Connecting with Clients – Virtualizing the Human Touch

Connecting with clients is perhaps the biggest challenge facing financial services today. Banks are fond of using terms like “Stickiness”  and “Share of Wallet” to define the relationship they are trying to create with their clients. Current processes have unknown, and in some cases outsourced, call centre resources contacting existing clients with the offer of the day in hopes of increasing share of wallet and making that client more sticky. In most cases these strategies are not working.

There is a growing list of reasons why connecting with clients and generating positive long lasting relationships is becoming increasingly more difficult:

  1. Commoditization of banking services
  2. Push to alternative low touch channels
  3. Automation of previously manual customer interactions
  4. High turnover in front office positions
  5. Distrust of traditional financial services
  6. Increased consumer knowledge
  7. New market entrants with a better grasp of prospective client needs

So the question is how to improve bank-client relationships? My answer is to always look to models that are working and then try and emulate them. I always use to clear examples:

1. Show Me the Old Lady

It may not be politically correct but it is an affective tool and will work probably close to 99% of the time. In your bank right now you will be able to find a region that has higher than average sales. Within that region you will be able to find a group that constantly has higher than average sales. Within that group you will find a branch with higher than average sales, and within that branch you will find an individual with higher than average sales. That individual, in my experience, is almost always an older lady and the branch is normally a sub-urban or rural branch. While others in your organization point to tools and process as the road block to exceptional results this Old Lady is racking up the sales, exceeding her quota, and hitting the beach at the Sales Leaders retreat year after year.

How does she do it? The answer is she has built, and continues to build, positive relationships. She lives in the community she serves. She belongs to a number of social and fraternal clubs and groups. She participates in charities. She may even bake cookies for her clients. She doesn’t let the birth of your child, or the death of your mother go unrecognized. She knows you, your family, your co-workers, and your friends. If you asked her clients who their banker is they would give you her name and offer a referral immediately. She was doing mobile mortgage applications before there was a defined process. Finally she is probably only selling a small subset of your bank’s products. She knows these products inside and out. She knows what they can and can’t do for her clients and she know the processes of origination, servicing, and closing of these products like the back of her hand.

I know that you are saying that is a laundry list of soft-skills to try and emulate and I would agree. If you take a good look at her relationship building methods they are predicated on tenure, experience and a stable customer base. She has been at her job for more than a decade and so have her co-workers that support her. Just as solid as the staff are the customer base is more so. The soft-skills are normally natural for these individuals in that they would be concerned about the birth of your child and the death of your mother regardless of what they did for a living and you  cannot teach that, but you can start hiring for it. You can also start addressing compensation and human resource issues that are in counterproductive to building a solid, experienced sales force. You can take these methods out of the branch and start applying them to other channels and customer touches.

2. Why Can’t You Treat Me Like and SPG Platinum Member?

It is true that your customers are chaining the way they interact with your bank. They want alternative channels, they want self actualization via immediate access to accounts and banking services from their homes and their phones. You know what else they want? They want to be acknowledged as an individual, they want a sense of community, and they want real relationships with real people. It may come as a surprise to you but you probably already have the tools to give you client what they want. You just need to staff, train, provide the correct incentives, and update some policies, mindsets, and pay scales to provide it.

I travel all the time for work. I started to stay at Starwoods hotels because of convenient locations in relations to my clients. I remained loyal to Starwoods for their reward program. I became a Starwoods devotee and evangelist because of their virtual concierge service. Recently I was at a conference with a number of consultants. I was using the Starwoods concierge service as a great example of virtual relationship building. I asked how many of the consultants were Starwoods Platinum members and a large percentage of the group put up their hands. I then asked how many of them knew the name of their Starwoods concierge? The number of hands changed only slightly. The ability of Starwoods to create a solid virtual relationship with their clients is, for me, nothing short of amazing. My concierge is Annette. I have never met her, only talked on the phone and via email but she has become a very important member of my team and helps make my traveling life a little easier. She knows my routines, my preferences, and my favourite hotels in the cities a travel to frequently. When she notices trends in my travel she proactively asks if she should make future reservations. More importantly she has been my concierge for almost two years, another success for Starwoods given the average turnover in call centres.


Want to improve you bank-client relationship then work on:

  1. Hiring truly great service oriented individuals
  2. Reduce the number of products and product variants they sell
  3. Train your team to deliver great service sales will become a natural extension of great service
  4. Adjust your incentive and remuneration plans to keep great service providers in their job
  5. Assign clients to virtual resources and have them develop relationships by offering your clients their services
  6. Make sure your clients know their banker’s name

More on the topic to come.

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