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Put a Smile on the Face of Your Bank

During a meeting recently, I was asked an interesting question by a young lady who manages a dozen or so branches. She bought into the idea that most of our branch teams going forward will be smaller groups of "universal bankers," working in smaller facilities.

She wondered if that meant we'd be hiring a different kind of employee in the future. I joked, "Only if you currently hire anti-social malcontents." She laughed and said, "Well, it's not something we do on purpose."

After joking for a bit about some of the "happiness-challenged" co-workers many in the room had faced, I shared a story about the first time I had to hire an assistant manager many years ago.

As a rookie manager, I had never interviewed a person for a management position before. Thankfully, our Human Resources department sent me the resumes of only applicants who had already passed background checks. I simply had to choose the person from that group I thought would be the best fit for my team.

I had never received training on how to identify the right hire. I had been on the interviewee side of the equation often and was more comfortable being questioned than being the questioner.

In fact, I don't think the process of hiring good employees was ever covered during all my years in college. We were purportedly being prepared to run businesses one day. And we could read spreadsheets with the best of them. But not one word that I can remember was spoken about the process of finding and hiring good people.

So, for the most part, I was flying blind into this. But there was one piece of hiring advice I did remember reading. A business magazine had published an article that shared a hotel chain's advice for hiring great employees. This was a company widely praised for its customer satisfaction scores and strong financial results.

The advice was simple and straightforward enough for even a nervous rookie like me to grasp. They advised that when candidates are comparably qualified, hire the person who smiles the most.

Their belief was that no trait identified people who would most likely get along with teammates and thrive in customer service positions more than their penchant to smile.

While I was hiring a manager position, a large part of all of our jobs was customer-facing sales and service. Smiling seemed like a pretty useful trait. And the fact that I was replacing one of the dourest employees I'd ever worked with made the smile test seem like a pretty great idea.

The assistant manager I chose while relying on that strategy turned out to be an outstanding hire. On paper, her qualifications were somewhere in the middle of the pack. But she won the smile-and-act-happy-to-be-here contest by far and away.

Her attitude and work habits were a breath of fresh air to the team. And I noticed pretty quickly that there were more smiles on customers' faces as well. The "hire smilers" strategy became part of my approach going forward.

Over the years, I've had a few of my more cynical friends in management roll their eyes when I get on a soapbox about something as quaint as the impact that smiles have on customers. But I (pleasantly) argue with them that smiles are serious business.  

First, I contend that customers tend to "hire smilers" as well. When comparable alternatives exist, people gravitate toward businesses that make them feel welcomed and appreciated.

Few gestures are more universally recognized as signs of welcoming, courtesy and appreciation than simply smiling at people.

As the banking industry has undeniably become more technology-driven, technology will not differentiate us. It gets better, faster, cheaper and more universal. And as banking relationships become less tethered to physical structures, these relationships hinge much more on how customers "feel" about us.

A second point I often make to my more cynical buddies is that their online banking peers and competition clearly recognize the power of smiling faces. Check out as many bank websites as you'd like. What percentage of the photos on these sites features smiling faces?

With an infinite assortment of images that can be used on bank websites, smiling faces are far and away the most utilized. That's not just coincidence.

Life and business can be plenty complicated. And yet, some things really aren't.

It's likely that the most powerful marketing messages your organization will send today aren't originating in the marketing department.

Our frontline employees are literally and figuratively the face of our organizations. Does your organization's face have a smile on it today?

Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief development officer at Financial Supermarkets Inc., a Market Contractors subsidiary that offers design, construction, consulting and training services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at


(5) Comments



Comments (5)

Great comment about hiring people who smile. However, good sales and service in the banking industry is more than just about smiling. Much more. Too much of the sales and service training in banks is about smiling, using the customer's name, making eye contact, etc. Duh. To effectively reach consumers, you must train your staff on customer engagement. How to have meaningful conversations with a customer, how to connect with someone from a different generation, how to talk about your bank's brand, etc. Yes, it starts with a smile. But it must go much deeper.

Posted by Mark Arnold | Monday, September 09 2013 at 11:41AM ET
Mr. Martin's article is good advice if that is the only tool that you have for hiring people. Really good banks have identified the behavioral traits for success for each position in the company and especially for each branch. Behavioral profiles can identify the person with the best match for the job requirements. Even if the most succinct requirement is limited to "smile" which is part of the human interface aspect, good profiles tools will identify who will "smile" when under stress which is when the real personality comes out. Those familiar with Psycho-cybernetics understand that positive affirmation statements when read continually will help enhance the propensity to smile. One way to read them continually is to put them on the backside of the teller nameplate at teller eye level. This will self-develop elite personnel. If such management support is not available, then as Mr. Martin observes a simple smile can help eliminate interpersonal dissatisfaction and adverse influence on branch team morale.
Posted by frankarauscher | Wednesday, September 04 2013 at 6:15PM ET
dear two cents:

if you have a better product--let's hear it.

allen hardester
Posted by hardester | Wednesday, September 04 2013 at 6:03PM ET
Good thing you "push" (your words) a product that apparently requires no interpersonal skills or relationship building. You seem perfectly suited for what you sell. Well done. Rather amazing that - "Yet few banks/FCUs are interested." - in what you "push" isn't it. Stay classy.
Posted by My 2 Cents | Wednesday, September 04 2013 at 4:11PM ET

Take heart those who rely on the sales prevention people, human resources, will never ever hire a person over forty, is over qualified and is a sales experienced professional. The fact that they can and do smile makes no difference.

Club banking is alive a well in the community banks and as the refi market dies so will they. I recently had a banker tell me he could not wait to fire those mortgage refi "guys" because they made over six figures just filling out a bunch of forms.

The real key is how to maintain customers and how to market them profitable second and third products. DDAs are losers, car loans are not the high volume play they used to be and helocs are a thing of the past.

I push a federally insured product that throws off up to 15 points upfront and earns around 250 basis points a year in service income.
Yet few banks/FCUs are interested. There is no RESPA or Section-32 ppoblem.

Keep pushing the tried and true lines of business and M & A banker will call you with a 65 cents on the dollar bid. At this price there will be no money for your gold watch.

A happy customer is one who got a loan with or without a smile. But a down right good looking teller never hurts.

allen hardester
Posted by hardester | Wednesday, September 04 2013 at 3:00PM ET
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