Customer Service, Modern Style

There are always discussions in our industry about how best to build and maintain relationships with customers, and that’s a good thing. Too often, however, it comes down to forcing a choice between rethinking the branch approach and relying heavily on online and mobile technologies. That’s actually no choice at all—we have to make them work together.

First, let’s acknowledge that despite shrinking numbers, the branch isn’t exactly going away anytime soon. Sure, a whopping 80% of retail banking transactions are now conducted through self-service channels, admittedly including ATMs and voice-driven instructions. However, it also appears that a majority of retail customers now visit the branch at least once every six months.  Those face-to-face interactions are surely important for long-term relationships.

That‘s why, on this blog, we’ve often admired alternative approaches to branch banking. Some institutions have introduced innovations such as teller pods and community rooms, while others have become interchangeable with event spaces with cocktail lounges.  Odd as all this sounds, especially out of context, it’s exactly the sort of new thinking the industry needs to keep customers coming in.

There are plenty of other good ideas in this vein. For example, one institution getting positive interest is Umpqua Bank, which launched over 60 years ago in Portland, Ore., and has since spread quite wide. The concept behind its operation—it calls its outlets ‘stores,’ and goes very far in making the personal experience quite personal—has since been adopted by much larger corporations.

Here’s one sign of its success: Umpqua has gone from four branches in the mid-’90s to 400 ‘stores’ today. There are numerous stories of its commitment to customer service, and it hosts ‘business therapy’ sessions at its stores. (The jokes about the connection to the IFC network comedy show Portlandia virtually write themselves.) This is down-home banking with a billion-dollar payoff.

On the flip side of the equation—but not really, and that’s the point—is the relentless focus on digital tools that ease the banking experience for every customer, regardless of the complexity involved. For example, as mobile banking increasingly becomes the norm, there is ongoing debate about how to develop a mobile web presence to match the flurry of mobile apps. In particular, has the institution done its job if the mobile app links to a ‘traditional’ website, or should there a mobile-specific site option?

To many consumers, this is a discussion that belongs firmly in geek world. For financial services professionals, however, it could spell the difference between success and failure. One potential problem here is a factor that’s always been considered a luxury, the wealth of options. Google alone supports no less than three smartphone-optimized site configurations, and it’s unquestionably a critical differentiation. Add in the other complications: a broader range of forms factor and even operating systems than ever before, the staggering variety  of customized mobile apps (some heavily customized for specific technologies, others with only a mobile wrapping), and of course, the varying levels of technological sophistication involved.

It’s easy to assume that everyone has a smartphone, since everyone we know seems to have one. And yet, according to the Pew Internet Research Project, the reality is very different. As of January 2014, 90% of American adults have a cell phone, yet only 58% of have a smartphone. Yes, that’s not too far over half, which means that a great many consumers can’t get e-mails, receive promotional messages, download custom apps or conduct financial transactions via the phone.

And finally, there’s this. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we will do it—as consumers we’re fickle, and so are our tastes and habits. We might be notified of a possibility via the phone, follow up later on the PC, ask someone about it at the branch because we’re in the vicinity, then complete the deal on the ATM. You might call it human behavior, but in our industry it’s come to be described as omnichannel banking.

It’s not about the branch or the app, per se. It’s about developing options for each customer-facing channel as it becomes available, then ensuring that they all work together seamlessly. That means it will be increasingly difficult at the back end, but it should be increasingly simple at the front end, for customers. That’s the only way to offer true service.

What We’re Reading: Banking Outages, Mobile Chat and Social Media

Below are interesting stories the staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.


  • Intuit Finally Lets Banks White-Label Mint

American Banker

Intuit Inc. announced Wednesday it is incorporating features from Mint, its well-known consumer-facing PFM software, into its digital banking line. The initial Mint product line for banks will combine Intuit mobile banking apps and online banking software with aspects of Mint PFM featured front and center. “We want to blur the lines between PFM tools and digital banking,” says Greg Wright, vice president, product management at Intuit Financial Services, the company’s unit that sells to banks. “This is a sign of where Intuit needs to go and wants to go. …It’s all part of this essential movement to resurrect and redefine PFM,” says Mark Schwanhausser, director multichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research.

Read more

  • JPMorgan Chase Rides Out Online Banking Outage

American Banker

JPMorgan Chase’s (JPM) website has stumbled again roughly three weeks after a cyberattack. The nation’s biggest bank by assets took to Twitter on Monday afternoon to tell customers the website was “experiencing intermittent issues” and to recommend customers use its mobile service while the company worked “to get things up to full speed.” As of late Monday, the site had been affected for three hours.

Read more

  • SEC Lets Companies Provide Disclosures Over Social Media

American Banker

Companies may now handle disclosures over social media, the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled. Banks and other public companies can use outlets like Facebook and Twitter to make crucial announcements as long as they notify investors beforehand which social media platforms they’re going to use, the SEC said Tuesday. They must follow the same disclosure regulations that apply to company websites, the agency said.

Read more

  • Banking by Appointment…finally!

Celent Banking Blog

Banks have historically relied on a 100% walk-in model for in-branch sales and service. With branch traffic declining at most banks by more than 5% CAGR, sales leads aren’t just walking through the doors like they used to. And that traffic won’t return unless banks take proactive steps to generate those leads. Banking by appointment is one great way to do so.

Read more

  • Mobile Chat – Passing Fad or Key Capability?

Celent Banking Blog

Earlier this week, RBS launched a mobile chat feature, available to its business mobile banking users.  RBS isn’t the only one jumping onto the mobile chat bandwagon – San Diego County Credit Union announced a similar offering. The concept is pretty straightforward, and is similar to the online chat tools that some banks have incorporated into their web sites and/or online banking. It’s a familiar experience to most mobile users and therefore could catch on.

Read more

  • Don’t Miss The Boat; It’s Time To Get Moving On Mobile

Credit Union Journal

If your credit union is still taking a wait-and-see approach to mobile banking, you are in danger of missing the boat if you don’t act quickly. “The boat is getting pretty dang close to leaving the dock,” said Brian Abele, SVP of product management at Q2ebanking. “It’s really critical for credit unions to make sure they start jumping into this. Not only are we seeing that mobile is becoming more of a standard across the board for every institution, but we’re starting to get to the next level of functionality and services-like mobile deposit capture-and once they’re rolled out to members they’re adapted very quickly and are some of the most engaging services for members.”

Read more

  • Credit Unions Ride Social Media

Credit Union Times

No longer is it a case of should a credit union be active on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Now, it has shifted to just how active and on exactly which channels. One of the reasons is that social media has become integrated into the lives tens of millions in America and ignoring the channels may not make strategic sense, some experts have advised. “Facebook has become instrumental in how we reach out to our members,” said Lynne O’Leary, vice president of marketing at the $4.7 billion Teachers Federal Credit Union in Hauppauge, N.Y.

Read more

  • The Fed: Mobile Banking Usage Soars

Credit Union Times

The numbers have it and, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve, mobile banking usage is soaring as it keeps close pace with mobile phone adoption. According to the Fed: “As of November 2012, 28% of all mobile phone users and 48% of smartphone users had used mobile banking in the past 12 months. This is a significant increase from 21% in December 2011 for mobile phone users and 42% for smartphone users.

Read more

  • Inside Citi’s Mobile Strategy


A study by Compete found that 57 percent of U.S. smartphone users rely on mobile banking. And a recent Juniper Research report predicts that there will be 1 billion mobile banking users by 2017, which is equivalent to more than 15 percent of global mobile subscribers. Tracey Weber, head of Internet and mobile at Citi, says that mobile is a must have, but it does present its own set of unique challenges. For one, not all consumers are comfortable having their financial information on their mobile phone.

Read more


Ask And Ye Shall Receive

Editor’s Note: Gene Marks is a small business management columnist, author, and speaker who also owns and operates The Marks Group PC, a highly successful 10-person firm that provides technology and consulting services to small and medium sized businesses. The Marks Group PC, launched in 2004, has grown to help more than 500 companies and more than 2,000 individuals throughout the country. Gene writes weekly online columns for The New York Times and Forbes, as well as monthly and bi-weekly columns for Bloomberg Business Week and American City Business Journals. Intuit has, on several occasions, contracted Gene to provide marketing-related services.

Ask And Ye Shall Receive

As a business owner, I was never one for asking for a lower price…until I found myself getting lower prices by asking.

Your better customers know that the reality of doing business today is this: everyone’s got a price. If someone told me to shed my clothes and go streaking across Lincoln Financial Field on a January Sunday I’d turn up my nose and sniff: “Hmmph, exactly what kind of a sick, depraved animal do you think I am?”

But suppose I was offered a million bucks to do that (and saw the cash)? Depravity…here I come!

So just watch me rationalize. “Welllll,” I’d think aloud. “It’s only for a few minutes, isn’t it? And it’s not like I’d be on national TV, right? And I’d only potentially serve a few months in prison at most. And even my wife agrees that it’s really, REALLY not a big deal at all (if you get my drift).

It may not be the same topic, but this rationalization is shared by most other salespeople when asked to lower their price. The point is….everyone has a price. As a banker and advisor to your customers you should remind them that they should always be pushing for the lowest price possible by asking, asking, asking.

For example, you’re meeting at your customer’s offices and just at that moment he’s in the middle of trying to purchase a bunch of raw materials he needs to process for a big order coming in. He’s complaining to you because his supplier’s price is too high. As his banker, it’s in your best interest that he makes the best deal possible too! So give him some advice. Tell him to ask for a lower price. Because, guess what? The supplier wants the business as much as your customer needs the materials. We all need more business.  Whatever’s being asked is usually just the opening bid. Tell him that chances are the price can come down a bit. Multiply that bit times lots of pounds (or whatever the units are) over a period of time and this adds up.

Another story: My wife (who also happens to be the world’s best negotiator) got two bids to have our living room floors re-done. And of course the higher bid came from the company she liked better. Did she pay it? I think you know the answer. She just said she couldn’t. She needed a lower price. At least something comparable to the other company. She just…asked. And her favored contractor conceded.

Your customer needs to be reminded that he should always be asking for the lower price. Why? Because that’s what his customers are doing to him every day, aren’t they? I find it incredulous, shocking, outrageous and downright insulting when, after clearly stating our hourly fee, a client asks for it to be lowered. How dare they! And of course…I usually lower it. Why? You know why. I want the work. I don’t want my competitor to get the business.  I’d probably throw in a personal car wash to get the business. Don’t look at me that way. You’re no different!

Encourage customers not to be afraid to ask for a discount. No one expects to negotiate a treaty with North Korea or haggle like an experienced merchant in a Turkish bazaar. But not paying top price is what being a profitable business owner is all about. Tell him: Just because you can afford the price doesn’t mean you have to pay the price.

Ask. You will receive.

By Gene Marks