People are community banking’s differentiator

Customer experience determines your place in the competitive landscape and that experience at community banks is largely determined by staff, Emily Sayer told attendees at the annual convention of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

“You have to know what your customers love about you today,” said Sayer, national sales director for Denver-based consulting firm Avannis. “You have to know what makes your customers stay, pay and refer.”

Community banks lead national and regional banks in overall customer satisfaction, according to an Avannis survey. Actively asking for customer feedback — and then acting on it appropriately, helps build the rapport necessary for customer satisfaction, Sayer said. If banks are able to solve a problem for a customer, they’re likely to feel better about the bank than before the problem arose. When that happens, they are “2.4 times more likely to love you than before you ticked them off in the first place,” Sayer said.

“Everything is correlated to people,” she said. “The number one thing customers want? To be treated like a person, not a number.”

Banks should identify what customer experience differentiates them, and to build a service culture around those things to instill in employees. “Rates and products do not lead to referrals. People do,” so bankers should head back to their institutions focused on investing in their people, Sayer said.

Those investments matter for more than just frontline staff: Keeping valuable employees around to develop into the next generation of leaders will be a function of culture, consultant Tom Hershberger said. 

“Everything gets done because of culture,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s operations or brand delivery or anything else, if we can’t support it well and do it consistently, we’re on the backside of that challenge.”

Learn how to cultivate a work environment that is attractive to both younger employees and seasoned managers, Hershberger said. Leadership development and succession planning hinge on an organization’s ability to develop its talent. The challenge is members of younger generations may not see the benefits of adopting practices that Boomers found helpful. The organization chart no longer flows entirely through the CEO or other top-level executives, and decision-making has increasingly become decentralized during the pandemic.Training and leadership development should follow suit, Hershberger said.

“Take some time with your current leaders to say, Hey, what do we need to be doing together? … What do we need to do differently?” he asked. “We literally have to make the decision that not only are we gonna invest in our people, but we’re gonna build a structure in play so that they get the right training and we understand what skills they need to be developing.”