Image with pen on chain and words "Simple ways to delight banking customers"

Simple ways to delight banking customers

By Cathy Planchart, Senior Project Manager

What are the top things banks do that annoy their customers? You can Google this and find lots of answers. To flip it around, what are some easy wins for banks to improve the customer experience? There are many bank policies that irritate customers, but, as a bank marketing veteran of 20 years, I know many of these are driven by regulation. Then there are the obvious items. Everyone wants lower (or no) fees and higher interest rates on their deposits. Currently, my checking account earns me a “premium” interest rate of .01%. But I am not going to discuss asset/liability management here. So, I present a few simple things you can do to delight your customers.

Release the pen from the chain

While brainstorming this topic, a colleague mentioned she gets annoyed by the “pen and chain.” OK, here is an easy win: get rid of the chains and just provide the pens. Speaking from my career in banking, apparently bank customers eat pens for breakfast, lunch and dinner! As you know, as soon as you leave a loose pen on the counter, it is gone. So, put out a bunch of pens. Experience shows those leave quickly, too. When my former employer bank expanded to around 50 branches, they were buying tens of thousands of logo pens each year to keep the branch lobbies stocked. This strategy provided lots of lasting brand exposure, like putting your logo on the back of a t-shirt. Alternatively, I recently visited a bank branch, and they had a branded coffee cup filled with generic “BIC” pens. I saw it as a lost marketing opportunity, but maybe those “boring” pens stick around longer. To chain or unchain the pen is a cost/benefit equation. And the answer will be different for each financial institution depending on their goals.

Eliminate needless expenditures

One person with whom I spoke said he was annoyed by their bank sending them a birthday card. Some customers view these as a needless expenditure and would rather have more interest on their deposits. For others it makes their day. Speaking from experience, for some people it is the only birthday card they receive! I recently celebrated my birthday and for years the card from my financial advisor was the first one I received. This year it was the second. Personally, I like receiving the birthday card and this year’s message was especially touching. But as a former bank marketer, I was disappointed that a generic card was used, although it was personally signed. I feel this was a missed opportunity for brand exposure, versus sending a logo card. Again, we return to the cost/benefit equation. But in the end, do you send a birthday card or not? It depends on knowing the customer’s personal preference and catering to it.

Tell the customer what they need to know

In first-party research I conducted, a business owner was especially annoyed by their bank not communicating a Relationship Manager change. They lost their point of contact with the bank and didn’t know where to turn. To make matters worse, this happened when applying for their PPP loan in the midst of the global pandemic in 2020. When there is a change at a bank that impacts customers, be sure to let them know. There are things banks must communicate per regulation. Then there are things banks need to communicate, like a Relationship Manager change. Lastly there are things banks want to communicate, like promoting a new loan product. It is important that these ‘change communications’ (as we like to call them at MKP) have a clear goal, target the right message to the right audience, at the right time, and use the right medium. Third-party research has found many customers are annoyed by communications from their bank. “People expect financial institutions to communicate with them in the manner and time they prefer,” said Bill Streeter, Editor in Chief at The Financial Brand in an article titled: Banking communications that drive consumers up the wall. As a simple first step, be sure to communicate what your customers need and want to know in a timely manner. Then, to truly delight your customers, thoughtfully choose the communication channel they prefer and personalize the message.

Fix what is broken

I have a friend who is disabled. What annoyed him about his bank was an automatic door opener that didn’t work and was left unfixed for a year. Did the branch staff not know about this? Could they not find a repair person? Did they submit a work request that was not acted on? Sometimes it is the little things that matter most. During my tenure in the marketing department at a bank, we created a checklist of “marketing” items to review at a branch. This included examining the outdoor and indoor “condition” of the building, as well as signage. Is there peeling paint, a knocked down fence, stains on the carpet, litter on the lawn? What does this say about your bank’s brand? The checklist also included what brochures and posters were on display, as well as regulatory signage, etc. Empower your branch to take ownership and pride in their facility. Make it easy by giving them a guide to follow and set expectations. Have them document their findings with photos and send the issues to the appropriate places for resolution. Remember, “Marketing is everything and everything is marketing,” as quoted from the January 1991 article in Harvard Business Review titled “Marketing is Everything” by Regis McKenna.

Truly care about the customer

“What annoys you about your bank?” I asked a store owner this week. She responded, “Nothing, I love my bank!” So, I asked the obvious follow up question, “Why do you love your bank?” She said, “I have a great relationship with my banker, all those who work at the local branch, and even some higher up people.” For example, she said, “They know I am building a house and they asked me how it was coming along and to send photos! And, no, I do not have a loan with them, they just care about me and take a real interest in me as a person.”

I have to agree. Recently, I shopped four local banks in person by walking in and asking about a business checking account. The bank that got the highest marks was the one where I connected with the banker. They took a real interest in me and the new business I am starting, and they offered lots of products I would need, along with a promotional package and helpful information. I left feeling energized. Bottom line, delighting your customers is about connecting with them person to person. So, simply show that you care about them in every interaction.

MKP communications inc., is a New-York based marketing communications agency specializing in merger/change communications for the financial services industry.