Identify Customer Needs to Build Trust

By Mary Bonaccio

Many factors affect the customer/community bank relationship. The one that ultimately determines the depth of the relationship, though, is the degree of trust customers have for their branch representatives.

Of course, a lot has been written about how bank representatives can become trusted advisors to their customers. But one thing that has become clear is that when a bank representative is able to help a customer achieve a significant life goal, that customer’s level of trust skyrockets.

Identify what’s important to your customers—and when specifically to help.

The key then, is for banks to discover their customers’ important life events in time to help the customer plan the best financial strategy. One way to achieve this is through a needs survey that offers customers the opportunity to tell the bank about their upcoming product needs and milestone life events. Learning about these events early enough to provide help with the strategy has helped bankers earn major trust points with their customers—resulting in deeper relationships and additional business.

Think about how many of your customers have recently or will experience a life event that may create a need for your products or services.

Engaging these customers in a conversation about the events in their lives can open the door to significant sales opportunities. Home improvement, retirement, buying/selling a home and changing jobs are the leading events on the minds of customers. Our findings have shown that at any given time, the majority of customers have recently experienced, or are planning a significant life event. The following infographic shows the percent of customers expressing a given life event, along with the obvious solution that can help initiate a sales conversation.


“We have achieved a strong sales culture at our bank,” said AG Cutrona, SVP and retail sales executive at Five Star Bank. He emphasized that the needs survey program “injected a new element into the equation. By having our customers tell us about their upcoming life events and financial goals, our branches have a natural opener to a sales conversation. It’s particularly useful as a tool to engage customers we see infrequently, but have needs they should be talking about with us.”

One way to measure of the success of this approach is to structure the survey in a way that gives customers the opportunity to report on their level of trust in the organization. Banks that implement a needs survey program can then watch the trend over time. As the trend moves upwards, so should the other indicators that correlate with trust, such as increased account penetration, and improvements to the bank’s net promoter scores.

Follow-through is as important as insight.

To enhance the success of the program, it’s important to train the bank representatives to jump on opportunities to have a discussion with customers about their life-changing events—and some of the financial implications these events may have on their financial strategy. Many bank customers don’t realize how many distinct financial decisions might need to be made around life events like marriage, having a baby, going through a divorce, or considering retirement. Needs surveys can bring in hundreds of leads per branch. This is a good reason to bring in a trainer to work with the business development representatives and other customer-facing people at the bank—and help bring about a more sales-oriented culture at the branch level.

Build credibility, intimacy, and reliability.

Jack Hubbard, chief experience officer at St. Meyer and Hubbard, stresses the importance of  trust-based conversations between customers and their bankers, adding that these conversations should be focused on “SEEs”—significant emotional events in their life.

“Charles Green’s classic book, The Trusted Advisor,” Hubbard explained, “focuses on a trust formula that targets high credibility, intimacy and reliability and low self-orientation. When we can count on a group of leads where life events are identified, and we coach bank people to this equation, relationships expand to partnerships and referrals fall as manna from heaven.”

“Building trust,” he added, “is a matter of being there for your customers when they need you—during the best parts of their lives—as well as through the difficult times. A needs survey program will surface many of these events—early enough to help the bank representatives make a contribution the customer will appreciate and remember.”

Mary Bonaccio is director of client services for The Verdi Group, a marketing firm with expertise in the financial sector. The Verdi Group’s Needs to Leads program has been implemented and tested over the past 25 years not just for the banking industry, but for many other organizations large and small, including B2B and B2C. Email: [email protected]