While one side of the house is focused on new systems that will let you become a fansumer and have advertising-mediated interactions with the companies you like to do business with, a few mere months ago VP Bill Doyle presented some great material about what really matters in the financial services world — companies showing and proving that they put the needs and interests of their customers first in meaningful ways. Building relationships by doing the work of building relationships, rather than by token social transactions. VP Bill Doyle at the Forrester Finance Forum says “what drives real loyalty is that the firm does best for the customers, and not just for the firm’s bottom line”:
Interesting point about three minutes in — that in this world the successful businesses have relatively few customer touchpoints after the sale, but when they do, they maximize them. It’s not about being in your customer’s face all the time, it’s about doing it right when you’re called upon.
I’m part of the loyal USAA customer base he describes. I’ve been a USAA customer in one form or another ever since I got my first credit card entering college. As I grew into adulthood I never thought I’d care about who manages my banking and insurance. USAA has made me care because they have treated me like a human all the way through, both in individual interactions with agents and through their products and services. And I’ve had contrasting experiences elsewhere, especially as my local bank got gobbled up by bigger fish several times over. In one recent instance, the new company had little interest in my transactional history prior to the acquisition, which was of course pretty important to me when I had tax questions. They indicated that it would take them undue effort to pull my old history off of microfiche, and they had made an agreement not to import more than two years of the nitty gritty details of my investment data from 5 years ago. That left me to do my own laborious legwork in answering an important question from the IRS, and the sense that I was nothing but a figure on a spreadsheet to them, almost punished for multi-year loyalty.
USAA has continuously improved the way they do business to make sure staying with them doesn’t put me behind the services curve, and they’ve left me with the impression that they treat me and my concerns individually. To this day, I’m willing to stay with them even if their returns are a point lower than the competition, and am in the process of consolidating most of my banking, credit, and insurance with them. I wish I could recommend them more widely, but I imagine part of what has led to their success is their limited growth focus. To become a member, you have to have been in the military or have family that has been in the military. So I can’t necessarily recommend you use them unless you qualify in one of those ways, or marry someone who does. Thank goodness my dad served time in the Navy (heh, though not as a cook as we somehow thought when we were kids.) I wonder if that simple, mild limit to their growth over the years has forced them to think longer-term and stay focused on keeping who they have.
I think this lesson should apply outside of the financial services sector as well. While I still feel it’s very important for companies to be a presence and participate in wide social circles online in meaningful ways, I’d much rather the companies I do business with spend time and money on ways to align themselves around doing right by the customer, instead of spinning their wheels creating social profiles that give me the opportunity to declare my alignment with them. Facebook was interesting to me when it was forcing companies to think hard about what real value they could provide in that space(or not), and now many of those same companies may be led down this new pre-paved low resistance path and forego that important hard thinking step.
Thanks to Geoff Livingston for the pointer.