If banks want bigger profits, they should look to improve their interactions with their customers, says Jay Freeman. The senior adviser with Gallup's retail-banking practice in the Middle East, Africa and Asia speaks about common mistakes banks make in providing service.
Where did you develop your experience in this field?
I was [an executive vice president] with Wells Fargo, which is a major US-based bank. [In 1999,] a merger formed the large franchise. It was at that time that the organisation determined we needed to be doing more to try and establish a nice, sound base with our customers so they [would want] to stay with us. We were introduced to the Gallup organisation and began to work around employee engagement, and ultimately customer engagement as well. I ran a group called sales service and development. My object in life was really to help our front-line teams sell and serve more effectively.
With Gallup's help, Wells Fargo discovered that loyal customers tended to buy more and developed a philosophy called "11 ways to wow" to encourage it. Can you speak about any of these "wow" points?
The welcoming wows are really important, and this isn't just banking, this is retail behaviour in general. The very first thing you have to do is to make the customer feel at home. What Wells Fargo did is say "we want to create a protocol where [when] a customer walks through the door we want to welcome them immediately". The objective was 90 per cent of the time a customer would be greeted in the first 10 seconds as they walked through the door. What became very popular was to ask the simple question "what brings you to Wells Fargo today?" That was sort of the opener.
You retired from Wells Fargo and joined Gallup as a senior adviser, assisting its financial-services clients to develop successful strategies around engagement. Where do banks most commonly go wrong in dealing with customers?
Banks tend to look at the branches as a cost to doing business. But what branches are doing is they are providing an environment wherein the customer and employees of the bank have a very important encounter that will lead to finding new financial solutions. If you look at the cost and say if we can get all these customers dealing with this on an automated basis that would make it a whole lot cheaper. [But] you are basically doing away with a very important resource for future growth.
Are banks here interested in your services?
I have certainly done some looking around, enough to know that there are financial institutions in the UAE that are intrigued by this as a market-niche builder. There are a couple of banks that I have talked to that seem to be truly intrigued about this opportunity.
I can't say.
* Gillian Duncan