Customer Experience Lessons from the Front Lines

By Mary Ellen Georgas-Tellefsen and Charlotte Anderson

When was the last time you took off your banker’s hat—suspending your internal knowledge base of how things work within a bank—to review your customer experience through the customer’s eyes? It has probably been a while.

What passed as a good customer experience just five years ago no longer meets today’s expectations. Customers desire an emotional connection with their bank—a relationship of value, trust and confidence. They want a personalized, simple, convenient and fast experience, whether in person or through technology. Indeed, new channels and interactions have practically revolutionized banking. Now that mobile apps are a normal part of everyday banking, it is a great time to revisit the customer experience and journey—from the customer’s perspective.

Capital Performance Group recently conducted an account opening and onboarding benchmarking study for a large, regional bank client interested in improving its branch-based customer experience. The study documented the account opening and onboarding experiences across seven banks in one metropolitan area—and although the experiences varied widely, several key themes emerged. Here are some of the lessons learned on how to improve the customer experience.

Lesson 1: Make people feel welcome.

There is nothing worse than walking into a new environment, like a bank branch, and not knowing what to do or who to see. During the study, people could be observed walking into busy branches and then turning around and walking out again when not greeted or triaged. While employing greeters or staff for triage won’t work for every financial institution, having a greeting plan is something that every bank branch can accomplish. Ensure someone in the branch is on the lookout for walk-ins—and is prepared to greet people and help direct them to the proper line, person or waiting location.

Lesson 2: Stop the unrelated sales push.

Everyone is uncomfortable when a branch employee launches into an unsolicited and completely unrelated sales pitch during the account opening process. Your staff knows it, and your customers aren’t fooled. When a customer is opening a basic, fee-free checking account, offering a new rewards credit card isn’t exactly like asking if you want fries with that burger. Unless the need for an additional product comes up as a natural part of the account-opening sales conversation, making an unrelated offer for a product not discussed is an awkward and distasteful part of the process. In addition, this type of sales tactic can seem aggressive. The customer may question whether he or she really wants to open that account with you—and may consider your competitor down the street.

Lesson 3: Thank people for their business.

In seven out of the seven banks visited during the study, not one banker said at the end of the account opening process: “Thank you for opening your account with us.” There were folders with paper disclosures and deposit receipts. There were people who walked the customer to the teller line to make a deposit. There were people who made the deposit for the customer. There were people who made sure the customer knew how to contact them. However, there was not one person who said, “Thank you for your business.”

A simple thank-you is so simple, and yet so forgotten. Thank people, in person, for entrusting you with their money. Then continue to thank them with a follow up email and/ or phone call (see Lesson 5 below). New customers especially want more information and context about who they are doing business with and how they can access and use their money. Keep saying thank you and keep telling people about your products, services, features and benefits. These communications are what help to create long-term, trusting relationships.

Lesson 4: Use a little swag to go a long way.

As a corollary to Lesson 3, don’t just thank people for opening an account with you, but give them a nominal reward for entrusting you with their money. You don’t need to be giving away an iPad or toaster, but a pen, USB memory stick, mug or even water bottle goes a long way to a new account holder. During the study, even when branded candies were sitting on a desk, the bank employee neglected to offer a piece. Be generous and thoughtful. Your customers won’t forget.

Lesson 5: Have a plan in place for effective, efficient follow-up.

To improve the customer experience, increase retention and improve loyalty, it makes sense to start from the beginning—account opening and onboarding. But it’s not enough to simply welcome new customers and show them what you have to offer at the start. To build high-value relationships, you have to keep in touch over time with communications that are relevant to each individual customer.

This is where marketing automation can become your new best friend. There are many simple tools available to help your institution create, send and manage communications that are triggered by customer behaviors—starting with account opening.

Walking in your customers’ shoes

These lessons highlight a few simple things that can be easily changed. But to achieve the optimal customer experience, banks need to assess exactly where they are and make changes at a much deeper level. But it all begins with a simple walk-through of the customer journey. You can identify many areas for improvement by taking one walk in a customer’s shoes. Use that knowledge to take a deeper dive into areas such as branch and back office processes and procedures, training and the use of technology. The more familiar you are with the experience within your own institution—as well as best-in-class banking experiences—the better you will be able to identify ways to improve.

Mayra DiRico, chief client experience officer at Sterling National Bank, explains: “We think we know the client experience because we work in the bank every day. The truth is that unless you have recently opened an account or had a customer service issue, you really don’t know what it is like to be a customer and experience our processes. Going through a customer experience audit and mapping the journey opened our eyes to a myriad of improvements that will make the financial experiences of our clients—and the work processes of our team members—infinitely better.”

Mary Ellen Georgas-Tellefsen is an experienced banking industry consultant and has helped clients develop customized in-house learning programs, such as the one described. She is the marketing practice leader at Capital Performance Group, LLC, providing strategy, marketing, and digital channel consulting services to the financial services industry. LinkedIn.

Charlotte Anderson is an experienced retail and operations banking executive and Senior Consulting Associate at Capital Performance Group, LLC, providing strategy, marketing, and digital channel consulting services to the financial services industry. Charlotte helps clients with branch and operational workflow and process improvement, project leadership, and strategy implementation. LinkedIn.