Customer Loyalty: The Service Factor
By Dennis Snow
Most of us have been on the receiving end of poor customer service many times. How often have you found yourself seething because of a long wait at your doctor’s office, a grocery store cashier carrying on a personal conversation while you stand in line, or being left on hold while on a “help line”? Chances are you can rattle off several instances of poor service you’ve received – this week. On the other hand, great service feels like a gift. A smiling, caring employee makes us want to continue to do business with an organization. That is the secret of success. Intense customer loyalty is the result of a company’s employees doing those things that make customers feel special, those things that make customers want to come back and to recommend the organization to others. Is it any different in a bank? Don’t most banks offer products that are pretty similar to those of other banks? The only real differentiator is how a particular bank makes their customers feel. If customers feel valued, most will remain loyal. If customers feel under-valued, they will defect to a competitor. Maybe not right away, but eventually they will go.
A study was done a few years back to determine the reasons that customers defect to competitors. There are a variety of reasons for defection; the customer moves away, a competitor lures the customer, the customer is unhappy with the product, etc. The study found that a whopping 68 percent of customers who defect do so because of poor service. That’s a sobering statistic when you think about how competitive the banking industry is today. The study further noted, however, how customers defined poor service. They defined it as “an attitude of indifference on the part of employees.” We’re not even talking about bad service causing customers to leave; indifferent service has the same effect.
This article focuses on service principles that lead to ongoing customer loyalty for your bank. It is written with the assumption that your products and rates are already competitive. Once products and rates are competitive, customer service becomes the critical element for gaining loyalty.
1. Look at the banking experience through the “lens of the customer.” Banking is a very emotional business. Customers typically see their finances through an emotional lens. Customers are passionate about their money and want to know that you are just as passionate about caring for their money. An engaged, caring bank employee raises the customer’s confidence that the bank is looking out for the customer’s interests. The customer trusts that when a banker discusses a new product that it’s done with the customer’s interests at heart. On the other hand, if the customer senses a lack of caring, he/she also questions the motives behind any product discussion.
Bank products can be very confusing. It’s easy for bankers to fall into a habit of using a language that customers don’t fully understand. While terms like APR, ARM, rollover, amortize, etc., may be familiar terms to a banker, such language can easily become overwhelming for a customer. If you’ve ever had a computer help-line employee talk to you in “computer-speak,” you know how frustrating and intimidating it can be. Bankers who understand the lens of the customer will talk in the language of the customer, not the language of the bank.
Is the lens of the young couple buying their first house the same as the lens of the customer who buys and sells real estate regularly? Clearly, the lens is very different. That young couple purchasing their first house is excited and nervous – that is the lens with which they are experiencing this purchase. They need bank employees who are excited for them, explain terms in everyday language, and provide information that will make their buying experience easier. A bank that shows that level of care is likely to earn that young couple’s ongoing business.
Customer complaints are frustrating for customers and employees alike. As employees, we often can’t understand why a customer is making such a big deal of a particular issue. Didn’t the customer read the contract? Probably not. Doesn’t the customer understand that we had to hold the funds for three days? Probably not. Doesn’t the customer understand that it takes time to research a deposit that didn’t show up on the customer’s statement? Probably not. It’s not the customer’s job to see through the bank’s lens; it’s the bank’s job to see through the customer’s lens and show an understanding for the customer’s frustration.
Next time you are working with a customer, take a moment to ask yourself: “Am I seeing this experience through the customer’s lens?”
2. When it comes to the bank’s physical environment, recognize that “everything speaks.” Imagine visiting a fine dining restaurant for a special occasion. You’ve been looking forward to the meal and you’ve heard good things about the restaurant. Imagine noticing something crusty dried to your silverware and old lipstick marks on your water glass. Wouldn’t you begin worrying about the quality of everything else in the restaurant? Everything speaks!
Now imagine a customer entering a bank to open a new account. She notices trash in the planter as she pulls into the parking lot. When she enters the lobby she sees stacks of papers on the loan officer’s desk. There are coffee cups and food wrappers behind the teller line. All of this detracts from the image of the bank, and either consciously or unconsciously raises the antennae of the customer: “Do I really want to bank here?”
The “everything speaks philosophy” means that all employees of the bank understand that pens that are out of ink, empty displays and unsightly stacks of paper are all intrusions on the customer experience. These intrusions add up and result in customer concern. On the other hand, when customers sense an atmosphere of professionalism, care and order, they also feel a sense of confidence.
How many times have you seen employees in a business walk right by a wadded up paper on the floor or a display that has been bumped out of alignment? Employees who understand that everything speaks will take a moment to pick up the paper and straighten the display because they know that such behaviors have a direct impact on the customer experience.
Take a moment to think about the environment of your bank. Since everything speaks, what are the details saying about your bank?
3. Create customer “wows.” Small gestures can create customer wows. Walt Disney World housekeepers have a tough job. Cleaning up after people on vacation is a challenge. Even in such a challenging job, housekeepers will do little things that make Disney guests say, “wow.” For example, while spending a day in the Magic Kingdom, children will often leave their stuffed Disney characters in their hotel rooms. Housekeepers have been known to position the characters with playing cards in their hands or tuck the characters into the children’s beds to create a moment of magic.
Bank employees can do many things to create wows. Remembering a customer’s name is a huge wow. Remembering names creates a feeling of family. Letting a customer know that excess money in a checking account could do better in another product is a wow. Sending a goody basket with a handwritten note to the new home of that young couple that just took out their first mortgage is a wow. Some wows are small and some are large, but make no mistake about it – wows add up.
One of the most powerful ways to create wows is to share best practices with each other. Hold a team meeting in which all employees share things that they have done that dazzled customers. Just talking about these behaviors increases the likelihood that others will adopt some of the practices. It is also likely that some wows can be built into the bank’s processes. Someone had to be the first teller to put a dog biscuit in a drive-through container for a dog in a customer’s car. Now it’s common practice, but someone had to be first!
Next time you’re helping a customer, ask yourself, “Will my behaviors make this customer say or think, ‘wow’?”
Excellent service is not about policy manuals. Excellent service is about excellent behaviors. When an entire team is focused on excellent service the results can be magical. Customers are happy, employees are happy, shareholders are happy. Everyone wins. The key is: service excellence must become a habit. Imagine every employee in your bank internalizing these questions as a habit:
1. Am I seeing the experience through the lens of the customer?
2. If everything speaks, what are the details saying about the bank?
3. Will my behaviors make this customer say or think, “wow”?
Consistently positive answers to each of these questions results in a very powerful outcome – intense customer loyalty.
Dennis Snow is the president of Snow & Assoc. He worked with the Walt Disney World Co. for 20 years and now consults with organizations around the world helping them achieve their customer service goals. He is the author of the book, “Unleashing Excellence – The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service.” You can reach him at (407) 352-1212 or visit his Web site at www.snowassociates.com.