Community Banking and Credit Unions Find Success in Personal Relationships and Valued Customers

By David DeFazio

Within five miles of my house, there has to be at least two dozen sandwich shops. Yet, one of them stands above all others. It is a Subway® store. There are three others just like it within that file mile radius of my home. But, I always go to the one specific store and have for years.


Is the food any better or different than the others? Not really. I go because I feel valued there. They provide me a great customer experience. The team that works there welcomes every single customer as they come into the store no matter how busy they are. The smile from behind the counter and the “Welcome to Subway” resonate strongly with me. I even drive past the other restaurants when I am out just to go to this specific location. Funny how such little things can have a big impact on the customer experience.


Many community banks and credit unions also stand out to their customers or members in much the same way. A friendly and warm greeting as they enter the branch, no matter how busy your staff are, is a great start.


One of our customers calls this the ‘Wow!’ factor and aims for it at all of his branches for every interaction. Another simple way to wow your customer is to simply wish them a happy birthday. We know the birthday of nearly all of our customers now due to regulations so we can take advantage of that piece of information to demonstrate to our customers that we know and appreciate them. The results from this simple action produce tremendous good will from your customers and give you that edge over any of your competitors. It works so well, many of the banks we work with have started calling customers to tell them happy birthday with similar results. Others do the same thing with customer anniversaries for accounts, such as a one-year or five-year anniversary for checking or money market accounts.


Recent media coverage has created an impression that banks are greedy and not concerned about their customers. Imagine receiving a call from your institution that your account was getting ready to enter dormancy and they wanted to remind you again so you could avoid the associated fees and keep that account active. Perhaps it is a call to offer a better mortgage or other loan rate to a customer that has high rates by today’s standards. These personal touches let customers you know that you have a vested interest in them and value their business and trust in you.


These types of customer interactions most often do not lead to an immediate increase in sales. However, they occasionally do, although that is not the end goal. I can point to many of our clients who offer stories of people who had been putting off a new account until a friendly call or interaction reminded them and made them confident that this was the institution with which they wanted to expand their relationship. People appreciate the personal attention and in this world of e-this and i-that, it is increasingly rare and really does make you stand out to your customers

This is the inherent value of these efforts, to improve the image of your institution in the mind of your customers or members which at some point down the line will produce new accounts or even referrals of friends and family. While the larger banks are moving to more impersonal customer service models to improve efficiencies and reduce costs, successful community banks and credit unions know that their own customers and members appreciate the personal attention. You can still offer the convenience of self-service banking and complement it with your personal attention for in-branch transactions and even personal calls to alert customers to activity or even say happy birthday.


Define what you want your customer experience to be and train your staff to deliver on it. Set the service standard and be the branch office that people drive out of their way to get to because they feel appreciated. Earn their business and trust with every visit. This is your differentiator—it’s what sets you apart from the cold, impersonal style of the big banks.