What You Got Wrong While on Vacation

By Jack Hubbard

The new school year is in full swing, and for my six-year-old grand twins that means the transition from kindergarten to first grade. One of the first things the teachers did was to ask what everyone did on their summer vacations. Many financial services professionals spend parts of their summer at banking schools from coast to coast—and a few even go on vacation. For the past 30 years, I’ve been teaching at a number of those schools, and thanks to the recent explosion of smartphone use, I’ve seen an old issue bring up new questions. As you think about your commercial sales strategies for 2017, here are a couple of things you’ll want to consider.

What are you doing with your out-of-office email message?

I’ve never understood attaching this to your email, so this year I did an experiment with 185 students. Prior to class I sent them an electronic article to welcome them to my class. A substantial 87% of the emails came back with a response about being out of the office, being away from the bank, and call so and so for immediate help or something of that nature. When I asked in class how many students had read or at least seen the article I sent, 100% of the hands went up. 

I asked how many students checked their email once, twice, three or more times each day at school and most responded in the affirmative. Why, then, I asked, would you put a message out to your marketplace that you are unavailable when you really are?

In fact, at schools and conferences bankers tend to be more available than when they are at their office. What happens if a key prospect reaches out with an immediate need and your message tells them you would be away for one or even two weeks? Might they move on to the next available banker? The reality is, you’re likely able to at least have a brief conversation to get a potential relationship started.

Some students indicated it was a bank policy that required them to insert the message. Others had always done it that way, even if they were away from the office for just one day. Many even admitted they forgot to turn the message off for a couple of days when they returned to the bank. Some suggested that it was poor service to let the prospect think he/she could get a call back quickly when it might be two hours later when the banker could respond. One even asked about vacations and shutting the world off. When I asked the students how many checked emails on vacation, nearly 100% of the hands went up again.

I am writing this on vacation in Galena, Illinois. It’s my first real vacation in 16 years. Small business owners don’t get away often and even when they do, client, colleague, and prospect needs don’t take time off. I’m in a cabin waiting for the sun to come up so I can go fishing or golfing or do something that Mrs. Hubbard likes. I check emails in the morning and in the evening. I refuse to put any message on that would prevent someone from considering starting or continuing a dialogue.

If there is a medical issue, if you are somewhere for an extended period where you can’t or choose not to receive emails, or simply want to shut the world out for a little while, put a nice out of office message on and let folks know when you will return and who to call in your absence. Be proactive and let your top clients and colleagues know you will be away with a brief message to each prior to leaving. Let your internal associate or partner know what to say about your absence and to understand the best way to help.

Finally, check your policies. If there are security or other related reasons to have the message on, fine. If, on the other hand, “we’ve always done it that way,” or “compliance said we had to,” at least open a dialogue about this issue. With less than 8% of businesses suggesting they will move banks in the next 12 months, taking advantage of every prospect opportunity is vital. Clients understand you need time away. They don’t get it when you say you are unavailable when you really are.

How many prospects has your voice mail greeting put off?

Another area of interest was voice mail. Most of the students wanted to discuss the viability of this tool and how to be more proactive with better outgoing messages. No one considered their own voice mail greeting when someone outside the bank called in. I asked the students to listen to their incoming voice mail on a break as if they were a prospect interested in having an initial conversation. Here’s what they reported hearing themselves say:

  • “I am out of the office…”
  • “I am at banking school and cannot…”
  • “I am away from my office for two weeks….”
  • “I am unavailable for two weeks. In my absence please contact.”

100% of the students reported logging into their voice mail several times daily at school and responding on breaks to callers. Why, then, would they tell people they were out, unavailable, or away? Might that prospect have already moved to another provider? Perhaps that COI gave the referral to some other banker who could help right away. Maybe the client went to one of the other banks they work with.

The solutions are easy. First, review your bank’s inbound voice mail policy. At legacy Wachovia, the banker began the voice mail with, “Welcome to Wachovia.” Second, if you have no policy, while staying true to your style and personality, create a message that is upbeat, integrated with your bank’s brand, and unique compared to every other banker’s voice mail. How about…

“Discipline is the difference between what you want now and what you want most.” That thought from Abraham Lincoln punctuates this great client week of [MONTH, DATE, YEAR]. This is [YOUR NAME]. Leave your message and it will be my privilege to return your call within 24 hours. Thanks for calling 1st National Bank [ADD YOUR TAG LINE]. 

My daughter-in-law finds quotes on Pinterest every week and pushes them to me. There are plenty of other places to find them. Need a quote on service? Type in “quotes about customer experience” on Google and you will get as many as you could want. Keep the quote and entire message short and if you are updating it weekly, be certain to change the message on Sunday evening or first thing Monday.

This takes no time to record and you can do it over and over until it sounds perfect. Leave it for a month if you like and change it every once in a while. An average of about 50 people call just to listen to my voice mail every week. They hang up without speaking. It’s fine. The message was delivered and I got some mind share.

Jack Hubbard is chief experience officer of St. Meyer & Hubbard. Jack has trained and coached more than 68,000 bankers, and is one of the industry’s most sought after classroom facilitators. Jack can be reached (and you can listen to his voice mails) at 847-717-4328. You can reach out via email (his out of office message won’t be on) at [email protected]. Jack tweets @saleshubbs and he is obsessed with LinkedIn where you can connect and converse with him any time.

Jack has been on the faculty of the ABA Bank Marketing School for 31 years, and he’s been on the faculty of the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking for 16 years.