Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Megabank Miscalculations: Still treating people like numbers after all these years

Last week in my post about coupon clippers I posted a photo of a sign I came across in Georgia. Once more with feeling:

 Call customers by their names
 Thank them for their business

We all recoil from cheesy and insincere platitudes, "have a nice day" being king of the hill. But in a recession, we should always be conveying the sentiment behind the above sign – we just have to make sure we execute it right.

I spotted this sign in the restroom of Bank of North Georgia in Peachtree City while on a speaking tour last month.

A few minutes earlier my friend and I walked into the Bank of America to cash a check. A woman in a suit was shepherding people around as they entered.

As my friend transacted at a window, the woman came up behind her and the conversation went something like this ...

Woman: Excuse me, I couldn't help overhearing, you don't have an account with us?

Friend: I don't.

Woman: Who do you bank with?

Friend: Bank of NGA [Bank of North Georgia]

Woman: If it's not a personal question, is that your paycheck?

Friend: No, it's not.

Woman: Do they offer free automatic deposit of your paycheck?

Friend: I don't know, I don't work.

Woman (hands on hips): Well! Of COURSE you work dear! We all know women have families, you work, of course you work at home ...

... and she just kept on talking. My friend is actually single, with no kids and lucky for her, financially secure.

What is wrong with this picture? An earnest attempt at Customer Evangelism, but a poor execution. Unless you're a BAFTA award-winning actor (because no one does angst like the Brits), showing a genuine interest and engaging a person is, unfortunately, a matter of showing a genuine interest and engaging the person. It starts with hiring the right person for the job - someone who listens rather than hears.

As we left, I looked for a restroom.

"Ma'am can we help you?" said the teller curtly over the top of her glasses, in a tone that made me feel like a potential bomber looking for a place to sequester my unmarked package.

"Just looking for the restroom."

"We don't have one."

"Not even for customers?"


I guarantee that that something so simple as providing customers with a place to ablute, leaves a positive impression reaching beyond the millions spent filling mailboxes with platitudinous fluff. What is it with establishments that don't let you use the bathroom? Is cleaning a small toilet bowl and buying a roll of Scott 1000 so big an investment in ongoing customer relations? I guarantee it's cheaper than a 15 second TV spot - besides, you already have a cleaner doing the job anyway.

"I would never bank somewhere that wouldn't let you use the bathroom," declared my friend as we got in the car. "It's these megabanks, they have no idea how to relate to people." She went on, "with the recession, there's a lot of this new-style customer evangelism going on in banks. My hero Clark Howard hates the giant monster mega-banks:"

Next stop was the local Bank of North Georgia. I asked to use the restroom.

"Certainly, right over there," said a teller cheerfully, ignoring my cut off shorts and flip flops (it's awfully, awfully hot in Hotlanta). I looked around and noticed that the bank was laid out with casual low lounges and low desks scattered in an open arrangement where customers could sit down and talk.

On leaving the restroom, the sign:

 Call customers by their names
 Thank them for their business

sounded less like a cliche, and more like an affirmation of my simple, agreeable experience in this establishment, especially in a time of need.

Megabanks: whatever your expensive focus groups tell you, just let me use the restroom and I'm half yours. You'll get the other half when you talk to me, not at me.

Really, what's so hard about all of this?

UPDATE: Just a day later, this article appeared in the WSJ: Banks ramp up Pay Packages to Top Talent. Few would argue with being compensated fairly for a job well done, but smashing one's toys because you may get slightly less than the $100m compensation you got last year says one thing: the rot starts at the top and works itself all way down to the restroom ...

The Galfromdownunder believes that Customer Evangelism is easier done than said – just stand briefly in the flip-flops of the people who enable you to be paid.