The first version of this post was titled “Tell Me That You Care.” It was a very wordy saga about a near tragic customer relationship/customer experience with Bank of America.
It had all the makings of a financial thriller: A damsel in distress–my wife along with her personal and her company accounts. A dashing hero– OK, maybe not so dashing. There was fraud, criminal activity, police, suspected identity theft, financial malfeasance. certified documents being sent, missed commitments, dashed hopes. Everything but the sex–well, at least that’s not a part of this story.
Like many of these stories, an unexpected plot twist at the end. The reader of these stories thinks that truth, justice, fair play wins at the end. That people working together can solve a problem, and live happily ever after.
The problem was solved, we are living happily ever after, my wife’s accounts have now been moved out of Bank of America and rest safely with a competitor.
As I was about to publish this saga, I realized the title was all wrong. As I said, it was titled “Tell Me That You Care.” That was my mistake, I trusted what they said, not realizing it wasn’t what they did. Everyone we dealt with at Bank Of America, said, “we care,” at least for a period of time, when it was clear they didn’t.
Well, that’s not quite true. The branch manager didn’t seem to care until he saw the size of the accounts. Not huge, nothing to break the bank–so to speak, but larger than a lot of their other customers. Enough to have a private banking relationship and our own personal banker.
The credit card people and fraud people kept saying they cared, but they kept forgetting that we had filed a report, kept asking us to file, kept switching us from one department to another department, with 30-40 minute hold times. Four weeks after reporting the fraud, we finally got some forms to fill out.
The suspected identity theft? Well the timing of the transactions, the way things were done required–at least we feared–access to a lot of personal information. When expressing that concern, I was told, “But you don’t understand, we’re Bank Of America, that could never possibly happen…..” But when I showed the paper trail my sleuthing had uncovered, the response was, “This is very unusual, let us get back to you in a few days.”
A few days stretched into a couple of weeks, and now about 5 weeks. The branch manager remembers the issue, doesn’t remember the commitment to follow up, even though documented in a letter. He says it’s the fraud department’s responsibility.
The fraud department says, it is clearly not our fault, it was something we never knew about, and we have no liability. But they can’t/won’t share any other information.
We think, though are not sure, there wasn’t an actual identity theft problem, but we remain alert, with reports into the credit reporting agencies.
During the process, not satisfied with the local response, I try the branch manager’s boss. His assistant expressed what seemed to be genuine concern and said he would call back shortly. Half a dozen unreturned follow up messages later, we still haven’t heard.
At one point, I suspected, maybe we were going about this wrong. These weren’t millions of dollars we were talking about. The fraud itself was less than $800. I know companies like Bank Of America prefer to had individuals and small companies deal with electronic channels.
I tried navigating the phone systems, pressing 2, 3, 6, or 7 whenever appropriate, holding patiently, never getting the right people.
I tried the web site, perhaps an online chat, perhaps an email……. All to no avail. I spent a couple of hours combing the site, but couldn’t find anything the way to accomplish that. It may be there, it may be my user error, I’m generally good at finding these, regardless how difficult they make it.
I guess dealing with individuals is just to sloppy and time consuming.
The branch manager has washed his hands, saying, “You have to be patient. We are researching, it’s in the hands of the fraud department. We take your issues very seriously, We Care.”
I finally ended up at the web site again. I stumble on a page, What We Stand For, with an open letter from the CEO, Brian Moynihan.
That page and other linked pages clearly outline the commitment to the customer, the value system and all sorts of stuff intended to communicate, “We Care.” Whether you are an individual or a large company, or an institutional investor, Bank Of America cares about their customers.
Then I reflected, everyone constantly was saying they cared, but no one was demonstrating it. No one was showing me that they cared.
I was reminded that customer experience has nothing to do with what you say, the words used in brochures, by employees, or even by the CEO.
Customer experience is about the experience itself. It’s about what you do, how you demonstrate that you care–or in this case don’t.
Now, I suspect there will be another ironic plot twist. Since this blog is fairly widely read and it is syndicated in a number of sites that draw far more readers, it will probably get reasonable visibility.
I suspect the Bank Of America social media trolls will find this and raise the alarm, “We’re getting bad press on social media!”
I know EVP’s, SVP’s and others will come out of the woodwork, reaching out, saying “We Care.”
I’m sure they will express lots of heartfelt apologies and want to fix things. They may blame the branch manager–who did handle this poorly, but was just doing what he had been trained to do. He’s creating the Bank Of America customer experience he’s been trained to create.
It’s ironic, social media works! But it’s the wrong solution. Creating great customer experience should be part of the way you work and engage customers every day. Customers shouldn’t be forced to go to extraordinary measures to get the service you claim to deliver.
But since great customer experience ends up being lip service for too many, too many are forced to air their problems–as warnings to others—on social media. Great customer experience isn’t about managing social media reputations.
No matter how much they might express, “We Care,” they never demonstrated it when it counted. The bottom line, is my wife and I no longer care. We hope another institution cares. We will see.
I recently received a prospecting email on LinkedIn entitled, “A Shot In The Dark.” The individual opened with the usual, “I was looking at your profile, you appear to be the right person…..”
The rest of the email isn’t really relevant, I think I was the “right” person because I’m CEO of my company, I suspected rather than taking “A Shot In The Dark,” he was using a “Shotgun In The Dark.”
But I reflected on the phrase, “A Shot In The Dark.” I’ve used it a lot, in the past, I’m sure most of us use at least the concept very frequently. But as I was thinking, it struck me there is really no longer any excuse for taking a shot in the dark.
For the most part, we have the tools and ability to be very pinpointed and purposeful about who we contact.
We know our “sweet spot,” consequently we have a very rich profile of the type of customer (enterprise) and the type of people (personas) that we can help the most. But this is just the starting point.
We have the research tools to be able to understand the customer (enterprise) very specifically. For the most part, we can determine their strategies, priorities, how they want to be perceived in the markets.
We probably can understand their business performance (certainly if they are a public company), their relative importance/ranking with their competition.
We can pretty much understand their challenges, issues they might have, opportunities they are missing if we understand their industries, markets, and their business.
Likewise, we have the tools to be able to pinpoint the people we want to go after–if not by name, certainly by function and persona. But, with a little research through tools like LinkedIn, asking leveraging people we know in the industry, perhaps even in the company.
If they have engaged with us in any way, are on our mailing lists, have requested collateral, are a current customer, we should have much deeper insight into them based on those interactions.
Overlaid on this, we have all sorts of analytic tools that can be leveraged to help better refine our knowledge of the company and the individuals, identifying those with a higher propensity to buy.
We can know the instant someone has asked for something on our website, leveraging that knowledge, contact them within seconds, engaging them in a conversation about something “hot on their mind.”
Most of this isn’t very complicated. It takes good knowledge on our parts, and a few minutes of research. The other stuff just makes the whole job much easier.
When you start thinking about it, there is really very little reason to have to “Take A Shot In The Dark.” Increasingly, we have the ability to be very pinpointed, both in our targeting and very relevant/impactful in our initial conversation.
It strikes me that “Taking A Shot In The Dark,” is an indication of not being knowledgeable, not being prepared, and/or simply not caring.
No, I’m not talking about some smarmy sales person. I’m talking about a, possibly naïve, customer.
Have you ever had a customer call wanting to talk about the “dream deal?” They don’t pose it as the dream deal, but upon hearing it, we recognize it as one.
It doesn’t happen very often, but when it happens, it immediately causes most normal people to salivate and dollar signs start dancing before their eyes.
Often, these deals are too good to be true–and what happens is they are usually too good to be true, they may never happen.
I’m working with a team right now–it’s a tough situation and they are doing a great job in managing it, but it’s one of those too good to be true deals.
The channel partner and customer called saying, “We have this idea of something we want to do in the company……” They went on to describe what could be one of the most important and largest deals this sales team had seen in a long time. It was a multi-million dollar deal. The customer, a mid-level IT manager had a tremendous idea for a huge project. They wanted to talk to my client’s team about solutions and whether their solution would be a good fit.
The project was very complex, even just a proof of concept would require a lot of time and resources on the part of my client.
As we discussed the deal, I asked, “What business problem is the customer trying to solve?”
The team said, “This is what they are currently doing, this is what they want to do with the solution.”
As they described it, I could see they were concerned. I asked, “Does this make sense?”
The flood gates opened. While the solution was technically feasible, the team couldn’t figure out how it made business sense. The current solution cost the customer less than $50K, the solution my client would offer would require several million in products, plus all the implementation expense.
They had done a lot of research, they couldn’t find any organizations doing the same thing—but the customer was known as a thought leader in their industry so we wondered if we were missing something.
We had a long discussion, were we just being very traditional in our thinking, did this represent a solution that made sense, but we just didn’t understand?
The team wondered, “Should we continue on with this project? Should we invest the resources and time to win it?” Even if it didn’t make business sense, perhaps the customer knew something the team didn’t know.
No one felt comfortable with that strategy. They decided to bite the bullet. Even though they worried about questioning the customer, it was important to understand the business justification for the project up front. It was a little more complicated with the involvement of the channel partner. The sales person was hungry for the deal and didn’t want to upset things–but then again, it wasn’t his money and resources that would be invested in the proof of concept.
They asked the channel partner to set up a meeting with the customer. In addition to the IT project manager, they asked for a manager in the end user organization to participate in the meeting. Reluctantly, the channel partner set up the meeting.
They went in, expressing their thanks to the customer, stating they needed to understand a little more about what was driving the project. Where before all the discussions had been about the technology and solution, this time they focused on the business. As they discussed what the customer was trying to achieve, what was driving them to change the approach, they eventually got to the business case and justification.
You guessed it. No one had really focused on the business case and justification. They’d gotten caught up in the excitement of applying ground breaking technology, but as they thought about it, discussing the alternatives, they realized there was no way they could responsibly recommend going forward with the project. They decided to stop the work.
It was disappointing to everyone involved. The customer was excited, the channel partner had almost spent his commissions, and the sales team had been looking forward to the potential of a huge sale with a leading customer. But in the end, everyone realized they had done the right thing. Rather than wasting time and resources, it was much better to face reality not pursuing the project.
This isn’t that unusual. While it may have been an extreme case, too often I see sales people pursuing deals initiated by the customer. When asked about the business case and whether it really makes sense, too often the response is, “Who am I to challenge the customer on this?” Often, while they know it may be a flaky deal, they still pursue it–purely wishful thinking.
If something really doesn’t make business sense, someone in the customer, probably higher up the food chain, will question it, cancelling it if there is no clear business case.
Sometimes deals are too good to be true. It’s worth taking the time, politely challenging the customer, seeing if there is something you don’t understand, seeing if they really understand what they are doing.
Losing a deal is always painful, but it’s much easier to lose it before it starts than after months of work.
Thousands of blogs and articles on social selling, media, marketing focus on building Personal Brands and Thought Leadership. The experts proclaim sales people must become thought leaders and focus on building their personal brands. These same experts say sales people must engage socially, whether through blogging, social engagement, or whatever mechanisms, developing and demonstrating their thought leadership to prospects, customers and markets.
In truth I struggled with these concepts. From a corporate management point of view, I’ve always thought it more important to build and reinforce a company’s brand and thought leadership. I’ve wondered why a sales person with a Small and Medium Business Territory in St. Louis, Missouri should focus on building their global brand presence and thought leadership in Mumbai, Shenzhen, Paris, Capetown, and Sao Paulo. I’ve tended to think of that as a distraction.
Thankfully, I’ve come around. I think it’s critical for sales people to build their personal brands and thought leadership! It’s actually something the best sales people have done long before the concept of social selling was ever conceived. Even long before Vice President Al Gore invented the web.
In the old days, sales people thought of this as building their personal relationships, credibility, and trust with their customers. We think of this as building our reputation in our company, with our customers, and in our communities. Ultimately, these reputations were enhanced by living up to our commitments, assuring customers got the results we committed, assuring they were satisfied and promoters of both our companies and us. Today, this is loosely called personal brand building — though I’ve never heard a social selling expert talk about it this way.
They always brought new ideas to their customers. They got the customer to think differently about their businesses, helped them find ways to improve results, reduce costs, improve quality, profitability, and grow. Today, we call this providing insight and building thought leadership.
In engaging their customers–in every interaction, it’s critical for sales people to build their “brands.” It’s important to provide thought leadership. But where these efforts are most meaningful, relevant and impactful is when they are hyper local. We are successful when our customers treat us as trusted advisors and look for our help as they seek to achieve their goals.
We reap the benefits of this brand building and thought leadership in growing the results we and our customers achieve, growing our “following” through strong referrals made by our customers to others in the community or industries.
I’m less convinced, however, on the importance of building a personal brand and our thought leadership broadly. The objection is really based on having sales people focus their time and efforts on their own customers, markets and territories. Prospecting, expanding your relationships, visibility, engagement in your own territory is the highest priority and most effective ways sales people can use their time.
It is critical that we continue to build our value, credibility, trust and confidence with our customers. It is critical that we continue to challenge customers to think differently.