Posted on May 22, 2017
As you’ve probably noticed, one of the recurring themes in my writing is customer service. It often seems like, as the current business environment grows more competitive, there is a decreasing emphasis on service and client satisfaction.
In the current digital era, where communication and transaction behavior often no longer require any face-to-face interaction, many businesses are relying more heavily on technology, and paying less attention to human needs. With my technology background, I fully understand the ROI potential of a software or technology solution. But I also see the immense potential for businesses to reach new heights through delighting their client base with great service.
One of my favorite stories of customer service winning the day is that of Commerce Bancorp, the small retail bank that dared to disrupt the conventional mindset of established banking juggernauts – and win! Commerce built a highly successful model predicated on service-driven innovation.
Commerce was among the first retail banks to take down the protective glass at teller stations. This was a small, relatively inexpensive move, but it changed the entire dynamic of the customer experience. The psychology of talking to someone behind a wall, even a transparent one, is significant. Once these walls came down, customers immediately felt a closer, more personal connection to the tellers. Conversations that once seemed distant now had a sense of warmth to them, which for customers resulted in a deeper sense of trust with not only the tellers, but also with the bank itself.
To ensure safety without the glass, Commerce hired additional security officers at the branches. This was a perfect fit with the broader, holistic strategy of creating a more human environment built on open trust and interaction. Bank employees now relished a more communal work environment, and felt happier/safer with actual people that could protect them. Customers correctly viewed this as an appreciation for their safety. Local communities benefited from the creation of new jobs. A win-win-win situation for all parties involved!
As ATM machines became a bigger and bigger part of a retail bank’s profit margin, Commerce was not in a position to compete; for every one machine that it had, its competitors had thousands. So the bank once again turned to customer service/satisfaction as a strategy for differentiation. It became the first bank to cut down on the “nickel and diming” of customers via annoying ATM fees. This proved to be another move that helped build trust and loyalty among a growing customer base.
Breaking from tradition, the bank extended its hours to early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays so that its customers could bank at convenient hours that didn’t interfere with work. Beyond the immediate spike in customer satisfaction, this innovation also provided more job flexibility for its own employees, as they could work more flexible shifts, and cater more to their families. Another win-win situation, built around making both customers and employees happier.
While most established retail banks chained their pens to a desk, making it a hassle to fill out deposit slips, Commerce took the chains off, and gave away pens as a gift! Not only did this enhance the customer experience, it also proved to be a brilliant tactic from a branding standpoint, as millions of pens with the Commerce logo found their way into homes and offices, making a lasting impression. From a cost standpoint, this was significantly less expensive than a thirty-second TV spot or other type of media buys. According to Wikipedia, in 2006, the bank gave away 28 million free pens!
Commerce was the first bank to introduce “Penny Arcade” machines that enabled customers to take their loose change, dump them into a machine, and come away with a deposit slip. Yet another brilliant, customer-driven initiative; this one making depositing loose coins both easy and fun! Not surprisingly, the “Penny Arcades” were a big lure for kids, who tend to be the biggest coin collectors. Going to the bank for them became a fun weekend activity (Thanks to the aforementioned weekend hours), and Commerce started to quickly grow market share among young families. Free lollipops for the kids were the proverbial cherry on top.
Not surprisingly, the arrival of more young families brought more four-legged creatures into Commerce branches. Once again, the bank capitalized on an opportunity to make a new customer segment even happier. Understanding the group’s unbridled passion for pets, Commerce became one of the first banks to become “dog friendly” by handing out canine treats. This simple gesture won the hearts and loyalty of many additional pet lovers, adding another group of brand loyal customers.
In a relatively short period of time, Commerce leveraged its service-driven strategies to win customers and build brand loyalty. Its subsequent rapid expansion made it an attractive acquisition target, and TD Bank ultimately pulled the trigger on buying it.
My takeaway: A good business strategy MUST include a comprehensive service component, regardless of how automated the offering is. In today’s high-tech environment, service driven strategy can be a positive difference-maker that drives market share growth, as it did in the case of Commerce Bank. We can never forget that even in the digital era, customers still maintain a heartbeat.