Twenty years ago I started working in New York as a consultant. Having breakfast with clients and prospects was an important activity. My office was on Park Avenue, walking distance from several popular breakfast places.

I tried all the places in the area, and one attracted me more than the others. The food itself was not particularly distinguished, and the place wasn't the closest to my office. One always had to make reservations, as the place was often crowded, which was another inconvenience. But the reason I went every time to the Waldorf-Astoria was that Ray Gorritz was a waiter there.

Ray is not only incredibly friendly but also perfect at the job he does. He is efficient and fast, and he knows when to chat and when to move away. He learned my habits, how I like my tea, and kept the same table for me every time. Coming to his breakfast table became more fun and productive than going elsewhere, and I didn't need to explain my preferences to a new waiter every time.

It has now been 20 years since Ray and I met. I have been going to the Waldorf all that time. When I started traveling, the Waldorf became my hotel of choice in New York. Now, in addition to food revenues, I bring income to the hotel for rooms, faxes, and other services. I am a loyal and highly profitable customer.

Every day we have opportunities in our banks to create customers like I am for that preferred hotel. Every day we miss countless such opportunities to differentiate ourselves through the real customer experience, in which price and speed become less relevant.

We tell ourselves that the opportunity cost is manageable. I beg to differ. The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain was built on this principle: that people will be willing to pay more (or receive less interest) if they gain familiarity and great service - on their terms.

Ray Gorritz exemplifies one-to-one marketing and service delivery, an extremely powerful sales and account consolidation tool.

We have the potential to create such customer experience every time an existing or new client enters our stores. The industry knows it, and there is much talk about CRM - customer relationship management - and how to execute it. Ultimately, the only way to deliver truly outstanding customer experience is one team member at a time, which is why staff recruiting and retention are so crucial.

We have not figured out the Ray Gorritz solution in banking. But we need to do it soon because it is a major key to revenue growth and that is what our future is all about. Ms. Bird is an executive vice president of Wells Fargo Bank. She is based in Sacramento, Calif.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.