YOU HAVE TO REDEFINE SERVICE quality. For example, we pay a lot of attention to ATM downtime. This is an issue that gets our top executives' attention. We are striving for no downtime.

Another thing we watch is how many calls we lose over our telephone-banking lines because a customer was kept holding too long.

For every new delivery channel, we create a new level of service standards, measure them, and make sure we keep them.

YOU HAVE TO LOOK AT THE consumer's needs. If a consumer is using an ATM, he's doing so because he wants to. We don't believe that the electronic delivery methods take away at all from the customer's ability to call a person or visit the branch in person. But the need for convenience and lack of spare time are driving customers today to find quick, easy ways to do the things they need to do. They're discovering new ways to make their lives easier.

With Wachovia's personal banker strategy, we allow a customer to bank with us in whatever way is convenient for his lifestyle. We set the stage so our customers know that they have a relationship manager whom they can go to with problems or concerns.

But we've also positioned ourselves so that our customers would have more access to their accounts. That's what our research said the customers wanted.

YOU HAVE TO DEVELOP A perceptible service difference. You can't implement electronic delivery successfully without upgrading the quality of your service people. You have to take your people's competence up to the next level. Bank employees will have to become less order takers and more financial planners.

CHEMICAL WORKS REAL HARD AT that. Quality service, whether it's through the branch, an automated teller machine, or a personal computer delivering home banking, is of utmost importance to us.

We monitor customer satisfaction and we respond if things are not working the way they're supposed to. And we do lots of focus groups with our customers.

In some ways, electronic services like ATMs and PCs are easier to monitor because we can find out about it and respond to it quickly. We don't have to wait for customers to pick up the phone and let us know that they have a problem.

OUR APPROACH HAS BEEN TO redefine banking as access to information, not access to a physical location.

In our customer focus groups, questions and concerns about service are more problematic to the bankers than to the consumers.

Consumers find access to bank products via the telephone a rewarding experience. They like using the voice response, because it allows them to do their banking at any hour.

That's how you improve service: by improving accessibility. That's how consumers define service.

THAT'S A CHALLENGE. ALREADY, with the ATMs, technology is depersonalizing service. Though consumers love the convenience, it's weakened consumer loyalty. Most consumers pay more attention to their regional network -- whether it be NYCE or MAC or another -- than to their bank.

Banks have done a lousy job so far. What they have to do is reinvent the relationship banking strategy. Wachovia has done a good job with this. Each of their customers has a personal banker. The customers may not talk to them every day, but when they have a problem, they know that person is there to help them.

PEOPLE TODAY JUST DON'T HAVE the time. They're overworked and overburdened. Banks that offer 24 hour service -- through interactive television perhaps -- are offering an especially important service. People are getting more comfortable with technology, and I think banks have to offer these services for their customers. It's a new way of thinking about service.

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