Through the years, there have been a handful of operations that I've been fond of referencing for examples of smart, easy-to-borrow retailing practices. McDonald's has been, and continues to be, one of those companies.

The first time I used a McDonald's example in a banking presentation was at a bank marketing conference in the mid-'90s. I was asked to share retailing best practices that bank branches could adopt.

At the time, I conducted much of my personal banking at the drive-up windows. While there has been marginal improvement since then, banks' drive-up lanes in those days tended to be pretty barren.

If you were lucky, there may have been nice landscaping to look at while you sat in your vehicle. But for the most part, you stared at brick columns and taillights. My question to the roomful of marketing folks was, "Why is it that I almost always know what's being promoted this week at McDonald's but never by my bank?"

I then showed a slide comparing my bank's drive-up lanes with the drive-up lane at our local Mickey D's. It was akin to comparing the scenes before and after Dorothy landed in Oz.

My point then, as it is today, is not that folks will buy financial products in an impulsive manner. But it's awfully hard to get folks to consider all that we do and offer if we never make them aware of all that we do and offer.

No, checking accounts and mortgages are not analogous to cheeseburgers and fries. But when it comes to in-store (in-branch) marketing, McDonald's pioneered many ideas worth borrowing.

With all that being said, even smart companies make puzzling missteps sometimes. In fact, I'm using McDonald's drive-thru lanes as examples in banking presentations again. But this time, the example is not a positive one.

For some reason, McDonald's has decided that customers will hear prerecorded sales pitches in their drive-up lanes as soon as they pull up to the intercom.

To be honest, I thought at first that this was an individual restaurant's gimmick. I made a joking comment about this annoying new practice to a banker group I was addressing. I suppose I hadn't been paying as close attention as others because it was then that I learned that what I had been hearing were recordings. These recordings are designed to give you the impression that the person getting ready to take your order wants to personally tell you about a great new product.

Statements like "Would you like to try our new Angus burger? It's my favorite!" seemed even more irritating once I realized there was a little intentional deception involved. But slight dishonesty aside, the thing about this practice that troubles me the most is that it puts a sales focus ahead of a service focus.

When a person drives up to a window or stands before a counter, he typically has a reason for doing so. The initial focus of that customer interaction should be on the customer and his agenda, especially if he has waited in a line.

Until recently, McDonald's honored that rule. It was only after an employee took your order that he asked you to consider something else. It's a simple concept. Serve first, sell second.

Companies choosing to begin customer interactions with sales pitches are establishing whose priorities matter most — theirs.

That customer is then forced to redirect the "service provider" to what he came for in the first place. If for no other reason, I'd question the logic of a practice that causes the overwhelming majority of your customers to begin their personal interactions with you by saying, "No."

When handled properly and respectfully, cross-selling and up-selling activities can increase sales and deepen relationships with customers. Ideally, we establish a consultative relationship. But if we attempt to sell something to a customer before we even find out why he is in our presence, how "consultative" can we possibly be?

If we lose perspective and put our agenda ahead of customers' agendas, we lose credibility and trust. (And last I checked, those were pretty valuable traits for a bank to protect.)

When we first focus on expertly taking care of the business customers bring us, we're in far better position to ask them for more. Make sure your team appreciates that fact. Your customers are sure to appreciate the fact that you do.

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