“In the business world an executive knows something about everything,
a technician knows everything about something,
and the administrative assistant knows everything.”
– Harold Coffin
This week, we’re going to talk about customer service. The source of this tome is a week endured by yours truly that included:
How many of your banks have, as part of your mission statement or strategic plan, a statement that you will best your competitors by providing superior service? Conservatively, I would say that a majority of banks do (and I have seldom, if ever, heard a bank say, “Never mind sales and service, we’ll just be cheap”). Certainly, nobody can argue with the goal. The problem, as Jimmy Johnson used to say when he was an NFL coach, is “walking the walk” after you “talk the talk.”
If your bank is going to base your plan in part on an outstanding service culture, your employees, top to bottom, should be able to consistently understand and articulate the specifics of what that culture means and how it’s measured.
Here are my suggestions for which components to measure when judging your level of service, along with how much importance should be assigned in your measurement.
When all is said and done, the desired result of any service culture is a customer’s confidence in his or her relationship with the bank. And the single biggest component to building that confidence is employees who know their product, know their systems, know their marketplace, and know how processes work.
Your bank already has star employees who exemplify this. The loan officer who knows more about real estate development and what it takes to get a deal done in his/her town than any builder, contractor, of government employee. The branch CSR who can discuss investments and annuities with the same authority as CDs. The branch operations supervisor who knows every step in resolving an ATM problem. The call center employee who can answer any question a customer can dream up about a deposit or loan product. You can think of many more examples. At Cornerstone, we call these people the “go to” people – and they’re the ones with a line of customers waiting to see them and lots of phone calls to return. All the time.
If your bank is going to win with service, your employees, particularly line employees, have to know more about their jobs and our industry than any competitor.
Management: can you say with authority that they do?
Too many banks have fulfillment processes that include completing profiles that customers don’t want to complete, gathering information that never gets used effectively, and completing verifications, postings, and paperwork that could be done after the customer is gone.
This all flies in the face of a simple fact – it doesn’t matter that we think our business is interesting or that our customers like us. When people are doing their banking, they just want to finish and leave. The fewer number of times they have to call or visit, the shorter the time it takes to be done, and the fewer times they need to call back to accomplish that, the higher the service ratings you’ll get.
Many banks focus on the notion of “customer-centric” processes. No argument here, as long as we agree that the customer wants “fast” in every step.
Management: Can your employees transact business faster than any of your competitors?
There are two parts to empowerment. The first is giving the line employee the authority and the responsibility to deal with customers locally. For example, many banks have done a great job differentiating themselves by giving local managers loan decision authority, and it is always cited as a reason for success.
The second part is creating an environment where employees can, when it’s appropriate, bend rules and short-cut process in the name of customer service. Your good employees do it all the time – they don’t apply a rule when it doesn’t make sense, they tell customers to go ahead to other appointments and finish paperwork after the fact, and so on – within reason and without causing undue risk or loss potential.
Management: When your more independent employees bend the rules in the name of customer service, do you pat them on the back or do you document the exception?
Undoubtedly, there are people who are suited to customer contact jobs because of their personality, attitude, and presence. There is no disagreement that these are the people you hire for line positions.
But that’s only part of the “friendliness” equation. For the rest of it, let’s look to the airline industry. The friendliest atmosphere you will ever find in airline travel is at Southwest. The difference in employee attitude is marked.
Maybe Southwest employees are inherently friendlier. But there’s something else. Everybody, from CEO to janitor, can recite the Southwest mission statement – be low cost and on time, and it hasn’t changed for 22 years. The employees are better trained. They are encouraged to adapt rules, and thanked when they do. They are supported by the best systems and process in the business. The result is that they love their jobs, much more than employees on other airlines. And it shows on their faces when they deal with customers. How can it not?
Management: Do your employees love their jobs?
Now, for those of you who think this perspective is deranged, I pose this question. You’re at the bank, in a hurry, and need to complete an important transaction. There are two people you can see. The first person has deep knowledge, can answer any question, never makes mistakes, is blinding fast, doesn’t call you by name, doesn’t ask after the family, may or may not smile, and will never be nominated for the bank congeniality award.
Person #2 is friendly beyond belief and focused on you – knows everything about you, your business, your family – calls you by your name, won’t be very fast, might do the transaction right, and will probably need to call somebody to get the answer to a question. Whose line would you get in?
Right. Me, too.