Service Inspection


Three steps to check whether your bank is delivering great service

By Chris Lorence

How many times have you walked into a business and felt like you were completely invisible? The employees were probably chatting amongst themselves, intent on finishing their conversation before offering a greeting to you. Have you ever called a company to make a reservation or get more information and discovered the person answering the phone either wasn’t adequately trained to help you or was otherwise too distracted doing something else?

We’ve all, no doubt, experienced such poor service. But have you ever wondered whether scenarios like these happen at your community bank?

Our industry, like many others, is being reshaped right before our eyes. While efficient, knowledgeable, courteous service has always been important to every company, the financial products consumers are being offered today are often commoditized and frequently undifferentiated. Your bank’s competition no longer includes only other traditional banks but a motley marketplace of assorted lenders and retailers. Even more challenging, some companies now offer financial products and services not as a primary revenue source but as an ancillary customer convenience or loyalty builder.

As a community banker, your conversations and plans around retaining and gaining market share might be centered on technology issues, but top-notch customer service may actually be your best differentiator. Consider these three steps to ensure your community bank always delivers the superior service you think it does.

1. Don’t assume anything. From your vantage point, why wouldn’t everyone do business with your community bank? But when your team members engage with a customer, do they review the customer’s account beyond the transaction at hand and suggest another product for consideration? Do they mention a special interest rate promotion your bank is running?

Great customer service goes beyond being pleasant and responsive. It’s also about anticipating needs and delivering unexpected results.

2. Gain perspective. Do yourself a favor: From your home or mobile phone, call your competition—both large and small, online and brick-and-mortar—as if you wanted to establish a new relationship. Then ask these questions and take notes: Is your bank part of a no-fee ATM network? Do your ATMs take deposits? Can I connect my small-business account to my personal account for easy funds transfers? What’s the largest deposit I can make using remote deposit?

Be bold. Ask the questions you would want to know in order to decide whether to move your financial relationship. You might be amazed by the variety and quality of answers you get. You may also discover that many frontline employees don’t know the answers to some of these questions. Hearing the “umm” and “I’m not sure; I’ll need to check with somebody” from a new accounts representative sends a terrible message—one potential customers don’t want to deal with.

3. Make customer service everyone’s responsibility. Tellers and branch personnel are often the most heavily trained in customer service. But what about everyone else in your community bank? Are your loan and business development officers as adept at handling questions about day-to-day financial transactions as they are about questions related to their primary job function?

Find out. Customers care about the accuracy, speed, convenience and relevance of the information they receive, not about from whom the information comes.

Chris Lorence ( is ICBA’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.