7 Secrets to Providing a Better Community Bank Customer Experience

Technology has done much to level the playing field between big banks and small community banks and credit unions. Digital interfaces are available to every business, regardless of size, which leaves the battle over customers to be fought in a different realm. It is customer experience that is more important than ever, and community banks need to leverage from these 7 secrets, to gain advantage over the competition.

  1. Don’t fear technology.

Big banks have done the hard work of mainstreaming technology, so don’t let this be your downfall. Technology assists in providing customers with the integrated experience they expect from businesses, and your bank is no different. Even the smallest bank or credit union is more than capable of capitalizing on the software that is available in the marketplace.

  1. Unify all touch-points.

The customer experience is not linear. Customers may complete a single financial task using multiple touch-points, and they all must connect seamlessly. Those who use your bank should be able to access their balances easily via mobile app, discuss financial decisions with an expert by phone or at a physical branch, and keep track of their finances on a desktop computer. Every form of communication needs to be instantly responsive to the needs of every customer.

  1. Create a comfortable atmosphere.

Digital components to your community bank are crucial, but the atmosphere of your physical locations still matters. Even as you integrate each touch-point, you  want to avoid making your community bank feel like a sterile government office. When your customers do pop in, they want to feel welcomed. Lighting makes a huge difference, and you could easily swap stiff chairs for comfortable couches and friendly décor.  Some leading institutions are even experimenting with olfactory ambiance to help customers feel more comfortable.

  1. Empower through training.

Staff training is often what makes the difference between a growing business and a dwindling one.  When we interview hundreds of thousands of banking customers, we learn that poor staff training is typically the #1 or #2 reason that people decide to switch banks.   When your employees have and understand all the relevant product and service information about your community bank, they can better serve your customers. Staff should be able to answer customer questions, and with a solid understanding of existing technology, your staff can teach customers how to search for answers that they don’t readily have.

  1. Build a culture of customer service.

When the customer is central to every process, your staff can provide superior customer experience. This tenet starts at the top, with upper-management implementing processes that enable frontline staff to solve issues immediately for customers, rather than always having to refer the problem to a manager.  Our surveys reveal that 27% of customers report getting the runaround when trying to get questions answered.  For businesses, this increases to 35%.  And in both cases, getting the runaround is a major reason households and businesses tell us they might switch banks.  If you prioritize the customer and their experience from every angle, you achieve an approach that naturally eliminates most of the problems they face.

  1. Personalize your service.

Your overall infrastructure may be amazing, but customers need help marrying their needs to your products and services. It is not a case of “If you build it, they will come.”  Community banks are in an amazing position to be able to learn about the unique needs of their patrons, and then provide them with the tools and advice to meet those needs. A familiar smile, remembering their names, and recalling that they are in the process of purchasing a home, for instance, can build lifelong relationships.

  1. Contribute to the community.

The customer experience is driven by your involvement in the community. Many customers want to know that you are aware of what is relevant to those that live there. Sponsor local teams and celebrate regional traditions. Reinforce that you are an important part of the community.  This will improve your own customer loyalty and will actually attract more business, especially from middle market and small businesses in your area.  And do not feel shy about promoting your good works.  Our surveys show that when a community contribution is accompanied by marketing spend to promote it, the impact to the bottom line can grow by more than 350%.

Community banks and credit unions have unique strengths. If you want to offer a truly impactful customer experience, you have to offer personalization that is also convenient. Your frontline staff must be fully trained and confident enough to offer financial knowledge in addition to providing account services.  Your electronic banking should be an extension of that service, not a replacement for it.   A concerted, thoughtful examination of your processes, and more importantly, an unblinking understanding of your current customers’ opinions of the bank will enable you to excel beyond your peers.

Can Community Banks Compete with Big Banks on Electronic Banking?

Electronic banking is a disruptor to banks in much the same way that Amazon was to brick-and-mortar book stores when it first launched its online retail business. As a business owner, you either find a way to meet the level of service and convenience being offered, or you simply lose a piece of the market. Yet when so much is uncertain, including future economic security, how do you justify investing in technology when you’ve based your whole business platform on providing a personal touch?

Banking and technology have always been great partners.

Technology has always made banking more efficient and more profitable, and today’s fintech revolution is one of the fastest growing industries – worth over $12 billion. From the introduction of ATMs to check clearing and credit monitoring, technology makes banking easier for banks as well as their customers.

Fintech is a natural fit for community banks willing to make the investment. Some community bankers and credit unions avoid digital upgrades because they see them as threats rather than improvements that can make them more competitive in the industry. But most of the digital innovations available – payment apps, mobile wallets, online money management tools, mortgage loan apps – are simply enhancements to existing services.

It starts by recognizing that consumers want both the technology and the human touch.

Community banks have the opportunity to bring to their customers the best of both worlds: the personal, in-the-community, fabric-of-society human touch and the state-of-the-art technical convenience fintech allows. From online banking to mobile check deposits to customized apps, new technologies do not have to be a threat. And most consumers want both. They want to be able to come into their local branches, sit down and talk with someone, and know that there are human beings keeping their money safe. They also want to be able to bank at midnight, move money from one account to another from their phones, and make investment decisions while sitting in their living rooms watching TV. Based on our surveys, most millennials want the human touch when it comes to banking.  And most baby boomers want the convenience of electronic banking.  Why not give them both?

Community banks know their customers and can expand the innovation in fintech.

This is not merely pie in the sky. It’s happening on the ground as this is written. Some banks are choosing to build the reality themselves. Eastern Bank in Boston created an online lending platform that makes loans of up to $100,000, with decisions in minutes. Like many other banks that have developed some internal digital expertise, they now provide the solution externally and license it to other banks. And there are still plenty of high-quality managed services available in the market from the likes of Fiserv, FIS, Jack Henry, COCC, et al.

Community banks can embrace fintech without sacrificing their personalized, customer-driven focus, and these banks can indeed survive and thrive. Credit unions and community banks simply cannot rely solely on personal service as the entire premise of their existence when consumers clearly want more. They want not just personal service but personalized technology as well. Fintech is a solution that will open doors for community banks, allowing them to peel away less-than-satisfied big-bank customers who are ready for a best-of-both-worlds solution.