Placing people at the center.

You can hardly blame banks for putting most of their marketing muscle behind products; most companies do the same, and some recent innovations like mobile check deposits really do provide amazing utility to consumers. But, when it comes to initial bank selection and retention, products matter less than people, according to a study by ACTON Market Intelligence.

The people on the front lines matter to consumers, 71% of whom look for helpful, friendly attitudes when deciding where to put their money. The group that places the most scrutiny on bank staff is Gen Y females, who include their opinion of staffers—“the people factor”—in their decision criteria 88% of the time.  A study by FirstData found that “thirty percent of consumers would choose an institution based on the recommendation of a trusted acquaintance”. For online banks in particular, 40% of customers under 30 based their bank selection in part on a recommendation from someone they know.

Clearly, consumers are looking for signals from people both inside and outside of banking organizations to aid in their banking decisions.  How, then, can banks put people on the front lines of their online experience?

Help from other humans

Banking’s complexity and the gravity of many financial decisions means customers are looking for answers from each other, and from experts. This need is actually an opportunity for banks to provide the human touch as they provide answers.  Their FinServ fellow-traveler LendingTree provides a great example of how this can be done with their Refinance Q&A section, where consumers can get answers to their refinancing questions from staff experts and other consumers.

Making your best experts highly visible online is another excellent way of leveraging the people factor. Just look at Ask USAA with Scott Halliwell, where Halliwell, a Certified Financial Planner™, fields questions from USAA members with complicated financial needs, sometimes using video responses. Members can vote on the helpfulness of the questions and answers and browse tips and questions from Top Contributors to the community.

One of the most progressive examples of generating value from customer conversations comes from—no surprise—Sweden, where Avanza Bank has implemented an online crowdsourcing lab. Customers publically post their suggestions for improving the Avanza experience, other customers are encouraged to vote on them, and the most popular ideas reach the C-suite to be considered for implementation.

BofA_helpCustomer service through Twitter is often criticized because many companies don’t provide those operating their Twitter accounts with enough tools, information and access to fully resolve customer issues. Bank of America has taken a different approach, and has invested in this support channel and the people behind it. Customers like Elle have noticed, and are even writing to Consumerist about their experiences:

He responded within 10 minutes of my tweet, got my contact information from me, and forwarded it onto a BoA rep in my area. I missed their first call, but before I even had a chance to call them back, I saw that both my fees had been refunded.

To humanize the @BofA_Help account, the names and photos of the Twitter reps are featured on the background, and all tweets are signed with rep initials.

Focus on philosophy

Consumers like to do business and join tribes with people that share their values. As I wrote in a previous post, “brands can serve consumers by helping them experience more of what they’re already emotionally connected to—things like community, success, family, love, and of course, each other.” So what do the people that make up your bank believe?

Frost Bank set out to publically answer this question with its dedicated What We Believe microsite, which features belief statements like, “Bankers should know their customers by name and vice versa,” and supporting videos and notes from customers which prove the bank’s commitment to their principles. Accompanying the web campaign were inserts in Texas Monthly and the Texas circulation of The Wall Street Journal, which were booklets containing Frost’s belief statements, followed by a call-to-action on the final page which invited readers to visit the microsite.  Frost’s campaign has received a lot of praise and coverage here in Texas, and over 1,000 customer stories have been submitted overall.

When it comes to banking, consumers are looking for the people behind the brand. Banks should put their people and customers front and center when developing and updating their online strategies. Let’s see those smiling faces and have authentic conversations.

Note: LendingTree, USAA and Frost Bank are Bazaarvoice clients.

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