What comes to mind when you think of “the customer experience”? A trip to a branch/store/restaurant? How happy/unhappy a customer was with their product? Or for my fellow retail workers, do we even care? No shame in not caring, despite what the supposed Internet customer advocates will tell you.
Well, in my recent article “How I Almost Got Fired Today”, I mentioned that almost getting fired for approving a “bad” wire was one of two things that happened that day that would have made me consider leaving the bank if I had been on the fence rather than currently job hunting.
Well, I’m now writing about the second thing that happened that day, and it also has to do with “the customer experience”.
Or rather, the myth of the customer experience in the modern banking world.
What Is The Customer Experience?
It depends on who you ask. Don’t ask a banking executive because you will probably get a stupid answer.
SAS, a business analytics company, defines the customer experience as “your customers’ perceptions – both conscious and subconscious – of their relationship with your brand resulting from all their interactions with your brand during the customer life cycle.” In other words, how they perceive your business even on a subconscious level.
The Harvard Business Review has an even better definition of the customer experience on their website:
“It is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire arc of being a customer.”
So pretty much, the customer experience is defined as how the customer perceives the business. It can be anywhere from their evaluation of the product to something as subconscious and stupid as they don’t like the color of the store’s carpets (with the store in question being, like, a toy store or something).
It involves every facet of every interaction with the customer through physical and digital channels. And despite article after article on customer experience management advising you to collect and maintain detailed profiles on your customers so you can get to know each one on a deeply personal level and be “responsive and flexible” to the point of being able to read their minds, it also involves subconscious factors that are out of the business’s control, unrelated to the business entirely, or some unreasonably impossible to grasp combination of the two.
Now I bet you think this is the part where I talk about how the customer experience is a load of bull-doody. Where I lament about how some junior execs enamored with their business degrees are way overthinking the whole thing when all customers really want is to get a good value for their money and not be stuck too long on the checkout line.
And, to a degree, I might be right if I did.
But I don’t believe the “customer experience” is a myth. I believe that, in banking, the customer experience is more than how long the wait for a teller is.
However, that doesn’t mean that the banks are getting it right. The same day that I had to deal with the whole wire fiasco, I saw firsthand how banks just don’t understand the customer experience. They don’t understand the role the customer experience plays in their customers’ lives, they don’t understand how expectations of what the customer experience should be are evolving over time, and they don’t understand that their policies are damaging the customer experience rather than enhancing it.
It was a really bad day.
A Visit From Above
Not too long after my manager spoke to me about the wire, the district manager appeared. It was one of those all day visits where he really observes the staff and all that crap.
Every visit from a higher up is seriously a reminder that I need to retire early. If I had known the day was going to be like this, I would have called out like I did in that post.
Now we weren’t caught with our proverbial pants down. And thankfully, we weren’t caught with our actual pants down either. The manager and assistant manager knew he was coming and had me stand by the door greeting customers.
“Lobby Leadership” is big at many banks nowadays, so it’s not just my bank that’s being obnoxious about it. Greeting customers immediately upon entering the bank lobby is, I’m not making this up, the single most important function of the branch. That’s not an exaggeration; banks’ retail division heads seem to have decided that if they can’t compete on interest rates, they will compete on who can greet customers that fastest. Presumably they decided it was the most important thing after reading the article in that last link I just posted.
How the writers of that article decided on the supreme importance (or even mildly existing importance) of lobby greeting, I dunno.
I was literally not allowed to take customers for as long as I was there. I had to “work the lobby”. If I needed to use the bathroom, someone needed to relieve me so I could also run and relieve me. I couldn’t make sales or anything, I couldn’t go to my desk. I had to be at the lobby greeting customers.
You think I’m joking or exaggerating when I say that the bank considers Lobby Leadership to be the single largest priority in the branch. I’m not. This was directly told to us on a conference call by one of the retail division heads. And they are actually sending spies to watch the branches at random solely to make sure that we are having someone in the lobby greeting at all times.
Yeah, I don’t make these things up. I’m not that creative.
So I work the lobby, greeting customers and telling them where to go, answering questions, and other such things that you’d expect an employee standing out in the lobby to do. I don’t exactly fail miserably at it; I have conversations with people, I clue one woman into the wonderful world of mobile banking, I engage in slightly self-deprecating humor to keep people entertained for a few.
It’s a long few.
But it’s also clear that I’m not an anti-social basement dweller in love with his anime “waifu”. I may not be a people person, but I do know how to speak to people.
Or so I thought.
The DM then decided to give me and my assistant manager a lesson about the “customer experience”.
In the lobby. In front of the customers. Right next to the customer line.
He spoke about Disney World. About how people pay money to wait hours on line just for the experience of the rides. That two minute experience. About how Disney’s staff is trained to make sure that everything they do psychologically stimulates the customer, even the way they point at certain things.
About how it’s all about the customer experience.
“This right here?” he said, referring to the lobby. “This is your Magic Kingdom. And you are the stars. The main attraction. Make it yours.”
Wow, there was not a word of that that sounded appealing.
But then he decided to show us how it was done.
Now, you know those people who effortlessly work the room in parties? They go from one conversation to the next, charming all those that speak to them. Their mere presence captures the attention of everyone present. Sort of like Sean Parker in The Social Network.
I think the DM wanted to think he was one of those people. He came pretty close, but no cigar. He had the personality type, just not the team of Hollywood writers backing him like Justin Timberlake did.
This guy (my district manager, not Parker/Timberlake) effortlessly went from customer to customer on the line, shaking hands and schmoozing everyone he saw. And I mean everyone. No customer was safe from an attempt to strike up a conversation about their shoes, or an attempt at humor, or a conversation about their banking.
“Those are some awesome looking glasses!” he told one woman. They weren’t. They were normal-looking glasses.
The guy even announced the tellers’ names to everyone on the line. “Everybody, thank you for coming! Our tellers will be happy to assist you! We’ve got [Teller 1], [Teller 2], and [Teller 3]!” He got [Teller 3]’s name wrong.
He was running back and forth, opening the door for every customer that entered and left. He made sure he had a conversation with every single customer, because as he later put it, “Being a Lobby Leader? It’s like being a defensive lineman. They go left, you go left. They go right, you go right. You never let them get past you.”
Umm, okay? Good to know if I ever want to assault someone.
At one point, I swear to fricken God here, he held a trivia contest on the line and gave out a package of pens he brought with him. And I didn’t know who I wanted to slap more; the one single customer who actually liked the song-and-dance, or my DM for saying that we’re “here to serve you”. I just hate that phrase.
To be honest, the whole thing was embarrassing. In his eyes, he was engaging the customers and being sociable. In my eyes, he was jumping around like a court jester and acting like an idiot.
According to him, it was all about the “customer experience”. But he and the rest of the bank have bought into the customer experience myth.
Banks Don’t Understand The Customer Experience Or The Modern World
Now I don’t know how much of that crap (and it was a giant stinking pile of crap) was coming from my district manager and how much of it was coming from the bank itself, but there was so much wrong with all of that that I don’t even know where to begin.
Bear with me here. I really don’t know where to begin. Other than the fact that it actually kind of scares me how the banks–the respected institutions that guard our money–seem to be oblivious to the world around them, and what is important to the customer experience.
So, okay, I think I’m going to have to break this down into a few sections to keep from rambling and going off-point more than I usually do.
The Bank of Disney, this is not
Okay, so comparing the customer experience of banking to the experience of going to Disney World? Analogy fail.
There is a huge difference. And you’ll get a lot of pushback from retail banking employees that will say, “This isn’t Disney World! It’s a bank and things are different here!” without really thinking about or understanding the difference between the two. Dismiss them all you want as disgruntled lazy workers who don’t want to put the effort into actually earning their pay, but I’ve taken the time to understand the difference. Because, you know, I’d like to not embarrass myself when I publish this blog.
The reason you can’t compare compare the customer experience in Disney World to that of entering a retail banking branch (especially and specifically in the way my district manager was doing) is that the experience is the literal end goal of the former, but not even noticed in the latter unless–generally speaking–the experience is bad.
What do I mean?
People go to Disney World (or Universal Studios or Las Vegas casinos or Broadway shows) because they want to. They are there for the experience. The experience is–consciously in the mind of the customer–the deliberate end goal. They are there for the thrill of meeting Mickey Mouse, riding Pirates Of The Caribbean, and immersing themselves in the World Of Tomorrow. The customer receives neither a product nor a service, and they are fully aware of it. They receive only the experience of going to Disney World, and they are willing to pay for it. They come for the experience and because they want to.
People go to the bank because they have to. It’s part of their errands. They may not hate their bank, they may even like their bank. But unless they take a pure thrill from talking to their favorite teller for whatever reason, they are there because it’s part of their errands.
“Aw, I got so much to do today! I gotta run to the grocery store and buy milk, and then I gotta pick up my dry cleaning. Then I gotta run to the bank to cash my check, and I need to go to the pharmacy to pick up Grandma’s medication. God forbid I can just relax on my day off!”
No customer cares about anything but getting done what they need to get done. They come in because they have a transaction, a problem, or both. They come because they have to. The only people who want to be there less than the customers are the employees.
Now don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean that we should make their visit unpleasant or anything. Nor does it mean that we shouldn’t attempt to add value by offering products and services that may benefit them.
But customers receive value from their bank via products and services. They receive value from Disney via experience and entertainment. You can’t conflate the two as my DM apparently thinks you can. Trying to differentiate your bank from the competition by “engaging” the customers through entertainment and making the visit to the branch an “experience” is akin to asking the kid dressed as Goofy to talk to children about retirement planning.
Especially when all the other banks have the same dumb-as-s*** idea.
Sixteen personalities. Which is yours?
I’ve mentioned this site a couple times, but there is an awesome website called 16personalities.com that talks about the different types of personality traits out there. If you’ve ever heard someone say they were an INTJ or an INFP or something, it comes from that. It’s the Myers-Briggs model. You may like the Myers-Briggs model, you may think it’s pseudo-psychology on par with astrology (despite the lack of astrological signs), but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was eerily accurate.
I’m an INTP, by the way. The Logician.
But that’s not the point. The point is that there are many people out there with many different personality types. Different customers are going to have different perceptions of what they see once they walk inside a bank branch. Two customers may see and hear the same thing and have the same conversation with the same person, and yet it will still be two completely different customer experiences because they are two completely different customers.
So all that smooth talking showmanship that’s a hallmark of an ESTP (The Entrepreneur) personality? Not everybody likes that s***.
Not every customer wants someone in their face making their trip to the bank a “fun experience” or something like that. I would even say that most people don’t like that. They don’t want to be bothered while on the line; they want there to be no line (and also no fees on their account, so they’re more willing to force you to talk about the nonsense of fee refunds than any of the stuff the Lobby Leadership brain trust envisioned).
And it’s not just in the banks. Not every customer wants to “discuss” politics with their cab driver, or wants to have to tell their waitress that yes the food is fine and everything is okay here. One of the drivers on the bus line won’t shut up during the goddamned ride in the morning. This is every single time I get on and he’s the driver. The little old ladies love him, but I sit far in the back so I don’t have to hear his goddamned f***ing voice.
We actually had a situation a couple years ago when all the managers and the district managers came to my branch for whatever reason and he was doing that with all the customers, one customer that another representative had almost told him off. The customer really wanted the DM to just get away from him, and you could see it on his face that he was this close to saying something. I truly wish he did.
And not only do many/most customers not like that sort of thing, neither do most employees.
Now, us employees don’t even like coming in, but this isn’t a matter of people simply not wanting to work. It’s, again, not everybody having the type of personality that lends itself towards effective Lobby Leadership and lobby customer engagement.
We’re bankers, not entertainers. And mark my words, none of us ever signed up for this crap.
Yes, I know that the job postings always have entries that say things like “Candidate will be responsible for other duties as assigned by management”, so I know that technically I signed up to pick up after the district manager’s dog if he felt that I should be doing that.
But honestly? Most bankers (especially those who have been doing this longer than I have) signed up to do banking. We were under the impression that we would be doing banking, giving financial advice, and yes, even selling (and there was a time where selling wasn’t even a part of banking, and maybe that was for the best).
Was that an unreasonable expectation on our part? We are a bank after all.
Or so I thought.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that those employees who enjoy “working the room” or those customers who feel that the presence of such employees brightens up their visit are wrong. They’re not. It’s all personality types and it’s all opinions. Nobody is right or wrong when it comes to their own preferences.
But for the bank to place such a heavy amount of importance on entertaining customers assumes that all customers and all employees have the same personality type. It assumes that they all (at least the employees) have that outgoing Alpha Dog personality when in reality that’s not true. The bank isn’t catering to all their customers there, or even most of their customers. If anything, I would say that the bank is catering to a very small percentage of their customers.
I’ll say this for myself. As an employee, I hate having to do that sort of thing. I’m not a extroverted life-of-the-party sort. I was terrified of school projects as a kid because I had to present them in front of the class and that filled me with fear. I’m a banker, and that shouldn’t entail making myself a public spectacle.
And as a customer? If I had walked into the bank and employees were doing that? I’d have walked right out.
Unless the employee was cute.
A carefully crafted customer experience………for thirty years ago?
Two people I follow semi-regularly in the wonderful world of banking are Jim Marous and Ron Shevlin. They both follow me on Twitter, so if nothing else they both know more about what’s happening in Dragon Ball Super than anyone they know.
Recently, Shevlin published an article commenting on a survey of bank CEOs and other top execs to see if their banks were future-ready. I will come back to this in about two seconds.
Marous recently sent me a free copy of his Digital Banking Report as a reward for being the most awesomest person ever (wasn’t his exact words, but I think I’m pretty good at reading between the lines), and the extremely short version of it was that the customer experience of the future will be determined not just by the bank’s digital offerings but by how seamlessly they are able to blend various delivery channels together to intertwine customers’ personal and financial lives.
In other words, chatbots, IoT (Internet of Things), and A.I. will be the primary banking channels of tomorrow’s banking customers, blending together one’s banking with their everyday lives. Today, online and mobile banking have essentially overtaken traditional branch banking, with almost 70% of Millennials using mobile banking as their primary banking channel.
That is extremely important because Millennials will soon be the largest bank customer demographic. And they don’t care about about what goes on in the branches. Why? Because only 14% are doing their banking in person and nearly half see small tech startups as alternative to banks, and Millennials won’t wait for banks to understand them and understand what their preferences are in the delivery of customer experience. As that article–also by Marous–explains, the customer experience for Millennials is dependent on “how well a financial institution uses the data available to build connections around [Millennials’] life moments”.
In other words, Millennials are the future largest group of bank customers and they care more about digital banking channels and financial technology than about what happens when they walk into a branch. And they are not loyal to banks, ready to switch their finances over to an alternative tech company’s care at a moment’s notice if they perceive that that they can get a better customer experience there, which they measure in digital offerings and the blending of the financial and technological. Thus, the future of banking depends on how seamlessly financial institutions can incorporate banking services into the technology of tomorrow.
So that leads back to Shevlin’s article. In it, he cites that roughly half of bank executives believe that their bank is “future-ready”.
Oh, they are not.
I can personally tell you they are not because I just wrote a whole goddamned article about how my bank thinks that they are trying to appeal to your grandmother.
Old people care about the branch experience. Baby Boomers care about the branch experience. That’s because for decades, the branch experience was the entirety of the customer experience. They are the ones obsessed with the fact that they’ve been going to the same teller since the Nazis invaded Poland and that everyone in the branch knows their name, date of birth, and
sexual fantasies and psychotic political beliefs grandchildren’s names. It’s why they are the ones most likely to fly into a rage at a brand new teller because they don’t understand that yes, you have to show ID to do a withdrawal or get a balance.
So when the directive from the heads of our retail banking division (and higher) comes down the pipeline to make Lobby Leadership the branches’ primary focus in order to differentiate our bank from the competitors? When the bank equates greeting your customers immediately and using their names as the whole of the customer experience? Forget about whether they are “future-ready”. The banks aren’t even “present-ready”! How can they expect to compete with alternative financial startups and tech giants that are moving into the lending, investment, and digital payment spaces when they can’t even understand the basics of today’s customer experience?
When you’re still delivering a 1985 customer experience in 2017, it’s debatable on whether you even have a future.
Hospitality vs service: Are you eroding the latter with the former?
Yes. I mean, crap, I’m supposed to explain this one, right? This article’s getting long. Can’t I just hit “Publish” now?
This is something I touched on when I wrote about how bank mystery shopping is going to make me scream (which reminds me that the shoppers are supposedly out in full force right now, because I don’t have enough stress in my life), but the customer experience in banking seems to revolve around hospitality management nowadays.
Case in point: my DM’s visit.
It’s not anything new. All this stuff requiring us to greet the customer at the door, use their name three times, use your name at least once, and invite them back to the branch? It’s not customer service. It’s hospitality management. And as I’ve said before, this isn’t a hotel.
But when you attempt to deliver a value nobody is looking for, it comes at the expense of the value that your customers are looking for.
As I said, I wasn’t allowed to be at my desk until the district manager left. And I swear to f***ing God he was there the whole goddamned day. Man, I wish I had his job. He apparently doesn’t do anything.
A customer came in looking to update their address.
On any other day, I could have had that customer out the door in less than three minutes. Five if I unsuccessfully try to push an investment product.
But since I was not allowed to actually help the customers, he waited thirty minutes to change his address.
So on that day, we focused on the branch customer experience. Unfortunately, we were dedicating ourselves to delivering a negative experience.
And it was my district manager that ordered us to deliver a negative customer experience.
There is a huge disconnect in the banking world when it comes to the customer experience.
The customer experience is more than just how
you’re treated you’re entertained quickly someone says hi quickly someone gets in your face makes a fool out of themselves well someone is at working a room and “engaging” you while standing on line. Perhaps thirty years ago, but not today.
The customer experience is the result of the total experience one has with a business. With a bank in the modern technological world, it means how well and how seamlessly a customer’s financial and technological lives can blend together with their day-to-day lives.
The experience that a bank customer is looking for is different from that of an amusement park customer. It’s subtle, invisible, behind the scenes. The bank shouldn’t really “be there”. I don’t want to think about my bank when I buy something from Amazon. If I am, it means either something went wrong or I’m working around some kind of restriction like a minimum balance requirement.
And even if that weren’t the case and the branch experience were the sum total of the banking customer experience, Lobby Leadership only caters to a certain personality type. Not all customers respond favorably to it.
And to effectively “succeed” in Lobby Leadership, one must have a specific personality type that has nothing to do with succeeding in banking.
And that’s the craziest thing. In order to succeed in banking, one must be able to adopt wildly different personality types at any given time. Perhaps it’s like that in all industries. I don’t know; I’ve never been a doctor. But there are few places other than banking where the “spread” could possibly be so wide. One must be a sober and professional financial advisor in one moment, a caring and empathetic problem solver the next, and an energetic social butterfly minutes later. It’s jarring no matter what, but it’s especially mentally and emotionally taxing for us banker bankers who are in banking for banking, and who are introverted and adverse to approaching large crowds or starting up conversations with strangers.
In the end, it wasn’t just my district manager who looked like an idiot. It was the entire banking industry.
It’s a bit saddening that I can’t land even an interview for an AML Compliance position when I’m apparently more qualified to run the banks than most of the retail heads.
And it’s a bit scary that the institutions that hold our money and power our financial lives can’t understand the customer experience of the modern world.
The myth of the customer experience in banking is that the branches are the key deliverer and differentiator, and that those who are inside the branches care about being engaged and entertained.
But rapid advances in technology are why banks have to enter the modern world and shed their old ways of thinking, else they lose market share to tech giants and fintech startups.
For A Last Bit Of Fun: Stupid Unprofessional Things My District Manager Did
I know, I know, the previous section was the conclusion. But hey, I once started a blog post with the conclusion, so I guess I’m just a rebel. You can call me the Angry Rebellious Banker.
Anyhoo, my district manager went out of his way that day to appear as unprofessional as possible. I know this article was about the customer experience, but this blog is about the day-to-day employee experience, so I can’t leave this sort of stuff out.
Here’s a list of really stupid, unprofessional, and inappropriate things that the DM did during his visit to the branch:
- When I had to take a few minutes to catch up on some paperwork, I handed the lobby greeting off to the head teller. The head teller proceeded to greet every customer, thank them for waiting, and direct them where they need to go. Somehow, he found out that the district manager told my branch and assistant managers that, “I bet he never does Lobby Leadership.” Excuse you, a**hole?
- He berated the branch manager and a representative for a “bad” survey that we had gotten. I use “bad” in quotation marks because it wasn’t really bad, just that the rep didn’t do all the hospitality crap that defines modern “banking” (sad that I have to use quotes around the word “banking” now). This completely ignored the 100% shop and the two perfect surveys we had gotten in the same timeframe. Getting on our case for the bad without acknowledging the good is the opposite of good leadership; it’s being an a**hole.
- Making up stories about why Lobby Leadership was so important. He never said this to me, but I overheard the conversation he had with two of the tellers. Apparently, there was a day when he was a branch manager where there were, and I quote, “a hundred something angry people on the line waiting for a teller”. He went out there and said, “Everybody, before you complain, raise your hand if you haven’t been receiving unparalleled service from our bank for years”, and apparently no hands went up. I can safely say that this story is patently false. If you’re going to make up stories, make them believable, a**hole.
- And the biggest one of all: He was observing one of our tellers in the drive-thru. A customer was in the midst of asking a question. She (the teller) paused the conversation for a moment to greet another customer that pulled up, then immediately went back to the first customer. Later, he brought the teller into the manager’s office and closed the door. He then asked her what her favorite song was. Confused, she told him. He then proceeded to play the song on his phone and pause it every ten seconds, telling her that how she feels when he does that is how the customer feels when she did what she did in the drive-thru. Rightfully pissed, she told all of us, and somehow (she never said anything to anyone else and neither did I) other branches found out as well about the conversation. And you know what? Good. Let what little respect he commanded erode away as everyone realizes that he’s an a**hole.
My advice to district/market/regional managers/presidents: Be professional and reasonable when talking to your lower level employees, the tellers and the bankers. Because we’re all comrades-in-arms and we’re all in this together, and we share everything. Even if you tell us not to say anything, nothing you say when you get on our cases is confidential. There are no secrets.
And when I say “we’re all in this together”, I mean “we”. Not “you”. We who work in the branches. You’re an outsider and you have to earn our trust.
I didn’t actually plan to give out that unsolicited advice, but my emotions always run high when I write and my blog posts are essentially freewriting sessions that get published anyway, so it all just kinda came out. I just couldn’t let him visit the branch without talking about all the stupid things that he said and did.
What an a**hole.
In the end, all this stuff? The only way to get out of it is to invest your money into income-producing assets and live off your passive income. Passive income will never become outdated. But your job title might be, or at least your good standing with your district manager. Banking has been around since the days of the Knights Templar, and yet these world-dominating multi-billion dollar institutions are going to soon be facing disruption from small startups and tech giants that didn’t exist ten years ago. The only way to truly protect yourself is to invest your money and then sit back and laugh when your employer tells you that your services are no longer needed, when in actuality the only thing that’s no longer needed is them. I’ve used a cheap online brokerage to invest in dividend paying stocks, but anything that produces income will work for you. Just don’t wait like I did, otherwise you’ll find yourself writing angry blog posts about the customer experience and terrible district managers rather than enjoying a trip around the world.
Readers–What do YOU think!? Does the banks’ view of the importance of Lobby Leadership show that they just don’t understand how to deliver a good customer experience in the modern world? Or are they on the mark and I’m just not understanding that you have to engage customers to retain them? Are the banks unwilling to look to the future, or am I just unwilling to develop the social skills needed to succeed in life? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
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