Customer Service that’s Relevant to Bank Customers

By John Tschohl

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: banking products are commoditized. Competing on price won’t work in the long term. Financial technology will either permeate or replace traditional banking.

You might have also heard that customer experience remains a vital differentiator in financial services. But what does that mean in an industry that’s increasingly automated? Does having a slick mobile app and a chatbot mean you no longer need to invest in developing superior customer service skills across your entire staff? Not if you want to remain relevant to your customers over time.

Customer service starts with strategy.

To determine the right customer service goals for your bank, it’s important to conduct a self-assessment. Understand where you are and where you need to be—and don’t be afraid to look at other industries for benchmarks. Keep in mind, the experience you have at Costco—where customers push giant carts through huge aisles stacked high with value-priced products—is very different from the experience at an Apple store, where customers see a much smaller selection of pricey products and get expert assistance with picking the right one. Costco’s customer experience ties in with its strategy to be a cost leader, while Apple’s strategy is innovation. What’s your strategy?

Use what you have to your best advantage.

With the data banks have access to, there are few excuses for not excelling at some of the most basic principles of customer service:

  1. Know your customer. Knowing your customer’s history of transactions and interactions with the bank can help you solve problems and identify sales opportunities. Do your frontline employees use the CRM technology in place? Do they use the customer’s name when it is right in front of them?
  2. Be efficient. Taking too much time to solve problems can lead to frustrated customers. The shorter the time to resolution, the happier the customer.
  3. Personalize the experience. Customers love convenient and personalized responses to their problems and questions. If they are getting generic information they are more likely to become frustrated ex-customers.
  4. If you say you’ll do it, do it. When bank staff at any level fails to deliver what they said they would, at the time they said they could, they can cost your organization long-term business.

Put customers at the center of every effort.

Every bank, small or large—should understand what skills their customer-facing employees need. Employees should know how to speak to customers in order to foster a positive and long-standing relationship. They should practice empathy—knowing how to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and treating the customer the way they would want to be treated.

Customers should be encouraged to think of themselves as partners in your bank. They should feel like the organization chart at your bank shows the customer at the top.

A few more tips:

  • Establish a set of practices that helps frontline staff manage customer experiences in a proactive and disciplined way.
  • Get rid of unnecessary rules and practices and hold people accountable for their role in customer experience practices.
  • Prevent bad experiences from getting “out the door”—either at the branch, on the phone, or online.
  • Brainstorm new and innovative approaches that will empower staff to make a profound impact on the customer experience.

Most companies have a mission statement—an easy to remember sentence or paragraph illustrating the business’s goals and purpose. Disney’s original (and clearest) mission statement was “Make people happy.” Boeing’s is “Connect, protect, explore and inspire the world through aerospace innovation.” Hilton’s is “To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality.” Note that these companies’ missions are not to make a profit. Profit is the outcome of—and reward for—fulfilling the mission.

Marketing brings customers in. Customer service keeps them coming back.

The customer service piece of your marketing strategy should focus on delivering processes, experiences and intangibles to customers rather than physical goods and transactions. It involves integrating a focus on the customer throughout the firm and across all functions—including social media.

Remember, customers often reciprocate helpful actions. When you resolve situations quickly and effectively, and respond to their needs, most customers will pay you back with continued or increased loyalty, goodwill and repurchasing.

John Tschohl is a professional speaker, trainer, consultant, and the author of Achieving Excellence through Customer Service. He is the president and founder of Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minn. He can be reached on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.