Improve Customer Communications

By Debbie DiCarlo and Richard Goldrosen

Your bank’s everyday customer communications could be negatively impacting your bottom line more than you realize—by eroding your brand, detracting from the customer experience and adding to your servicing costs.

Think of every communication you mail or email to a customer as a “moment of opportunity.” Like most banks, you probably generate hundreds of pre-written letters, emails and notices to your customers. These can include everything from an overdraft notice to a response to an inquiry; from an account update to a loan approval or denial; from a fee assessment to a credit card or loan application.

While each of these touches is a chance to advance your brand and show your customers how transparent, clear and helpful your bank can be, they can often have just the opposite effect.

The trouble is servicing communications are usually written by a cross section of people within the bank. Once written, they typically reside on some bank production system or on a vendor’s system, and are generated on an as-needed basis. They are rarely looked at again, no matter how complex or confusing they may be to a customer. As a result, over time, they can lead to excessive customer service calls and frustrated customers.

Upgrading your customer communications can be critical.

Simple, clear, consistent communications can lead to more satisfied and loyal customers. It can also reduce service calls and save your bank money. So how can you implement a bankwide simplification program? Consider these key ingredients.

  • Obtain consensus. Identify key stakeholders and forge a partnership aimed at simplifying customer communications as part of your commitment to deepen relationships and build trust among customers.
  • Build a business case. It is important that management, line-of-business specialists and your legal and compliance team buy into the program and understand its objectives.
  • Line up the resources to see the project through. You’ll need to identify key team members and put together a team that can move your project forward with efficiency.
  • Take inventory of existing servicing communications. Identify communications by topic and audience as well as on what system they are produced.
  • Look for ways to consolidate similar communications. Reducing the number of letters and emails residing on your system can help reduce complexity and costs.
  • Set up a process for reviewing, revising and approving. You’ll need to review, rewrite and rationalize each communication. Having a process in place can keep projects on schedule and help monitor each communication.


What you can do right now to improve your customer communications.

Instilling a culture of simplification for both existing communications and new communications can take time. Fortunately, you can make significant strides toward improving customer communications beginning with a few small steps. Here are five ingredients you can use right now to improve your written customer communications. Keep them in mind whether writing an email, a letter, a notice or even a statement message.

    1. Forget you’re a banker. Don’t make your communications about the bank. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and be sure your communications make sense from their point of view. Tell them what they need to know and what they need to do, without burying your message in a lot of bank-focused words.
    2. Get organized. You need a clear mind to craft clear communications. So take time to get organized. Think about your audience—to whom are you writing and why. Determine the main message of your communication and whittle it down to one or two lines. It is also important to identify what you want your customer to do. Some other things to think about as you get organized: the best way to reach your customer, the flow of your communications, and how you can strike a helpful, friendly tone throughout.
    3. Choose your words wisely. Your words make or break your communication. Some rules to keep in mind:
      • Use the active voice rather than the passive.
      • Use verbs instead of nouns.
      • Use plain language instead of jargon, acronyms and other confusing terms.
      • Double check your grammar.
      • Edit ruthlessly—trimming words whenever possible helps improve clarity.
    4. Think about how your words look on the page. Use white space, headlines and subheads, bulleted lists and short paragraphs to enable copy to be scanned. Also consider using charts, graphs and icons to aid clarity and understanding.
    5. Review your copy one more time. Try reading the communications aloud—it helps you pick up on grammatical errors and any rough spots in the communication.

By starting small and building to a more widespread simplification initiative you can help your team gain a better understanding of the overall challenge and the opportunity.

In the long run, this understanding can provide the evidence needed to support an organization-wide customer communications initiative to inventory, improve and manage customer communications going forward.

Debbie Dicarlo and Richard Goldrosen made a presentation entitled, “Improving Your Customer Communications: The Plain and Simply Way” at the ABA Bank Marketing Conference Oct. 5 in Denver.

Debbie DiCarlo is the director of business development and Richard Goldrosen is the director of creative services for Publicis Hawkeye’s Buffalo office.