The Customer-Centric Culture

I like the idea of a customer-centric culture because I think companies would fail to exist without them, so it makes sense to do what you can to please them. What I don’t like about this type of environment is that in 95% of the cases where this exists, the focus is on the “best” customers.

The term “best” has changed over the years, and identifying who your best customers are is a huge selling point for PR firms looking to attain your business. Traditionally speaking, the “best” customers are the ones that spend the most time and money in your place of business. Contemporary definitions of the “best” customer now include those who are the most viral. It’s become more about who can and will spread their experience through the social networking sites they’ve joined online.

We’re starting to see a shift in a company’s way of thinking. Rather than focusing that special attention on someone who spends a lot of time and money in the company, they’re now focusing their special attention on those customers who will aggressively spread their opinions of the company’s products and services. While word of mouth certainly isn’t a new concept, it’s taken on a new meaning in today’s age of Twitter and Facebook.

My problem with focusing specifically on the “best” customer centers around service. I believe that every customer, no matter how small or great, deserves the same treatment and customer service. Why should it be that a customer has to have $10,000 or more in a savings account before someone in their bank begins to take notice of them? I’m not talking about product placement here. Obviously someone with a higher balance will earn more interest, but what I am asking is why someone with a higher balance should get a higher level of customer service?

I used to work for a major bank who shall remain nameless. One year during our annual meeting, the CEO of the company got up and told each of us that if we were helping a customer open an account with $25 and nothing else and a customer with half a million dollars walked in, we were to stop helping the customer with $25 and help the “better customer.”. I was personally revolted by this way of thinking because to me, they’re both deserving of my attention in a retail environment. Beyond that, a cursory assessment of the situation does not give you the facts. The one with $25 could have millions stashed away at another bank and contemplating a move. Think s/he would move their money after that? And the one with $500k could lose it entirely in a business venture that goes sour. You just never know.

The credit union I work for is very unique in that we actively strive to make each member’s experience a “wow” moment. When our members leave, we want them to feel that we’ve exceeded their expectations in every way. This treatment is extended to everyone of our members, regardless of their balances. Why? Because we know word of mouth is becoming more prevalent in defining who is considered the “best” customer. To our way of thinking, all of our customers are the “best” customers because they all have the potential of spreading the word about our company and our environment. I love that part of my job. I think it’s fun to exceed people’s expectations because it makes them feel valued.

How I strive to exceed customer expectation

These days it’s not enough to smile and be pleasant. Most tellers are affable unless they’re just having a nasty day. When someone walks into a bank or credit union, they generally expect a friendly teller to help them complete their transaction in an efficient manner. If you meet the status quo, you don’t really sway them to be life long customers.

For me, I look for the simple things I can do to make someone’s day. I listen to what my members are saying to me because that’s the biggest clue on how I can exceed their expectations. Just to give you an idea, here are some of the things I do regularly.

  • All of my clients get birthday, anniversary, and holiday cards.
  • If my clients have children, I learn their names and ask about them during their visits. Those with high school grad’s get congratulatory cards with a $25 gift card, those who’ve made the honor roll (when parent’s share this information) will get a $10 gift card.
  • I’ve had several clients who have lost their loved ones over the years and it’s always a bad time for them. I send flowers or potted plants with a card to let them know I’m thinking of them.
  • I have several coin collectors who come in looking for specific coins. We have a coin machine where our members can exchange their coins and we’ll give them cash – unlike the ones in the grocery stores, we don’t charge our members for the exchange. But, I have no problems digging through the bags to look for coins my coin collectors need. Not only that, but I’ll clean them when I find them (have you seen how dirty change can be?).
  • I have a client that has transferred banks with me (I’ve talked about him before in the Rule of 72). Once he needed to deposit a check and wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be a hold placed on it. So he calls to tell me when he’s coming into town to make the deposit because he lives about 30 minutes away from my branch – but he refuses to go to the one closest to him. At any rate, he was coming in on the first day of a week long vacation in which I was going to be flying out of town. The easy thing would have been to tell him I was going to be off and hand it over to my manager. I didn’t. I packed my suitcase and travel stuff in the car, drove to the branch and met him there to take care of the transaction, then drove straight to the airport afterwards. Since it was my day off, I left after helping him. He stayed and chatted with my manager for a bit, wherein my manager spilled the beans that I was on my way to the airport to leave for vacation. My client was shocked and more than a little impressed. So was my manager.

I try to go above and beyond to help a client whenever I can. My primary job description is to help people with their finances by opening an account or processing a loan, but I’m in the business of helping people for a reason. I see it as my responsibility to do right by my clients and exceed their expectations. This attitude has made for repeat business and referrals, which is good for me and the company I work for. Interestingly enough, none of these things I’ve done took anything more than a little time on my part. They weren’t exceptionally hard to do, they just required me to pay attention and act. And, it doesn’t matter to me how much money a person has, I spend as much time as I need to with each person I help.

Tell me what you think. Does it benefit a company or person more to focus their attention on the “best” customer, or do you agree that an even approach to customer service carries more impact?

5 thoughts on “The Customer-Centric Culture”

  1. Kristy – I love that customer service is so important to you. I think in our current world, customer service is the only thing to distinguish one retailer from another. I most certainly appreciate people with attitudes and actions such as yours and I try to be more than a “blank face” when I’m making purchases or interacting with someone who is helping me. I think it could even be considered a “pay it forward” opportunity. How many times has someone smiled at you, which then lifted your spirits, which then may have cause you to smile at the next person, etc. It’s all about being more courteous and kinder to our fellow human beings. Everyone is important in their own way. Your customers (and your employer) are very fortunate to have someone like you in their world!!

    Best! Melanie

  2. Kristy – I think the most important point of the article is that a customer opening an account with 25 bucks could have millions stashed away somewhere or may turn out to be really good at promoting your bank.

    Even if a bank did want to focus on its best customers, by not focussing on their other good customers – they would do themselves more harm than good.

  3. I can understand the logic of paying a bit more attention to the larger customer than the smaller one.

    But interrupting service to a customer when another customer enters the business. No way. Once you have engaged the first customer, it would be very rude to interrupt that service to work with a second customer. If you do that to me, I won’t be there when you return.

  4. @ Melanie – Thanks! I try. I have my days when I’m just kind of ‘blah.’ But overall, I really attempt to go above and beyond if I can. I agree with the paying it forward part of your comment. If more people did this, it would be great! I get so frustrated with people who are just plain mean to be mean. There’s no call for that. I keep trying though, perhaps I’ll have made at least one person’s day.

    @ Manshu – I think general courteousness is the important part of this article. I’m so disappointed when people are treated differently because of their money. I went with my friend recently to get her fiance his wedding ring and when we walked in, we were completely ignored. We were passed over for other people walking in. Those people were in “Sunday best,” while we were in jeans and t-shirts. My friend had the money to spend, she just wanted to ask questions about the difference in the two styles she was looking at. But, they made a judgment call based on our clothes – we didn’t have money to spend. We left and took her business elsewhere.

    @ kosmo – I agree there is a business logic to catering to those with money. I don’t do it, personally, but I see the reasoning. However, you’re right, it is rude to interrupt a transaction with one customer to help another. I was floored when I heard the CEO say that!

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