Getting and keeping customers: How to pull without pushing

Paula TompkinsRemember “push technology?” It was popular back when the internet was The New Thing and publishers thought, why wait for consumers to tell us what they want? We’ll use the Internet — and later cellphones — to “push” information at them and tell them what they want.

Well, not only is that push mentality still here, it’s getting worse — especially in the banking sector. As more and more banks, particularly big banks, take advantage of convergent technologies and cross marketing, including retail banking, investing, insurance, mortgage and college financing, they’re pushing the hell out of “tell and sell” — and pushing consumers right to the edge.

True, on one hand it makes sense to harness technology to link multiple services and products that enable a customer to shop for them in one place. Amazon has proved that. And startups such as Europe’s Revolut are determined to become “the Amazon of finance.”

But for the most part, Amazon’s model is still to ask customers what they want, then give it to them by giving them the tools to find through Amazon, versus telling them what they want because you have products and services you want to sell without asking first whether  customers want them in the first place.

At community banks this kind of marketing usually falls under “onboarding” and many banks say they do it. But thanks to push technology, too many of them do it unsuccessfully. Why?

Too often, community banks take the “2x2x2” cookie-cutter approach to onboarding. It works like this: once a customer opens a new account, the bank sets a cadence dictating when it will reach out to that customer to try and sell that customer other services. The standard cadence is usually two days, two weeks and two months and the delivery method is, too often, via phone, direct mail or blast email.

It rarely works, for one big reason: not only is the cadence cookie-cutter, so are the messages. That’s because these messages often come from bank departments that are siloed and completely out of touch with the new customer.

So they spit out “boilerplate welcome letters” to the customer, which usually go straight to trash. The same happens with robo-style phone messages offering loans, investment advice, etc. These go unanswered, get deleted or blocked. Ditto blast emails or snail mailings.

Not only is this a waste of time, it’s a waste of money. All this “robo-onboarding” is costing your bank a big chunk of change; the average bank spends $300 per account to acquire a new customer, but ineffective onboarding typically results in 20 to 40 percent of new customers leaving in the first year.

So what’s the remedy? What, specifically, might turn new customers on or keep them in the fold?

  • Ask, ask, ask! Have one very real person reach out to them. How did they come to you? Why did they come to you? What might they be looking for that they didn’t get from their previous bank (if they had one)? And most importantly, what life events might be coming up for them that could involve financial help-help that you and the bank can offer. Remember, you’re a community bank. You live with these people! So take a personalized, genuine approach: help them understand the role your bank can play in their lives, and in the community you both live in.
  • Don’t over-communicate. Establish a cadence of communication based on what they’re comfortable with. Once you do, make sure what you send them is personalized, timely,  and useful, based on what they asked for, so you don’t waste their trust or good will.
  • Once you’ve established that contact and cemented that relationship, make sure you get back to them in timely fashion with answers and solutions. Provide them with bank hours when you or other experts are available talk to them one-on-one. In the near future you’ll be able to do these meetings via live, interactive video, 24/7. That means you’ll be able to “meet” with them after work, during a break or when the kids are asleep, without them having to leave their desk or their home.
  • If they take your suggestions and try new bank products or solutions, make sure you thank them.
  • Check in to make sure those new products and solutions are working for them. If not, make sure you find a way to correct the situation ASAP.
  • Maintain the relationship! If you’ve got a good thing going, keep it up! If, after a few months of great, personalized service, you pull back or abandon them for other new customers, they’ll notice and you may lose them. It’s more cost-effective in every sense to keep a good customer than go out and find a new one.

Simply put, maintaining any relationship takes work and keeping bank customers is no exception. Give them the same quality service in the eighth month as you did in the first. Neglecting or abandoning them after you feel you’ve “got them” will hurt you and the bank in the long run.

Remember, community banks, unlike big banks, have a relatively finite pool of new prospects to draw from. You can’t count on volume to replace turnover. Pull them in. Don’t push them away.

Paula Tompkins is CEO, founder and a member of the board of ChannelNet, a technology-based sales, marketing and service company serving the financial industry. She currently holds two U.S. patents on personalization and modular software design. She can be reached at [email protected]