Thursday, June 20, 2013

If Your Marketing Strategy Consists of "Cookies" Your Company Will Fail

I was working for what was mathematically and empirically the 2nd WORST bank in the entire state.

This is not my opinion.

This is not my estimation.

It was fact.

I had compiled a ton of research of all the banks in the state using the FDIC's institution database and based on measures like depository growth, loan defaults, loan delinquencies, OREO, oh, and let's not forget those old school measures like ROA and ROE, this bank was without a doubt the second worst bank.  Actually, it was quite clear this bank was the second worst, because it was a "very distant second worst."  It was very obvious it was in bad shape and the only reason it was second was because there was another bank that was even more spectacularly abysmal than this one.

Unfortunately, I was working for this "second worst bank."

Naturally, because we were in such bad shape, I thought part of our efforts (in addition to cleaning up all the bad loans that were made) would be to restructure the bank, marshal our resources, and then attempt to start growing again.  To start anew, and start going after new, but quality business and thusly provide our (very) benevolent shareholders a decent return on their investment.  Besides, I was no longer a measly credit analyst, I was now a VP in commercial lending, which meant my job now entailed pursuing new business and expanding our market.

I was fine with this, because truth be told, the underwriting or "credit analyst" part of my job was easy.  Also, I was not allowed to repossess, foreclose, liquidate or do anything to clean up our "bad loan portfolio" which meant I had about 6 hours a day to pursue business development.

Just one problem.

I was never given the green light to pursue new business.

You see, all of the higher ranked individuals were too busy dealing with bad loans, decaying collateral, difficult clients, and complying with new federal regulations to approve a business development strategy.  They didn't have time to start pursuing new business.  Understanding this, and having about 6 hours a day to twiddle my thumbs, I did something spectacularly stupid and should have known better.

I took initiative.

I put together what (in my opinion) was arguably my finest piece of work in my entire corporate American career - an entire marketing strategy for the whole company, based on market research, FDIC data, economic data and so forth.

It was thorough.

It was complete.

It was concise.

And it was brilliantly innovative.

It was also, completely ignored.

"Too busy to read it."

"Gotta deal with the OCC."

"Oh, thanks, yeah, I took a quick look at it, but I don't have time to get back to you on it.  Maybe next week."

and other such excuses I received for no less than (are you ready for it?)

9 months.

And so there I was, like a top of the line F-22 Raptor, mothballed in a hangar.  Capable of carrying out a great many things, but the brass was too busy worrying about the paint color on the runway or what to order for lunch.

So there I sat, doing what most corporate cogs do - acting like they're working, when they're just killing time.  Matter of fact, I didn't even bother to "look busy."  I'd just listen to music, e-mail my friends, facebook and so forth.  My "boss" would come in, have something that would take him 8 hours to do because he was old and inept, and I'd knock it out in 15 minutes.  I'd take a morning work out break (one hour), then lunch (another hour) and sometimes I'd go for a motorcycle ride just to get some air.  However, what constantly gnawed at me was what was substituting my marketing strategy in its stead:

Chocolate chip cookies.

You see, my plan consisted of breaking out of the traditional banking mindset.  Doing things differently, innovatively, and creatively.  We were small, and thus nimble, and if we streamlined operations, got rid of our bad clientele that consumed our labor resources, we could (I estimated) undercut our competitors' interest rates by .5% and still pull profit.  We'd also poach business from our competitors by aggressively targeting their best clients, and we'd get new business by doing fun and creative things like sponsoring barbeque and hotwings competitions, dance classes, and sports competitions. 

But no, oh no, we were going to deploy the brilliant strategy of "chocolate chip cookies."

As I was told,

"You see, it's all about superior customer service.  It's all about personal service.  When Bill walks into the bank, he wants to chit cat, and talk.  He likes it that we know his name.  And that's why people bank with us.  We have cookies on Fridays and offer them cofee"

And so instead of targeting a higher quality clientele, looking for new and profitable business, we were going to be the shucks howdy, gee-whilliker's dandy bank and offer money-losing-customers chocolate chip cookies (but only on Fridays).

The reason I highlighted/bolded the statements above is because this had happened before at the credit union I worked at.  We offered "cookies" to our clients when they came in.  And when a bank's (or any company's) strategy is "cookies" and "superior customer service" I can gar-ron-freaking-tee you that company's strategy will fail.

The reason why is simple - it's not a strategy.

It's a platitude leaders spew who have no ability to lead, let alone, ideas to offer.

YOu see, if you're going to offer "superior customer service" then the first and primary way you do that is by offering a better product at a lower price.  In banking this translates into offering them a lower interest on their loans or a higher interest on their deposits.  Free checking and no fees.  Stuff like that.  THAT is the SERVICE people want.  Not f#cking cookies on Fridays (and technically it was popcorn at my branch, only the main office offered cookies).

Additionally, the whole "superior customer service" is a canard in that WHAT FREAKING BANK DOESN'T CLAIM TO OFFER SUPERIOR SERVICE!?  Have you ever heard of a bank claiming they offer INFERIOR service?  Unless you've hired the absolute best customer service people NO BANK (or company) offers SUPERIOR customer service.  You're all the same, you're all providing an equal standard of "faux customer service," while completely ignoring the quality of your product.

The result is obvious - do you know of any bank that is demonstrably superior and better than others?  Can you find a single, innovating, mover and shaker bank, busting its ass off to offer you a significantly lower interest rate on your mortgage than its competitors?  Or is it that same faux-Minnesota-nice teller at Wells Fargo who is being forced to fake an interest in "what your plans are for the weekend?"

Of course, this lack of any true innovation or ideas is not relegated to banks.  Sadly it affects practically all of corporate America.  For example this little article here.  As further proof corporate America is all out of ideas, food manufacturers are spending their time trying to make their processed food looked more "homemade."  Kraft alone, spending 2 years to develop a cutting technique to make their turkey "unevenly cut."

But the primary reason in bringing this up is not to knock the banking industry or the food service industry, but one of serious consequences.  The ONLY place any kind of economic recovery or a return to our western countries' former greatnesses is going to come from is the private sector.  And the ONLY way we are going to solve our debt problems or enjoy increasing standards of living is through the innovation, creation and productivity of private individuals in the private sector.

But for the Patron Saint's Name of Frick.

If "Friday cookies," "superior customer service," the Wells Fargo teller faking interest in my day, and "uneven cut turkey" is the best our private sector can come up with, we are doomed.  Because those ideas, are frankly, so stupid they may as well have come from the public sector.
Aaron Clarey will be speaking at the Liberty Mastermind Symposium in Dallas June 28th-29th.  Everybody is welcome to join.  You can sign up here!


Cogitans Iuvenis said...

"You see, it's all about superior customer service. It's all about personal service. When Bill walks into the bank, he wants to chit cat, and talk. He likes it that we know his name. And that's why people bank with us. We have cookies on Fridays and offer them cofee"

I hate that sort of shit. The 'do you have any big plans this weekend?' is phoney balony bullshit, I know it, the teller/bank rep knows it, so why engage in it? I am there for one thing, and one thing only, to take out/put in some cash and get out.

Anthony said...

As someone who works in marketing, I can absolutely agree with this piece. The only way "customer service" can work is if you have a streamlined plan to offer tangible services that your competitors can't offer. Like how Best Buy is using standardized sales training, product training, and trackable metrics to show employees good margin items in order to provide actual results-based customer service that the internet doesn't offer (although it still might not be enough to compete with the price advantage of general big box retail and, more importantly,

But smaller companies especially can be trapped in what I call "Stupid Marketing Syndrome", symptoms of which include feeling-based marketing and outdated mediums.

KevinB said...

Unless you've hired the absolute best customer service people NO BANK (or company) offers SUPERIOR customer service.

Not so. I worked briefly for a company doing surveys in the Northeast. I did customer service surveys for Citibank, and for TD/BankNorth.

The Citibank customers were lukewarm. The TD customers gushed about how great the service was, and that's why they chose TD. Staying open late, being open on Sundays, and staf who were actually empowered to help customers seemed to be key items.

You CAN provide excellent customer service, but walking the walk is significantly harder than talking the talk.

Anonymous said...

I once worked for a company where the brilliant marketing department came up with the genius idea of having the entire sales force spend there time handing out brownies to prospects. It was one of the many idiot ideas they came up with. Needless to say they went bankrupt.

lelnet said...

Well, customer service isn't completely irrelevant in the banking world. For example, whatever bank was the first one to start accepting check deposits by smartphone (Chase was the first big one to promote the feature, but I very much doubt they invented it) was genius. They're up there with the guys who pioneered ATMs back in the early '80s.

But cookies? Seriously?

And hey, instead of spending your time chatting with the customers about things that have nothing to do with their bank accounts, how about FINISHING THEIR BUSINESS QUICKLY so that you can take care of the NEXT CUSTOMER IN LINE?

If you're going to push yourself on customer service, you really need to know what actual customers actually care about. Actual customers get their cookies at the grocery store or the bakery or at home, and do their chatting-about-the-weekend with their friends...what they want from their BANK is to get their money in and out of their accounts with a minimum of fuss and delay, and hence get themselves in and out of the building likewise. If you can reduce the amount of fuss and delay involved, you get to tout your superior customer service. Otherwise, shut up about service and talk to me about your interest rates, your fees, and your ATM network.

August said...

My bank has cookies on Friday. They also have this 'We strive for 5' statement by the teller's stations. So I told the tellers one day that it doesn't make any sense to me. They told me it referred to a customer service survey. It basically means 5 out of 5.
The words 'management failure' came out of my mouth, and then I expounded a little bit. One of the tellers busted out laughing- apparently the silliness is blatantly obvious, but she'd never heard anyone state it bluntly before. This place is staffed mostly by women. I don't think a man could stand it there, and I still cringe a little when they practically yell hello across the lobby in an effort to fit the corporate 'friendliness' they are forced to act out.

Brononymous said...

The two big banks here in town both had similar makeovers to be more 'friendly' to customers. This doesn't involve offering competitive interest rates or stopping nickel and diming customers to death with every transaction, but making the bank look like a living room.

You go in, and there's no longer any order or structure to the bank. Big comfy couches block your way to teller line, because everyone wants to discuss their personal banking details on fluffy cushions in a 'casual environment', like they're gossiping about tv shows.

The teller line was replaced with the 'Listener' line, I kid you not. This was confusing the customers looking for Tellers, so then they changed the sign to 'Listeners (and Tellers too!)', which is so unprofessional I want to vomit blood just reading it.

Queueing systems weren't friendly, so were removed, which means customers, (who need structure), all come in then bunch around unevenly up near the listeners, never quite sure where they're supposed to be standing, so they stand near the sign, which is at the far end, which means they don't notice the Listeners down the far end calling them, meaning someone else in the blobby queue steps in first and people get pissed.

And, of course, the Listeners are all millenials, which means these jobs are only temporary fill-ins until they become supermodels,reality show drones and rock stars, so none of them learn anything on the job. They never know the answer to your question, their response is that 'such and such' knows that answer, and if they find them, they never hand around to learn the info themselves in case it ever comes up with another customer. They're willfully-ignorant.

The problem is, most of the time, 'such and such' isn't there, which means them taking your number, and a promise that he'll call you back, which never happens.

Between the moronic open design and equally-moronic staff, I realised, despite their record profits, that I couldn't trust a bank this unprofessional, and transfered to a smaller bank where the Tellers actually seemed to know what they were talking about, and ran an efficient, quick queueing system.

How does these toxic corporate culture ideas flourish?

Unknown said...

The bank that I primarily have an account with doesn't serve cookies on Friday. They only have some lolipops here and there and I've never had any problems with them customer service wise. Bank of America's customer service was deplorable by comparison.

Whoever came up with that lousy New Age style marketing strategy was obviously very very lazy. to the radio said...

Off topic:
Over heard on the bus yesterday morning on the way to work.
Commerce student/summer intern to older commerce grad, say thirties.
Both very attractive in that blond highlights business attired kind of way.
Would I?
Not after I heard this:
"So, what was your major in commerce?" asked the student.
Older one, "I majored in HR. I would have minored in finance but I didn't want all those math courses loaded onto my final year."

Tim Wohlford said...

A bank with great customer service? Hell, you can't even use the restroom at a bank! Seriously, you ever ask to use the bathroom in one? A previous bank had doggie treats for my dog, but none have a public bathroom!

Anonymous said...

and ctihktaTake customer surveys with a grain of salt when you ask customers what they want. The last major appliance manufacturer to offshore production of over the range microwaves held off sending production overseas because survey after survey showed American consumers were willing to pay up to $20. more for an OTR that was "Made in the USA".

Turns out they weren't. OTR sales went into the tank.

Assembly of appliances is coming back to the USA for 2 reasons- quality control and lower costs- due to transportation, not labor. Chinese quality control sucks, to put it mildly.

Vicomte said...

I used to have an account at TDBank.

The first time the teller asked me about my plans that weekend, I looked at him like he was insane. I very nearly said 'What the fuck does that have to do with my deposit?'

The first time I saw a dog drinking from the provided water bowl I knew I had gone mad.

When did I eventually switch banks? When they began requiring the second party present for checks I had on a joint account. My new bank doesn't allow animals near my money and the tellers are friendly without prying into my personal life. They also allow me to deposit my checks.

The Great and Powerful Oz said...

Ok, I live in Texas, so Yankee ideals of hospitality fail here. If the branches of my bank (Chase) had sullen, unhappy people working there, I would find another bank. Instead they are cheerful, they always have a kind word and they help me take care of my business in a efficient manner. If there aren't any tellers immediately available, more often than not one of the desk jockeys helps me.

The level of service I get from them is easily worth an extra .1% (or maybe more) on my mortgage. It's not just about the money for me, it's also about reducing the amount of hassle. I'm so burned out right now that just making it to work every day is challenging.

TheTooner said...

I found a bank that offered superior customer service, in London, England. I wasn't a customer, I was a despatch rider, doing a routine document delivery. Instead of shooing me round the back alley to a despatch/goods receiving door, the ushers at the front door thanked me for taking my helmet off and told me to go on up the escalator to reception, where the receptionist didn't sign for my delivery, but smiled warmly and and asked me to wait while she telephoned the addressee, who promptly came down from his office and looked me in the eye and smiled while dealing with me, signed for it, and thanked me. And then the receptionist thanked me and said goodbye. You know what that kind of attitude and manners get you? The Queen banks with them.

David Foster said...

"He likes it that we know his name"

See my post Mindless Verbal Taylorism...

...for an analysis of this sort of thing.

Fred Z said...

A year ago the manager of one of my banks was at the exit and introduced himself and asked what I would like to see at the bank. His questions were all like "more cookies"?

He was astonished when I roared at him:

-turn off the god damned muzak, I'm here to transact business, not dance.

-start your work at the same time I start mine, and quit at the same time. OK, I'm crazy and work from 7 to 7 minimum, 7 days a week, but nothing pisses me off about banks more than "bankers hours". If there's a queue of customers outside your doors 10 or 15 minutes before your official opening time, open early, you jerks.

-Make your female staff decently cover their tits and asses. I like tits and asses very much indeed, but they interfere with counting my money, and I like money more than tits and asses.

-Fire any employee who, in front of customers, has a personal conversation with anyone, customer, fellow employee or Jesus H. Christ, and I don't care if the conversation is 10 seconds long.

Anonymous said...

I'm not getting paid for this endorsement, but given that's i'm poor I probably should.

Schwab's probably the best banking deal I've found. They give you a checking account and debit card, and you can use any ATM in the country and they reimburse the ATM fees. Plus you can have your brokerage account on the same account so it's all tied up in one nice package. And the cards look a lot cooler than your standard banks'.

baby seal tartar said...

"I can gar-ron-freaking-tee"

ot: men's wearhouse founder george zimmer canned

Elijah said...

Brilliant! Top Shelf Vol2 material.

DRCP said...

"'management failure' "

This should be on the epitaph of the USA.

ChrisW said...

Other people have pointed it out, but the point of modern society is that we don't have to pretend to be friendly to people we don't know or care about. I rarely associate with people I don't know and will not pretend I care.

Seriously, at this point, my main interaction with strangers is at the drive-through at KFC. When they ask "How are you," I say "fine" and wait until they realize I'm not going to speak further until *THEY'RE READY* to take my order. *OBVIOUSLY* they were doing something important to their jobs so they couldn't take my order at that exact second but they wanted to show the customer that they knew he was waiting to order food *NOW!* Most likely they're doing the nonsensical chit-chat thing, but I choose to put a benevolent spin on the act. It's not like I want anything to do with them.

My bank is not the most helpful in the world - another benevolent spin; it could be, but (a) I don't study banks and (b) I would have to start feeling sorry for people I don't know or care about who use another bank if it were - but one thing I will give it is that they generally leave me alone. I can use auto-pay for bills, access my money when I see a one-time purchase, and with a few exceptions, I get new debit cards regularly so I don't have to worry about losing access to my money. [And even those exceptions are often the fault of my mail service rather than the bank.] I don't have them on speed-dial, I rarely have to deal with any of them. Ordering pizza should be so convenient.

The Phantom said...

Greetings Captain.

At some point during employment in an establishment such as you describe, one must realize that somebody, probably waaaaay up the chain of command, is getting rich off that company -failing-.

You can't see that much sheer bone-hard stupid collected into one place without thinking its deliberate. They could do better than that by accident just by floundering randomly and keeping an eye on the numbers. So it has to be broken on purpose, doesn't it?

I mean, it isn't like you're the only guy in the bank who can read a sales report, right?

Anonymous said...

I don't want cookies or warm conversations at the bank. I want courtesy and efficiency. The bank is not a destination. It is an irritating checkpoint on the road of life. Make it courteous, effective, and quick. F cookies. Best way to get this in the ordinary world -- drive-through.

@KevinB, you made the author's point for him. The TD customer service provided those customers with a superior product -- which is the transaction experience of getting their business done effectively and efficiently, empowerment to HELP customers indeed. THAT is a bank's superior product.

Unknown said...

A business must have a unique marketing strategy if want to do an unrivaled growth. Various companies usually get trapped in some ridiculous marketing syndromes and as a result their strategies starts going down even worse and as a result, business starts declining.