Sell the Emotion

By Lou Carbone

Customers buy a product or service from you because they have a positive feeling about your bank—that is, a good customer experience. Here are some quick, easy ways to maintain or enhance these good customer vibes.

Bank closings continue to slow, a welcome sign that the industry is getting stronger. However, this doesn’t mean that customer banking relationships are going to be calmer and more settled in the months ahead.

In fact, the World Retail Banking Report 2013 by Capgemini and Efma found that more than 50 percent of customers say that they are likely to close their account and switch to another bank within the next six months. The report goes on to say, “The quality of overall service is the primary factor that drives customers to leave their bank.”

What other factor is adding to the risk of customer exodus? The answer is banks’ failure to provide more personal customer experiences. Positive customer experiences are strongly correlated with the trust customers place in their banks and with the customers’ belief that their banks have a good understanding of their needs. Historically seen as pillars of the community, banks now find themselves at bottom of the trust totem pole. Customer trust in banks and financial institutions has fallen so dramatically, in fact, that the “Edelman Global Trust Survey of 2013” ranked it the least-trusted sector. This survey result is especially troubling given that trust is the very foundation of banking.

To reclaim its spot on the top of the trust totem pole, banks need to embrace the realization that everything is an emotional buy—everything. Whether buying a cup of coffee, staying at a hotel or securing a mortgage for a new house. Our emotional reaction to a service transaction is the fundamental driver of our purchasing decision.

Furthermore, emotion, more than satisfaction, is the foundation of the customer experience: What’s it like to do business with the product or service provider? How does the transaction make me feel? Of course, rational thought, consideration of pros and cons and so forth may be part of the buying decision. But it’s our emotions—the feelings, senses, intuition and gut reaction that are processed in our unconscious thought—that will be the driving force. In fact, behavioral scientists have long reported that 95 percent of our purchase decisions take place unconsciously.

Gallup research has also shown that truly different customer behavior emerges when the customer is not only rationally satisfied but emotionally attached. Emotional attachment starts with satisfaction but adds elements of confidence, integrity, pride and even passion. Gallup found that less than half (45 percent) of customers who are satisfied say they would consider their bank the next time they needed a product or service. That consideration skyrockets to 83 percent among customers who are both satisfied and fully engaged.

A “fully engaged” customer is defined as someone who is fully committed and loyal to a brand. It means a deeper emotional bond that goes beyond seeing the business as selling a commodity product or service to one seeing the business as being preferred and inspiring a deep commitment.

Over the years, there have been numerous studies showing that most defectors from brands and experiences actually are “satisfied” customers.

What’s more, customers who are both fully engaged and satisfied are also more likely to say that they will open new accounts, switch an account from another bank, increase their balances, add ancillary products and services or obtain financial planning advice than are those customers who are just satisfied.

Engaging customers

Emotion is the chief differentiator between a transactional experience and an engaging one. The book “A Shifting Landscape: Customer Experience Trends and Practices in Retail Banking” observed that the most impactful emotional terms customers associate with an enjoyable banking experience are:



–Cared for.



Enjoyable experiences make customers feel cared for and appreciated and affects how they feel about the bank. Focusing on delivering an experience that elicits these desired feelings offers a new framework for strategy, training and education.

Findings of the Knowledge Exchange

Deluxe Corp. created its Knowledge Exchange a few years ago to help financial institutions (their clients) network and share knowledge for overcoming common customer business challenges. Comprised of a group of 11 professionals from national and community banks and credit unions nationwide, the exchange’s mission is to employ state-of-the-art experience management strategies for improving business results and establishing compelling customer experiences.

Research uncovered two key findings: (1) A financial institution’s newest customers are the most vulnerable, with the first 90 days of a customer’s experience being pivotal in shaping the relationship with the institution; (2) Banks and clients view the relationship differently. While banks adopted a transactional focus aimed at selling products and services, customers wanted flexibility, personal attention and advice from their financial institution as they began building a relationship.

Collaborative members worked with an outside consultant to close this gap by developing and testing a series of customer experience clues to facilitate personal connections between branch employees and customers. A three-word “experience motif” was developed to express the emotions customers unconsciously seek in their initial experience with a financial institution. The motif was the basis used to design, evaluate, and manage specific experience clues aimed at engendering these feelings. Examples of these clues include:

Just Like Home. The receptionist acknowledges each person who walks in and, if possible, greets everyone by name. This clue signals that employees are focused on customers and not bank processes.

Stand Up. The employee stands up and acknowledges a customer as he or she comes to the desk. Standing up conveys respect that enhances feelings of being welcomed, and it also forces the employee to shift attention from other tasks to a central focus on the customer.

The Approach. The employee physically moves forward to greet the customer rather than waiting for the customer to arrive. This action creates a sense of meeting the customer “half way,” helping the customer feel more important, more engaged and central to the experience.

120-Second Self-Portrait. The employee devotes at least the first 120 seconds of the interaction to learning about the individual by evoking the customer’s story (“Tell me about yourself”). This establishes a sense of who the customer is. Intensely listening to the customer during this “self-portrait” presentation helps the employee sense and respond to the customer’s needs and desires.

Desk Connectors. The employee places three elements on the desk (such as a family photo) to help convey personal information. Portraying specific aspects of the banker’s life and interests presents opportunities to create a personal connection with a new customer, provides an opening for dialogue and conveys a better sense of the individual employee.

The Flip. The employee presents the client as the honored guest, the “one to meet.” For example, “Mike, I’d like to introduce you to Jim Smith who has just opened a new account with us” as opposed to, “Jim, I’d like to introduce you to our branch manager, Mike Johnson.” This dialogue flips the focus from banker to customer, elevating the customer’s status.

According to Deluxe, using specific experience clues boosted customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and employee engagement between 10 percent and 30 percent in the participating branches. Collaborative members reported an increased number of customers who indicated they were “completely satisfied,” more likely to continue to do business with the financial institution, or “extremely likely” to recommend their financial institution to a friend. Participating financial institutions also improved their share of wallet, adding at least one service sold per household.

So it all seems to rest on the emotional experience. All financial institutions may provide banking services that meet customer demands, but nothing is more important to holding on to those customers than understanding and managing the emotions that customers feel during the experience itself.

A well-designed and managed customer experience triggers emotions that have a positive effect on customer retention and customer loyalty. Delving into the customer experience on both rational and emotional levels enables banks to assess the range and variety of clues customers encounter and uncover gaps between their customers’ “current” and “desired” experience. Armed with this knowledge, the bank can design and deliver a better customer experience that plays out in a stronger brand image and increased revenue through lower attrition and increased cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

Lou Carbone is the founder, president and chief experience officer of Experience Engineering Inc., Minneapolis, and the author of “Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again.” The company provides customer experience management.