Bankers often applaud new technology for its ability to speed up, expand and enrich the way we all connect with each other. In more than three decades of banking, I’ve watched a real-time network of communication explode all around me. Yet, in the midst of all this progress, I ask myself, “Why am I so stressed?”
Perhaps this stress stems from these notable trends:
Ever since Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock in the 1960s, there have been warnings about the downside of information and communication overload. I worry sometimes that bankers too often drink the “Connectivity Kool-Aid” without acknowledging the downside that is created for ourselves and our customers. There are three major negatives that hyper-connectivity brings to the table:
In the late ’80s, my father explained to me why he didn’t want a telephone answering machine as a gift: “I don’t like the burden it puts on me to respond.”
He was absolutely right. However, I needed a way to get credit for calling my mother so that she wouldn’t be able to say, “You haven’t called me in so long.” (Sigh!) We pursued this dilemma and finally agreed that if he was ever caught for not responding, “Sorry, I didn’t get your message” was an appropriate reply. Case closed.
Are we bound to respond to the barrage of email “cc’s” that are delivered on a daily basis? For you young GonzoBankers, “cc” stands for “carbon copy,” a process dating way back to the days when “the secretary” would insert black pieces of carbon paper between the typing sheets to ensure production/delivery of the typed, important information to all the other folks that needed it. Today, electronic cc’s are so easy to create they are extremely overused. I feel a tremendous unsolicited expectation being placed on me to respond (like father like son?).
How about those computer-generated phone calls to our home reminding us of upcoming doctor, hair, nail and dental appointments? Today, my cell phone vibrates to tell me I have a voice mail and then chirps to tell me I have a text message from my son. (How can he type that fast and why doesn’t he use vowels?) Or, it purrs to let me know how my favorite stock is performing (badly) and to let me know that my company’s redirector server is working just fine because I have all my emails (sent, received and saved), my calendar, task lists and the latest contacts whenever and wherever I am in the palm of my hand. Bankers refer to this condition as “customer access anytime, anywhere.”
Even though my wife was one of the first in the country to register our telephone number as proud members of the “Do Not Call Registry,” we still receive a fair amount of calls (again, computer activated) from politicians or charities asking for our vote or the contents of our wallets – or both.
Caller ID is a fantastic invention, however, the ability for callers to block their identities means I have answered more calls than I care to count that last only as long as it takes for me to say, “No, thank-you!” (Not always politely.) I’m wise to them now, though, and these days when I answer the phone and am greeted with that split second of silence while my call is being routed to a live telemarketer from the auto dialer, I hang up just as they come on the line. Yeehaw!
Businesses have become arrogant in their demands to collect more and more information about their patrons. Last week, I was in a retail establishment where a rather rude cashier told me (didn’t ask) to write my email address on a form she slapped on the counter in front of me. I politely said, “No, thanks – I’d rather not.” What I should have said was, “I’ll give you mine if you give me yours” so that I could forward all the spam I know they would send me.
Bankers today need to be more skeptical as to whether all this information-based interaction has done anything to improve the way we actually communicate with each other. When I call a business, the chances of my reaching a live person are next to nil. For that matter, reaching out to friends and family usually results in my leaving a message in their electronic mail boxes. We have now learned to skillfully navigate through the prompts of VRUs and blindly accept the feeling that real service people, who used to help us and sometimes made us laugh, no longer exist… or if they do, you can’t get to them (try pressing “0” to get to a person, you say? NOT!)
Ray Kroc (McDonald’s) may be to blame for this self-service revolution when he pondered, “What if we create a restaurant where folks stand in line to place and pay for their orders, pick up their food, carry it to a table, eat it AND then (my favorite) they clean up after themselves.” No need for waiters, waitresses, hostesses, hosts, busboys, dishwashers, etc! “Fabulous!” he must have thought.
Recently, McDonald’s has been experimenting with having the fast food drive-up orders handled off-site (can you say outsource?), so that the local, in-house crew members can focus on preparing and delivering the food. They figure centrally organizing by function will result in fewer mistakes and lower costs. Doesn’t that remind you of the many “front office/back office” arguments we’ve had in banking for years?
With ATMs, VRUs, card-based services and the Internet, we have greatly reduced our need for service people. I wonder if it was it okay to define “success” as, “The customers are servicing themselves.” Are we sure we’re not frustrating the heck out of them as we’ve put electronic walls around personal service?
The financial services industry spent millions of dollars influencing customers to accept self-service delivery mechanisms, and then had to spend millions more trying to get them to come back and visit our facilities so we could cross-sell them additional products and services. While I’m certainly not a Luddite espousing we dump the laptops, voice mail and Palm Pilots into the Hackensack River (Jersey boy here), I am willing to ask, “Do we need more balance?”
To answer this question, I offer my fellow GonzoBankers a quick checklist to make sure your bank is actively trying to strike the correct balance in the pursuit of high-tech/high-touch. Here are 10 key areas on which to assess your bank. For each statement, rate your bank from “5” – strongly agree to “1” – strongly disagree.
If you averaged a 4 or 5 on the quiz above, I salute your bank. If not, put down the cell phone and recommit your organization to real service delivery.
The team at Cornerstone Advisors loves technology as much as anyone. However, before we all get too drunk on the “Connectivity Kool-Aid,” we need to be vigilant with our customers. We need to be able to measure what’s working for them and more importantly, stop what’s not working for them.
Otherwise, they might just figure out a way to get along just fine… without us.
A good way to learn if your organization is “being all it can be” is to compare your performance against peer institutions and see how you measure up.
As a result of numerous mid-size bank and credit union benchmarking studies, Cornerstone Advisors has amassed a proprietary database of more than 250 staffing, productivity, revenue and fee income metrics.
We can help you make comparisons across 12 key areas, including Retail, Deposit Operations, Mortgage and Commercial Banking and Enterprise Risk Management.
Contact Cornerstone for more information.