Early one morning I walked into a brand-name coffee shop anxiously seeking out a caffeine buzz. I was exhausted and beyond desperate to indulge in a large, piping-hot coffee. I approached the counter and had the following conversation:
"Good Morning. I would like an extra large coffee please."
"We are out of those cups, sorry."
That pause was me waiting for a consolation offer. Perhaps a free coffee in whatever size cup they had available, or a coupon for my next visit. Just something to say, "We absolutely appreciate your business, we are sorry we were not able to meet your expectations today, and we would like to make it better so we can keep you as a customer."
However, nothing was done to remedy the situation. I respectfully shared with the employee that I believed their customer service to be severely lacking. Her response: "Oh, you are wrong. We have really good service!"
Strangely enough, this comical, self-serving rebuttal took my mind right to the community banking customer service world. Throughout my career, I have sat in front of countless officers, managers, and executives who with conviction and pride explained that their bank's customer service is like none other. Early on I started to notice a trend: All banks truly believe they provide spectacular, top-notch service.
But the reality is that while some do, most really don't. (Note that while banks may not hit the mark of spectacular, they still may deliver acceptable service. But is "acceptable" what we should be aiming for?)
The confusion about what constitutes adequate service as opposed to the great kind arises from the fact that community banks simply do not train on the metrics of truly outstanding service. Many of them haven't listened to the changing voice of the customer.
They don't know if opening a new account in a certain number of minutes is great or mediocre. They don't know if processing a certain type of loan in a given number of days is exceptional or terrible. They don't know if wonderful service entails transferring a customer to a call center or having branch staff handle the question. Even for support functions, they often don't know what great service looks like.
Of course, there is no "one size fits all" answer as to what constitutes superior service. The answer is dependent on the bank's operating model, the markets it serves, and its product offerings. And with a shifting business model and changing customer demands impacting all banks, the question of what excellent service looks like is even more unclear.
However, one thing is certain. People are busier than ever, and they want everything done five minutes ago. Modern-day consumers and business owners are accustomed to whipping out their smart phones to find out any piece of information on demand and make decisions with a click of a button.
This means that banks need to tailor their service to a client base accustomed to instant gratification. Years ago, great banking customer service was defined by the friendly teller who knew your kids' names. Friendliness and relationship-building remains important, but the front-line staff's approach should be markedly different from the tactics of a couple decades ago.
To address these concerns, banks should start by reviewing their processes for delivering products and services to customers. Banks are working hard to make sure that they meet all regulatory requirements, but unnecessarily complicated processes make quick turnaround times painfully difficult to achieve. Banks must work to maintain the delicate balance between customer service and risk management.
For some, upholding this balance may include a careful review of current regulatory-related processes, including forms used and questions asked of customers. Aligning processes with industry best practices and consistently reviewing and tweaking such processes will naturally lead banks on the path to stellar service. I assure you, most banks have multiple steps that fail to add value and slow down customer service, all while increasing the opportunity for errors.
Banks should also take a close look at their technology. It's now affordable for most banks to offer customers the technology to view balances, pay credit card cards, apply for small business loans and transfer funds without setting foot in a bank. Offering such services is no longer optional, and we must innovate and create new customer solutions around these technologies.
On the flip side, there is one condition under which customers aren't looking to prioritize speed and convenience above all else. That's when they want advice from their bank. When customers do take time to enter brick-and-mortar institutions, they are often seeking knowledge. They want to know how to save, invest, and start college funds; they want input as to what type of loan works best for them or how much money they need to comfortably retire. They want their neighborhood bankers to share their expert banking, finance, and general business intelligence. Some bank branches have actually already evolved into high-tech centers that resemble an Apple store, complete with a banking and knowledge bar to meet today's customer needs.
Banking bars aren't a requirement for success. But aligning advisory services with useful products and evolving technology absolutely is. The banks that suit up to meet the demands of the new market will be the ones that grow revenue and share value.
L. T. "Tom" Hall is president and CEO of Resurgent Performance, a bank performance advisory firm.