Customer satisfaction is a marathon, not a sprint.THE RECENT SOCIAL MEDIA REVOLT against one large money center bank's plan to reimpose fees on components of its personal checking account--in this case, its debit card--is indicative of the fact that large banks are scrambling for new ways to cover their costs.
With interest rates plummeting to all-time lows, and checking account operational costs continuing to rise as new features are added, large money center banks are struggling to find acceptable ways to change the monthly fees on consumer checking accounts.
While the goal of charging a fair price for a valuable service makes sense, the move away from free checking has caused a public relations challenge for these large banks.
Regional and community banks are also impacted by current economics, but probably not quite so dramatically, as their overall business models are more friendly to today's rate structures and regulatory environment. And while the idea of free checking as a loss leader probably makes less sense than in the past, smaller banks may have more time and greater options to gradually evolve a better checking account value strategy.
Here are five ideas to preserve over-all customer satisfaction as you think through your options.
1. Give Customers a Simple Checking Choice. Think about having both a Free and an Enhanced checking account. There are lots of ways to do this, where the free account includes just the basics and the enhanced account includes nice add-ons. These might include things like an online statement archive, higher-limit debit cards, overdraft line of credit, insurance, assigned personal banker, and other value-adding ideas. Since free checking still resonates with customers, if you still have it, don't do away with it. Also, keep the introductory price of your enhanced checking offering low and flat. Also, don't clutter up the choice. Two or three checking plans is plenty. Think gasoline choices at the pump.
2. Sell Bankers not Products. Banking is a professional services business, not a packaged goods business. Frost Bank's manifesto "What We Believe" (see http://www.whatfrostbelieves.com) begins with "Bankers Should Know Their Customers and Vice Versa" and enumerates 10 other guiding principles, all related to the valued relationship between bankers and their clients. Most people in America today are not skilled in economics or finance. And they value comfortable, friendly, professional relationships. This is what you are selling. This is where the money and margins are. Come up with a smart way to tie this idea to Enhanced Checking.
3. Use your Website and Facebook Page. A recent ABA Bank Marketing article described how banks are successfully using these technologies as "listening posts" to drive ongoing customer satisfaction. Reread this and other articles on optimizing your customer loyalty through listenership.
4. Offer Easy Online Account Opening. As the Money Center financials continue to flirt with ways to reprice, restructure, and remarket their offerings, impacted clients will take to the Internet. Make sure your there with easy ways to get their business. Take a look at some of the larger brokerage companies (e.g,. Fidelity). They get it.
5. Offer Referral Rewards. Turn your satisfied customers into sales reps by rewarding them for referrals. The subject of banking, finance, and money is increasing topical today, just as media choices are increasingly confusing.
Do these five things well and you'll have a sound platform for growth in customers and their satisfaction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
L. BIFF MOTLEY, is president of Motley & Associates, New Orleans. He can be reached at (504) 593-9677.