Walking the Walk of Customer Advocacy

By Hillary Kelbick

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a tough climate for building brand loyalty in the financial industry these days. Emerging technologies and shifting paradigms are changing the way people bank—and consumers may be more interested in these conveniences and less interested in the companies that provide them.

So given the fierce competition to attract and retain bank customers, what do you do to differentiate yourself? Positioning yourself as a customer advocate is one important way. You can say you have your customers’ best interests at heart, but what can you do to put teeth into that claim? Here are some ideas that could help.

  1. Be serious about service.

Personal service. Caring employees. Helping customers learn about and buy the products that are best for them. Following up with new customers to ensure satisfaction. Prompt problem resolution. Every bank marketer knows the importance of providing outstanding service. But just what are some of the ways you can tangibly demonstrate your commitment to service? How do you get better at letting customers know you really walk the walk?

  • Become an information source. Use your website and social media to focus on tips that make customers more financially savvy—whether it’s managing debt, saving for college, And don’t make it a thinly-veiled sales piece. Provide useful information and let customers make the connection to you.
  • Find proactive ways to reach out to customers to make their banking better. Unsolicited assistance is one of the best ways you can cement customer loyalty.
  • Show your appreciation. Find simple ways to say thank you, both as an organization and on a banker-to-customer level. (You don’t have to spend a lot on a gift—just make sure your message is genuine.) Customers recognize a good deed when they see one, and value it all the more when they realize you are expecting nothing in return.
  1. Be proactive regarding privacy and security.

Everyone’s concerned about privacy and the security of their information.That’s why you need to position security as a shared responsibility and become the bank that helps customers protect themselves.

  • Add a password “strength meter” to your website to help customers build stronger personal firewalls.
  • If you have alerts, encourage customers to set them up to protect against unauthorized account activity.
  • Post tips for making safe transactions at ATMs and with online merchants.
  • Use your annual privacy mailing as more than just a routine throwaway notice. Spend some marketing dollars to add a more compelling, customer-centric safety message that shows you’re on top of the security issues your readers care about.
  1. Be transparent about fees.

You’ve made a significant effort to establish account and other fees that are fair, competitive and important to your bottom line. Nonetheless, while customers generally do expect to pay certain fees, the conditions under which they are charged are sometimes shrouded in mystery. It’s up to you to set the record straight.

  • Always be transparent about fee changes. Don’t hide a fee increase behind the veil of a product upgrade. And never sugar-coat bad news—it only ratchets up any customer ill will.
  • Be proactive in helping customers avoid fees both in person and in your literature. Explain alternative choices that save customers money. Any decrease in fee income will be offset by the rewards of increased customer loyalty.
  • Empower your customer-facing employees to waive or reduce fees—within reason—in response to an irate customer. The positive resolution of a problem often results in an even more loyal customer.

These are just a few of the ways you can demonstrate your “customer-first” approach. To be most effective, you should take a good hard look at how customers tend to see you. Pay more than lip service to customer advocacy. Say it. Show it. Live it. It’s key to maintaining a strong brand. Your customers will notice, and they’ll reward you with loyalty that translates into profitable relationships for years to come.

Hillary Kelbick is president and CEO of MKP communications inc., a New York based agency specializing in financial services marketing and merger communications. Email: hillary@mkpteam.com.

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