This is a guest post by my friend Jeannette Paladino of Write Speak Sell. She is former SVP & Marketing Director of the Bowery Savings Bank.
I love the "back to basics" reminders Jeannette gives us. It's important to remember, all age groups are not marketed to the same way. Always start your marketing by knowing who your target audience is for the message!
What? I can see some community bankers shaking their heads. This is one of the worst periods in banking we’ve seen since the great depression, they say.
Yes, times are tough for many banks, both large and small, but let’s look at it from the perspective of your customers and potential customers. Their portfolios have sunk like a rock in a pond, and the “big boys” who were supposed to know how it’s done – think Citigroup, Merrill Lynch – got it all wrong. People are scared. They are going back to basics. The old adage: think globally, act locally, has been shortened to act locally. People are afraid to invest their money with banks that are on government life support. They are back to the basics and sticking close to home.
This is a golden opportunity for community bankers to show customers why they are the best place to bring their business now. You may not be able to compete on breadth of services or offer the highest rates. But what you can offer is service. It’s all about how you communicate with your community and the people who walk through your door. And the CEO has to be 100% committed to communications otherwise it won’t work. The need to communicate wisely and often with customers is essential to bring them back “home.”
So the reason why community banks have never had it so good is because the customers are there to be picked up. They want the comfort of dealing with people they know.
How much is all this communicating going to cost? How about the price of a turkey at Thanksgiving? No joking, there are so many activities you can do without breaking the bank. We did many things that worked well when I was marketing director of The Bowery Savings Bank in New York (since gobbled up by Home Savings and then others). In New York terms, The Bowery was a “community bank” because even though it had $6 billion in deposits back then, that was a drop in the bucket compared to Citi and Chase. But we had a reputation that far exceeded our size because of our service and customer communications, which the CEO considered the most important function in the Bank (no kidding).
So here are 10 activities you can undertake without busting the bank:
- Raffle a turkey at Thanksgiving. Man, this is so corny. But it sure does work. Put a picture of a turkey in the window of each branch to lure people in to fill out a raffle coupon. People love anything “free.” You will also begin to build a list of potential customers for future contact. It’s a way to start a conversation.
- Help customers read their statements. Many elderly customers have difficulty reading their paper statements. Hold a “Bring in Your Statement” day once a week and station some interns or trainees at the information desk to help customers who have vision problems or don’t understand how to read a statement. You will make their adult children – also potential customers – very happy. And you might convince some to dispense with paper statements.
- Let community groups use your conference space. Open your doors to community groups and let them use your conference rooms for meetings, even after hours. Don’t charge them and supply free soda and cookies.
- Community bulletin board. Put up a simple corkboard near the entrance to the bank and let people post notices of houses for sale, school courses, etc.
- Give courses on non-financial topics. Bring in experts for free courses on gardening, using the Internet, how to fix a car, and other subjects that are local to your community.
- Sponsor seminars on personal and home safety. Invite the local police department to conduct a series of seminars on personal safety and how to protect your home. The PD community relations department will be eager to do this.
- Let customers bring in loose change for cash (without wrapping them). In New York, Commerce Bank (now TD Bank) built its reputation on the coin machines in their lobbies. Anybody can come in and drop coins in a machine in return for paper money. I got $116.35. Many end up as customers.
- Let customers vote for the employee of the month. Put a plain old ballot box at the front door. It will improve service without your having to do anything as employees vie for the honor.
- Start a Christmas/Chanukah Club. Again, it’s the simple things people are looking for, reminders of the good old days. Make it easy to transfer money between accounts or let customers use PayPal to make deposits of new money.
- Hire a pianist to play at lunch hour. In New York, the old Manhattan Savings Bank had a pianist playing at lunch hour for years and people came in just for the music. They also had skaters in their window at the holidays, but that’s another story.
These activities are wonderful ways to communicate with your customers at very little cost. But your employees need to be trained in following through on your promises. My next article will be about the importance of training and why it will save you money in the long run.
--- Jeannette Paladino, Writer-in-Chief, Write Speak Sell, http://writespeaksell.com, and former SVP, marketing director, the Bowery Savings Bank