Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - January 25, 2017

Of Products and Perceptions

"Products and Services": how many times have you used, and heard, that phrase?

That phrase encapsulates how we think about our interactions with our customers, about how we meet their needs and help them succeed. There's just one problem with this view:

Who cares what we think?

For instance, consider deposit accounts from a "products and services" point of view. There's a big difference between a checking and a savings account (not to mention the several flavors of each one that you probably offer).

But to a modern young customer, are they so different? The difference in interest earnings is too trivial to matter very much to them. And most of us, especially the young, rarely write out paper checks anymore.

A deposit account is just a digital item to these customers. It's a combination of "someplace to store my money that's safer than my mattress" and "the thing that makes my debit card and my automatic bill payments work."

It can be hard to let go of a product framework that has been in place for eons. But selling a customer a deposit account has to become a more consultative process. We need to explore just how the customer would use the account before deciding on which type of account will be most helpful to them. How often will they access the account? What means -- especially card and on-line access -- will they usually use?

Too often we rush through these questions, without listening, without asking for more detail, because we are already slotting that customer into a preferred product. But it is more efficient in the short run, and much better for the relationship in the long run, if we try to find a solution rather than sell a product. That leads to a better focus on the features of the account that fit the customer's needs and desires, and that benefits both sides of the relationship.

Similarly, when extending credit, you may be thinking about the various types you can offer and the fit to the customer's situation. But the customer may be more interested in two things: a rapid decision, and a minimum of hassle. The institution that gets their credit business -- including your on-line competitors -- may win by emphasizing speed and ease of the credit process for the customer. Perhaps that seems unfair, given all that has gone into the specific credit products you offer.

But it is what the customer sees, and what the customer wants. If you can't address their hot buttons, you'll never get the time to explain the differences among your credit products.

When you talk to your customers, don't just listen for what they say they need. Listen to how they talk about their needs. Instead of concentrating on "triggers" that point to specific products, listen for a broader picture of what's important to the customer AND what is not important to them.

"Products and Services" are fine for internal discussions. But no customer is going to be loyal to a product.

They will, however, be loyal to an institution that speaks their language. And you learn a language by listening to it.