It’s a refrain commonly heard in business: We know our customers.
But how well do the places where you do business really know you? Even in the Twin Ports where “everybody knows your name,” it is still difficult to maintain the level of service that customers expect every day. Amid the focus on the bottom line, individual attention to customers often is compromised in efforts to be thorough and efficient. There is a temptation to lean on technology.
In the banking business, where technology has given all banks pretty much the same tools, we’re seeing the future as a return to a few of the values of the past. Knowing your customers, and knowing how to serve and protect them, has become a differentiator. It’s a quality you should insist on wherever and however you handle your money.
A recent study on the banking industry found that millennials—those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000—value convenience more than any other banking feature. That’s not surprising. People of all generations have gravitated to banks and other vendors that serve them on their terms.
But in an era of Internet fraud, identity theft and other high-tech dangers, banks more than ever must know their customers.
The same survey found that, after convenience, millennials valued security and fully-insured deposits as banking attributes. With a very few exceptions, these are qualities that most banks offer, though it’s not surprising that they consistently rank high on lists of what’s important.
But take a look at the qualities that came up next: Knowledgeable staff, friendly staff and longevity in business. All of these have a lot to do with customer service. Indeed, business longevity usually doesn’t happen if you don’t know your customers and treat them right.
Even the No. 2 attribute, security, has much more to it than government regulation and deposit insurance. Let me give you an example. At our bank, we watch customers’ accounts for safety reasons. We also regularly see our customers in the bank lobby and in our drive-up window. We know their businesses. We know their banking patterns and, to some degree, what’s happening in their lives. That’s our job as their bankers.
When we see something that doesn’t look right, we’re not afraid to say something. I’ve done that many times over the years. When I have, our customers have said they appreciate that we’re watching to make sure they’re safe.
Recently, we had a new customer tell us about her frustrations with another bank trying to resolve a credit card problem during an overseas trip. Getting a live person on the phone to set it straight was nearly impossible. That was one reason she changed banks.
With few exceptions, technology has been consumers’ friend. We’re able to do more, work faster and work on our own terms because of advances, driven largely by the Internet. But the people behind the technology still are important. They’re the ones who determine whether all of those technological advances really serve our needs.
A bank or online vendor that isn’t watching its transactions can be an open invitation to Internet fraud or identity theft. A bank or vendor that knows its customers and keeps an eye on their electronic transactions can catch a problem quickly or even before it happens, saving a customer weeks and months of hassle.
My advice when it comes to your banking and financial services is to think about the qualities you value most and then look a step or two beyond the obvious. Make sure there are people where you do business who stand behind the technology, keep an eye out for your safety and really mean it when they say they know you as a customer.
Dale Lewis is president and CEO of Park State Bank in Duluth. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-722-3500.