Remember the first time you went to Disney World?

I am sure it was a unique experience. Everyone who served you was smiling. Even if the place was crowded and the lines were long, service people were friendly, positive, and interested.

Over all, Disney World strives to be a positive and exciting customer experience.

Remember the first time you stayed at a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons hotel? Were you surprised when the person who parked your car called you by name throughout your stay-and when, on return visits, people knew what your accommodation preferences were? The overall experience was of intense service and caring. Even if complaints arose, the hotel personnel tried to address your needs, remove the impediment, thereby leaving a feeling of being cared for.

Disney and luxury hotel chains think about their guests staying with them as an overall experience. Another example is British Airways, which thinks about travel as an experience, not just moving a person from point A to point B.

We bankers need to think about our customers' experiences as well. Too often we are too wrapped up in our own quest for efficiency to notice that our customers are not having a good experience when they use our services.

Here's a suggestion: Call your "800"-number call center. See how it responds to a question or a complaint. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. How did you feel? Was the bank representative professional? Could he meet your needs? Did he know what to say or whom to transfer you to if he did not know the answer? Did he empathize with your problem?

In banking, we have to learn how to create positive customer experiences that go well beyond the products and various delivery channels. We need to focus on customer convenience. Specifically, we need to break down communication barriers that often preclude the customer from having a seamless experience when he goes across business lines.

There is a lesson to be learned from Southwest Airlines. Flying Southwest is fun. No matter which aircraft or where you fly, the approach is consistent and positive.

Southwest customers speak about the airline with emotion. We want our customers to speak about us the same way.

Think of your bank in the context of Harley Davidson. Harley owners have a passion about their motorcycles. They believe that a Harley invokes a sense of freedom, that owning one instead of a Honda or any other bike makes a statement.

Harley owners are apostles, not just bike riders. They swear by their Harleys, bond with each other, and feel that owning a Harley gives them a special character.

We certainly can't say the same thing about most banks. That does not mean that it cannot be done. Make your bank the Harley Davidson of banking.

It is a difficult challenge but a surmountable one. You need a clear image of what you want accomplished and of the precise image and experience that you want your customers to have of your bank every time they enter a branch, touch a personal computer, or speak to your representative.

Once your vision of the desired experience is clear, every team member can execute it consistently throughout the company. With proper execution, your customers will look forward to the experience of doing business with the bank, rather than perceive it as a necessary evil. Ms. Bird is senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Norwest Corp., Minneapolis.

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