The last two weeks of August were eventful to say the least. A parent's extended hospital stay in South Louisiana was interwoven with the direct hit of Hurricane Isaac. As the storm stretched over several days, I reflected upon a relatively new phenomenon and another that is as old as civilization itself.
I found myself exchanging text messages with my 72-year-old mother who was sitting in a hospital room in one city while I also exchanged texts with my 17-year-old niece who was surveying my parents' home in another. Three sisters in different towns checked in regularly while friends in two other areas were sending me hurricane photos from their smartphones.
This was all happening while none of these folks had electricity. Some were in the calm of the eye of the hurricane and some were being pounded by the eye-wall winds. It was surreal.
At one point, I looked at my smartphone and shook my head. I have been preaching to banker groups for a few years now that mobile technology is changing our society like few things have in decades.
I half-kid that most folks' "windows to the world" have shrunk to about 4"x 2.5," the size of their smartphone screens. Something could blow up behind many people and their first instinct wouldn't be to run away, but to Google "explosion" and whatever city they're in.
Smartphones and tablets may not be the only way customers interact and conduct their business with us in the future, but it will be the primary way. And that scares the heck out of many bankers. The challenges it presents to our branch-centric model are obvious.
But I point out that, on the positive side, this new world will allow banks' best employees to cover more ground than ever before. Geographic limitations are changing. Our best loan officers, investment folks and personal bankers will be able to effectively build and maintain personal relationships with folks in multiple area codes and zip codes … and time zones.
The older phenomenon I found myself reflecting on was the social construct of reciprocity. In times of need and hardship, it's hard not be moved by the selfless actions of others.
At the height of the storm, I received a message that one of my parents' trees had fallen onto their home. I was happy that they weren't in the home, but was very worried about what kind of damage had been and would be caused as the storm continued.
Not long after, I received a text neighbors on their street that I haven't always held in the highest regard had gone over with a chainsaw and removed the tree from my parents' home. While in the eye of the storm, they also re-boarded shutters that had blown open. I was astonished.
Impressions that had formed over many years were instantly changed. It's hard to imagine I'll feel anything but gratitude toward them going forward.
My friend Steven Reider of Bancography was recently quoted in American Banker on how disasters, while not wished for, give banks an opportunity to demonstrate commitment and ability. I totally concur, but I also would suggest that major events aren't necessary. The opportunity to demonstrate the kind of citizenship and social conscience that produces powerful goodwill presents itself regularly.
It may be the personal crisis of individual families or the struggles of a civic organization, or strained community resources. But few things cut through the skepticism many folks hold toward a business (or even industry) as much as genuine, altruistic actions.
When making that point to bankers, I explain that customers already know what you are, but goodwill gestures show them who you are. And that generates a far more powerful emotion.
Beyond the goodwill generated within a community, organizations that dedicate financial and manpower support in their communities tend to build goodwill with their own employees as well. Folks like feeling that the companies they work for have hearts, if you will.
As our industry inevitably becomes more technology driven and commoditized, the way customers "feel" about companies may matter more, not less. Every bank in the world tells customers that they care about the communities they do business in. And I'll take them at their words. But our communities – in good times and bad – are more likely to be moved by the actions they see than on the words they hear.
What is your team doing this month to show your communities not just what you are, but who you are?
Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief training consultant at NCBS, a SunTrust Banks Inc. subsidiary that offers consulting, training, design and construction services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at Dave.Martin@ncbs.com.