One of the frequent missteps I observe in attempts to build productive sales and service cultures is that banks often overemphasize sales processes and tactics while underappreciating product knowledge.

Few things erode customers’ confidence in an institution more than feeling like front-line employees are not especially knowledgeable about the products and services they offer. I tell managers to recall the feeling that they, as consumers, had the last time they realized that a salesperson “helping” them with a purchase decision seemed simply to be reading an information screen right in front of them.

The most engaging and positive sales and service interactions quickly go south if a customer realizes that he or she is learning about a product at a same time that the bank employee is. Customers can be excused for discounting any advice given in that type of scenario.

Google search for "bank product."
In a Google search world, we can easily look up things in real time rather than being an authority. But few things erode customers’ confidence in an institution more than bank employees not being knowledgeable about the products they offer.

This topic was fresh on my mind recently as I was car shopping. One of my favorite slides in presentations asks audiences whom they believe are the scariest salespeople in the world. The overwhelming answer through the years has been car salesmen.

It had been about seven years since I personally shopped for a vehicle. I began the process with a heightened sense of curiosity. I was interested in seeing what may be different in this most feared of sales processes compared to past years.

I wondered how many of car salesmen’s classic heavy-handed techniques still existed. Surely, I thought, they would not still be using a confusing pricing strategy in which the first price given isn’t really the price. And there’s no way that folks are still using the “Let me check with my manager about getting you a better deal” ruse.

As it turns out, in a world of constant change, some things never change.

Yet, the thing that perplexed and annoyed me more than heavy-handed tactics was the general lack of product knowledge at the two dealerships where I had narrowed my search.

When a sales associate cheerfully told me that the model I was considering was their best seller, I naturally assumed he could readily answer questions about it. That was a bad assumption. He also rattled off an impressive list of technological advancements on another vehicle I was considering. Yet, even some of my more basic questions about those features had him “checking on that answer” for me.

While many bankers might suggest that choosing a bank or the products and services within a bank are not as angst-producing a decision as purchasing a car, it can feel that way to consumers. They are choosing whom they will trust with both their personal finances and their personal information.

Customers seek people who can reduce confusion and help them make informed decisions. In too many instances, that is simply not what they are getting.

Car salesmen make an easy target to criticize, but my experience when I last opened an account within a bank branch was eerily similar. The person helping me open the account seemed to be learning about its features right along with me.

At one point, I only half-kidded that if he tilted his screen over just a bit, I could read along with him and speed up the process. Even the most basic of questions about features on one of the bank’s most common accounts sent him clicking away.

It is usually easy to sense when people are simply verifying what they think and when they have no clue about an answer. While I obviously thought highly enough of that bank to be bringing business to it, my direct interactions with staff did more harm than good in terms of my confidence level.

In a Google search world, where we can easily look up things in real time rather than needing to know something as part of our expertise, we tend to begin relying on that practice more and more.

However, I wouldn’t want my airplane pilot Googling “landing gear deployment” upon approach, or my doctor checking WebMD as I give her my symptoms.

Our branch teams are not simply the sellers of products. In many important ways, their personal knowledge and helpfulness are the actual products for which customers are judging our banks.

Strive to ensure your teams are subject matter experts on the subjects most likely to matter to the customers they see each day.

Dave Martin

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is the founder of the retail bank performance company bankmechanics.

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