Seven solid principles for winning customer trust

When consumers run into issues with a megabank, one of two outcomes are all but certain: Some customers will forgive, forget and stay—while others will take action, along with their accounts, and leave.

In light of those potential actions, community bankers likewise have two choices: You can open your doors every morning and hope you get more than your fair share, or you can do something to earn more.

The backbone of winning consumer trust centers on a strategic approach to Primary Financial Institution (PFI) customer growth. For all the scrambling some banks do to find magic bullets, solid organic growth does not mean adding digital widgets, or meeting sales quotas on products or cross-sell. It means a focus on organic PFI growth by making it core to your strategic vision.

Over the years, I have seen lots of banks adopt this strategy and double their new PFI relationships. And as they doubled those, they also gleaned twice the impact out of market disruptions such as an M&A, big bank product changes or incidents that affect consumer trust. Let’s explore what led them to their success.

  • Sales culture hinges on the right product? Check. PFI status truly hinges on having your customers’ core checking relationship. A checking product lineup well suited for growth must be simple and a good deal for your customers. But this does not mean the highest rate paid; it simply works well for your employees and customers. If in doubt, ask your front line whether your product is good. After all, they have to sell it.
  • Balance compliance action and customer satisfaction. That adds hurdles on the policy and procedure side. You must be in compliance, but don’t forget that we should always serve our customers. Review your policies from their point of view.
  • Give your front line a simple sales tool. Most of your sales team, your front line, will love a simple process that gets the customer into the right product. We have many employees on our front lines who are new to their roles. They look for guidance in the sales process: something simple that they can follow and use to create a routine.
  • Train, train, and train again. Unfortunately our industry is challenged with high turnover rate at the front line. As your staff weathers constant change, you need to make sure they are well equipped to serve your customers. Understandably, not all training can take place in person—so take advantage of online resources and recorded sessions, especially for new team members.
  • Keep your name in front of prospective customers. Marketing drives traffic, and organizations that market all the time fare far better than those that try to hop on the bandwagon when a big company suffers from bad publicity. Reactionary marketing will not nearly get the same results as marketing executed as one of your strategic initiatives. As you target the right audience, data analytics are extremely important. No matter what channel, traditional marketing or digital, don’t spray the message. Use rich internal data sources and add big data to find the prospects most likely to bank with you—and target them with the right message. Integrate new channels and new analytics. Can you learn something from cellular- or GPS-based data integration? Are the folks close to your branches more likely to pick you as their PFI? Absolutely: so use it!
  • Provide great service to turn your current customers into your biggest advocates. Channel them in the traditional and online world. Ask for the referrals and thank them for giving them to you.
  • As you set goals to succeed, hold your people accountable. That does not mean unrealistic goals and immense pressure to push results. Set realistic goals based on benchmarks others have achieved and ensure that employees understand that you reward not for the goals, but for doing the right thing for your customers. It is absolutely critical your employees believe in “why we are doing this” and understand that customers always come first.

Successful customer acquisition is not a campaign or a promotion: It is strategy. And when you run a strategy like that, hard work pays off. Sometimes another bank’s missteps or a financial institution’s acquisition in your market make it easier—but you can only take full advantage of it if you’re ready before it happens.

Remember: Big banks will make mistakes. Mergers and acquisitions will happen. Other financial services outlets will implement bad policies that alienate customers. If any of these happen, make sure you are ready to offer a solid alternative.

Achim Griesel is president of Lincoln, Neb.-based Haberfeld Associates. He can be reached at [email protected]