Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - June 18, 2014

What does a great customer experience get you?

Among my most frequently recommended sites for ideas about our industry is the blog at Gonzo Banker, where the team at CornerStone Advisors combines clear-eyed objectivity and straight talking with, frequently, a wry sense of humor. A post earlier this year, "Getting Real with Customer Experience", reminded me of some themes that had run through my own discussions with bank leaders at various events. (More details on the post below.)

In this article, Jim Burson relates typical conversations he has had with community bankers about how they plan to use "value" or "service" or "the customer experience" to beat the competition -- particularly when they admit that in terms of actual products and pricing, there is not much difference between them and their rivals. One of the main points of the post was that providing a great customer experience does not directly lead to, say, better pricing for your bank, or an immediate increase in any particular customer's portfolio of services. It just opens the door to those opportunities.

I would say that good customer service is necessary, but not sufficient. When you treat customers well, you earn a chance to keep talking to them. But that conversation needs to continue for a long time to produce results.

Some banks go on "great service" binges from time to time, it's a recurring management fad. They can't seem to get an edge on the competition, so they decide to "enhance the customer experience" to solve the problem.

But they are looking for quick fixes, and great customer service is a long-haul game. It sets the stage for an ongoing conversation that gradually establishes your relevance and credibility -- two other factors cited in the Gonzo post -- in regard to your customers' needs.

And those needs develop according to events in your customers' lives and businesses, not in response to their customer experience. Exceptional service cannot create a need, or even awareness of a need, that wasn't there before. What it can do is put you in a position to respond quickly, and to be heard, when a need arises. Don't embark on "customer service enhancement" if you are not willing to maintain the effort for quite a while before you see its impact.

The Gonzo post reminded me of a pet peeve, namely, how do we know what kind of service you deliver? Gonzo highlighted "simplicity" as an essential element of a great experience. In other words, customers get information easily and quickly, and can understand that information when they get it, whether it is from browsing your web site or talking to your staff.

How do you ensure clarity and simplicity? Has anyone who does not understand the fine details of banking, or of, say, credit products given you feedback on your web site? Could it just seem simple to you because the only people who have assessed the site's usefulness and relevance are people who already know the answers, when in many cases potential new customers are not even sure of the questions?

Similarly, I've had conversations with bank staff who assured me their service was top notch. But they were unable to point to feedback from customers, or explicit surveys or other assessment efforts, to back that up. It was simply an assertion, in the end, and the actual customer experience could have been quite different than they professed.

The customer experience you deliver day after day is your resume, it is what qualifies you for the job of being the customer's bank. But unless you can back that resume up again and again -- unless you can show relevant experience and give a good interview, in effect -- a great customer experience may never lead to better revenues and a healthier pool of customers.


More Reading

Here's the link to t he Gonzo Banker piece, "Getting Real with Customer Experience". As I say, I read their stuff regularly, as it provides a different perspective on our industry, a different view than we get from talking to each other all the time at conferences and training events.

Is there a source that you find refreshing and insightful, that helps you look at our work and our industry from a different angle? If you have a favorite, let me know about it at