One of the biggest myths out there is that community banks are always better at customer service than big banks. While this may be true in aggregate across the totality of the US, no community bank that I know of is competing on that level. Every community bank competes on the local level, and the reality is that in over 75% of local markets that we cover in the Northeast, at least one big bank ranks in the top three in customer service. That means that in the vast majority of markets, community banks cannot say to local prospects that small banks always outshine the big guys.
Community banks may be more personal, more involved in the community, and more likely to know the people who bank with them, but if they’re not delivering on key service areas, they will struggle to compete with big banks in their community. In our latest New York benchmarks, more than 40 community banks across the state were rated lower in customer service by their own customers than any of the big banks in their market. So much for the service advantage.
Yet delivering on customer service should be low-hanging fruit for community banks as a way to compete with and take customers from the big banks, so if your community bank or credit union is getting bad marks on customer service, it’s an easy place to make rapid changes and retain the customers you have and attract new ones away from the big banks. Start with these three areas:
Improve Customer Service with Better Training
Employees who are knowledgeable about your bank’s products and services make banking customers feel confident that they are putting their money in good hands. Hire the best talent for your bank. You can teach banking, you cannot teach attitude or a true desire to help customers. Once you hire the right people, make sure your employees can answer questions, provide insight, and make recommendations that make sense for your customers, beyond just which checking account they should open. This sounds obvious, but both big and small banks often are not up to the task. In our latest survey, 38% of banked adults said their bank was not proactive enough in offering solutions. Customers are asking to be cross sold more!
Improve Customer Service with Better Communication
Not only do your customers and potential customers need to know that you’re capable of meeting all of their banking needs, but they need to know that you offer other financial services as well. From mortgages to retirement accounts, make sure your customers know you are more than just a place to have a Christmas savings account. In our latest survey, only about 50% of bank customers concentrate most of the banking with one bank, even though the vast majority say they want to consolidate. The two top reasons customers gave for not giving their primary bank all of their business were:
- “I did not know they offered other products” and
- “They never asked me.”
In several cases, well-meaning community banks were missing out on potential 25%-35% growth rates, simply by not being as proactive as their own customers were wanting.
All banks also need to make sure communications are effective in letting your target market know about your community involvement – one of the ways community banks and credit unions are able to set themselves apart from big banks. This is especially important in the commercial space since community involvement is a strong driver of consideration.
Improve Customer Service with Better Technology
Being small and local doesn’t mean you can get away with not having the latest and greatest technology to make your banking services easy to access for your customers. From mobile banking to online check deposits, customers expect you to have all the conveniences of a big bank – and when you do, it levels the playing field and gives you an opportunity to draw dissatisfied customers away from big banks. Just because you are small does not mean you cannot compete in technology. Don’t believe it? Ask your customers. We did, and found that in almost every county in the Northeast, at least one community bank ranks in the top 3 in technology. Those community banks know that the key is not just the tools, but the servicing and training around the tools.
There is enormous opportunity to improve your ability to grow your community bank or credit union, but it starts with knowing what existing customers and prospects think of you compared to your competitors. Take action now and request our benchmark study for your region.