Small Business: Respect and Dedication

In a recent blog on Banking.com, we explored how small businesses don’t always get the respect they deserve from the banking world. There’s no question that this sector of the economy is always vital, and increasingly optimistic. In fact, the number of businesses that report being ‘better off’ jumped from 16 percent in 2009 to 33 percent in 2012. This is also a market rich with possibility: on average, small businesses hold deposits four times greater and loan balances 15 times greater than retail banking customers.

And yet, this market continues to rank near the bottom in banking satisfaction.  So what’s going on—and what can the industry do to make thing better? The new J.D. Power and Associates 2012 US Small Business Banking Satisfaction Study, a comprehensive research report that identifies and highlights the situation described above, digs deeper into the problems and identifies many of the pain points.

As mentioned in the previous blog, credit is still the primary issue, but it’s not the only one.  The J.D Power study lays out more fundamental problems too. In particular, while small businesses are sometimes lumped in with retail banking, there are major differences between the two.

First, small businesses expect greater competence and responsiveness from their bank, since their needs are more complex needs and they bring greater value. Second, relationships are everything: they want an account manager who understands their needs and provides customized solutions. In both these areas, the study shows, banks come up short.

In routine transactions conducted both face-to-face and on the phone, small business customers say their experience either mirrors that of retail customers or doesn’t even rise to that level. By the numbers, 21% of retail banking customers have problems in a given year; 36% of small business customers say the same. Similarly, only 43% of small business customers say their assigned account manager (if they actually have one) ‘completely’ understands their needs. The latter problem is particularly acute: the J.D. Power study outlines the ways in which a good relationship with an understanding account manager makes a significant difference in terms of discussing loan options, receiving regular updates, etc.

The problems extend past business issues to even more basic headaches. The data shows that small business customers are less likely to experience in-person best practices than retail customers when they visit a branch, are less likely to be greeted by name, and are more likely to experience longer wait times.

The study does take into account equivalent concerns on the banks’ side: It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect that every account manager will have a full understanding of every small business account they handle, and it is only natural to assign bank personnel to accounts where they offer the greatest value. However, there’s also no question that there is plenty of room for improvement here.

The study does lay out some remedies. First, while there can (and should) be some discussion around whether to have a dedicated commercial-only window in particular branches, there needs to be more training staff-wide on paying greater attention to small business customers. Second, in the era of Big Data, we have more information at our fingertips now than ever before on each account and the market in general. This should be used more effectively to develop a greater focus on this critical market segment. Finally, while many institutions fully intend to create small business specialists within call center groups—with experienced representatives and specialized training—the final product often falls short. If, as the J.D. Power study makes clear, “a dedicated small business team is established—and the data suggests it should be—it needs to be sourced and managed appropriately.”

Ultimately, of course, any list of best practices runs the risk of being too generic, the same problem that frequently afflicts this market. The small business market is undeniably both vast and fragmented. It’s also vital—and for the banking industry’s purposes, potentially very lucrative.  It deserves respect, and that will come through customized solutions backed with knowledge and dedication.

* Now in its seventh year, the U.S. Small Business Banking Satisfaction Study measures small business customer satisfaction with the overall banking experience by examining eight factors: product offerings; account manager; facility; account information; problem resolution; credit services; fees; and account activities. The 2012 study includes responses from nearly 7,246 small business owners or financial decision-makers who use business banking services. The study was fielded from August 10, 2012, through September 10, 2012

For more information about the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 US Small Business Banking Satisfaction Study, please contact: Holly Zagresky at (248) 680-6319 or via email at Holly_Zagresky@jdpa.com

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