"?

Article excerpt

In the last decade, retailing has undergone a revolution of sorts--call it, the urge to be exceptional. And you can see it in the form of high-concept merchandising at stores that range from the Gap to Bloomies, which are all quick to show off their visual sassy.

Like television's Trading Spaces teams who tackle ugly, unkempt apartments with a vengeance, these retailers are carving an identity out of some bland strip mall environment or office space.

But interiors, music, logos and product selection only get you so far. Clearly, there are other traits of high retail IQ.

Structured customer outreach is also critical to the process. Whether it's coffee they sell or $400 shoes, retailers want to lure and inspire customers to be faithful; increasingly they are hiring more outgoing people and training them to behave in ways that are designed to assist and inform the customer.

This might involve alerting customers to a new opportunity ("Verona blend coffee is on sale this week") or simply taking a little extra time to make sure a question gets answered or an anxiety is quelled.

Retailers aren't the only ones trying to make a difference this way. Ron Kendrick, executive vice-president of community banking with $42.6 billion assets Union Bank of California, San Francisco, says it's his bank's goal to be the Nordstroms of banking.

"We train and encourage employees to really wow our customers by extending themselves in service situations," he says. "The bank has a friendly, family atmosphere and we want our customers to feel respected."

Kendrick relates a story about a senior who lost his footing--and his glasses--while heading into a branch. "Our teller followed him outside, got down on hands and knees and found the glasses in the bushes out front," says Kendrick. "The customer went inside, completed the transaction, and our teller walked him to his car. Then, she phoned his wife to inform her he was coming home with a lot of cash."

While Kendrick admits that this service example is one of the more extraordinary cases, he does say that strong service isn't the exception--and it's reinforced through training.

While all retailers realize the customer is a free agent, exceptional retailers hang onto the belief that inspired customers, in turn, will offer friends word-of-mouth praise that's as valuable as any well-bred ad campaign.

Looking to behave differently

Certainly, the banking industry is looking for ways to improve its service delivery. As a banker, you may have taken great pains over the last year or so to show off your own retail IQ or inspire customer loyalty.

With branches opening up nationwide, many banks are experimenting with delivering retail services differently, working with firms that include NewGround, John Ryan, or Willey Brothers to get a new kind of act together.

Your urge to motivate new customer service behaviors in the branch may be driven by hard-nosed directives, like quarterly profitability or retention, but what drives you might be an unvoiced but real urge to simply be the best, say experts. Yet, unlike more straightforward moves such as engineering an M&A deal, dominating in retail by creating a positive customer experience requires equal parts operational verve, aesthetic, and product quality to occur daily.

The biggest single cause of customer attrition (other than relocation) is a bad service experience, notes Richard Bell, research director, with Financial Insights, Framingham, Mass. Bell has done ample research on customer service in the context of branch floor plan, business model, and retail delivery infrastructure. While it may not yet be science, Bell believes controlling the experience is, or can be, a very structured art that some banks are increasingly getting a handle on. He stresses that branches (even those under the same corporate umbrella) reflect different geographies and varied customer requirements. …

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