Thomaston Savings Bank sets service standard

Photos: Jane Shauck

Thomaston Savings Bank’s customers are in good hands. A recent survey showed that the bank in Thomaston, Conn., had the best customer ratings of any bank in not only its state, but also the country.

By Judith Sears

Name: Thomaston Savings Bank
Assets: $1 billion
Locations: 13 in central Connecticut

Stephen L. Lewis, president and CEO of Thomaston Savings Bank, was out of town on a weekend trip attending a football game with friends when his cellphone rang. On the line was a panicked customer who’d lost his wallet and was concerned about fraudulent activity. Lewis took the call and reached out to two Thomaston team members in the $1 billion-asset community bank’s retail and operations departments. A bank representative soon called the customer back, reassuring him that they had taken action to protect the account and that he could come in on Monday for a new debit card.

Lewis and his colleagues were carrying out in real time Thomaston Savings Bank’s vision, which says, “Every customer says that Thomaston Savings Bank is the only bank in town!”

Quick stat

40 to 95.4

The range of survey scores Thomaston Savings Bank earned in categories like financial advice and trustworthiness

There’s something to that vision. The community bank in Thomaston, Conn., executes service so effectively that a Forbes survey of 25,000 participants across the U.S. rated Thomaston Savings Bank as the best bank in Connecticut in 2018. The bank also topped the magazine’s nationwide list with the highest scores of any bank in the country, based on customer reviews.

To execute industry-leading service, Thomaston Savings Bank relies on lots of training. Employees participate in weekly training that mixes regulatory content and customer service in the form of online modules lasting five to 10 minutes.

Lewis believes training ensures that employees have the skills not just to be friendly but also to provide the right solutions, a critical factor in customer satisfaction.

“More and more, when people come into a branch, they’re looking for a consultative experience,” Lewis observes. “They may be a first-time homebuyer or may have fraud concerns, but they are looking for people who have the capability not just to open accounts but to advise them. We want to make sure we’re offering the right products and experiences to our customers.”

Training, from tellers to the C-suite

Weekly training applies to everyone at the community bank. Even backroom employees in departments that may not typically be customer-facing learn how to greet customers and refer them to the staff person who can best handle their issue.

“We get everyone acting in the same way, and the customer gets this similar experience no matter where they go and who they deal with,” Lewis explains.
The community bank’s service emphasis starts at the top, with the executive team participating in the same training programs. “I’m not an exception, and I audit my C-suite to make sure they’re taking training,” Lewis confirms. “The staff sees that we are all totally involved.”

Thomaston Savings Bank aims for “real-time” problem solving, Lewis says. “If we can’t do it in one phone call, we get it done in the second. The standard we hold ourselves to is to get back to customers within the business day,” he adds.

Thomaston reinforces training with meetings and one-on-one coaching. All bank departments hold 10-minute small-group huddles several times a week. During this time, team members share positive accomplishments, which may include customer service anecdotes and testimonials or recognition of team members performing in-house service.

In addition to group meetings, “mystery shoppers” call into the bank on a quarterly basis. These independent calls test how well employees, the C-suite included, respond to customer requests. “We watch those scores closely to make sure we’re doing well,” Lewis says. The bank also regularly sends out email surveys to customers.

Stephen Lewis, president and CEO of Thomaston Savings Bank, educates students at a local middle school.

Bird’s-eye view

For a big-picture perspective, Thomaston calls in consultants every few years. The bank asks the consultants to evaluate how well its products and services are matching marketplace needs. “They’ve got the analytics to support the survey data,” Lewis explains. “Sometimes you can get tunnel vision, and it helps to have a third party looking at whether we are focusing on the products and services that appear to be growing in our area.”

Sometimes you can get tunnel vision, and it helps to have a third party looking at whether we are focusing on the products and services that appear to be growing in our area.”
—Stephen Lewis, Thomaston Savings Bank

Thomaston Savings Bank prides itself on not dodging customer complaints. In fact, Lewis says some of the community bank’s best relationships have developed with what started as a complaint.

“Many customers are amazed when someone calls them back about a complaint,” he recalls. “We’ve had customers say, ‘That’s the greatest experience, and I’m going to tell all my friends.’ They say that no one will believe they called the president and the president called them back.”

According to Lewis, every customer interaction results in a “moment of truth,” whereby the customer either likes the bank more or less. “It is never neutral,” he warns. “So, we inspect and measure what we consider our moments of truth, such as building appearance, greetings, phone standards, personal appearance and product knowledge.”

With the Forbes recognition, Thomaston Savings Bank demonstrates that a community bank can set the standards for the entire banking industry.

6 ways your bank can better its customer service

To up your community bank’s customer satisfaction game, Thomaston Savings Bank shares a number of its best practices:

  1. Provide regular training. Weekly, brief online modules reinforce good service practices.
  2. Reinforce training with group meetings to encourage the best service and recognize exemplary team members.
  3. Test that training is working with mystery shoppers or third-party calls to your bank.
  4. Make sure your C-suite models ongoing training and delivering good service.
  5. Take a proactive attitude toward complaints. They’re a chance to solve problems, wow customers and win their loyalty.
  6. Get a third-party view of how closely your bank’s products and services match the market’s needs.

Judith Sears is a writer in Colorado.