How Big Banks Are Blowing It

During the Q&A session of Gary Vaynerchuk’s talk last night, one guy brought up his annoyance with the bank tellers (at Wells Fargo) asking him questions about himself and making small talk. I forget the exact question but Gary’s response was that this is an annoying experience because it isn’t authentic. They want a piece of data about you so they can send you a promotion. And we know that because we have a strong BS meter.

I didn’t realize it at The Thank You Economy book signing* because there was so much to take in, but earlier that day, I was at Bank of America and the teller was making conversation with me.  I remember thinking, This is a little unusual and awkward. Especially the point where—during my funds transfer—she said, “Oh you have a business account with Bank of Arizona?”  While I only said yes in response, I’m thinking: Yes, because I like to bank locally.  I’m a member of Local First Arizona. I don’t like large institutions and the only reason my account is here is because you sold me a HELOC when I needed it and didn’t know the importance of supporting local business. But I digress . . .

The point being, I noticed the woman next to me was completely unresponsive to her teller’s questions about the weather, weekend plans, etc.  So, this guy at the reading is not alone.  Maybe in some weird collective-executive imagination this is the banks’ way of trying to compete with social media.  Maybe they’re thinking: We’re going to be social for real. We’re going to build relationships with everyone who comes in–in person! What could be better than that?

But it feels prescribed.  It’s like managers at the large national banks have given the directive “talk to customers, be their friend, and find out what makes them tick.”  The thing is, they can’t be my friend. A friend would hold onto my money and not charge me if I asked for it back. Period. Among other things.

Because I’m a data person, I wonder if Bank of America will start to see more people using ATMs in response to this “personalized service approach” or whatever they’re calling it in-house.  (You know it’s an “initiative” . . .  there’s a name for it, probably with some employee-empowering acronym, right?) I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see a shift to technology use over time.  Unfortunately, the usability of their ATM flow completely stinks (but that is a whole other blog post on designing optimal customer experiences). So maybe customers will just move over to local banks they never heard of before . . . because they didn’t have those pain points before?

One more rant about the big guys before I end this post and you can continue with your Guinness and corned beef and cabbage today:  There’s a bulletproof glass wall between the teller and the customer.  That’s right: A wall that physically says to the customer, I potentially need protection from you and can’t trust you; you might be dangerous.  But the person we see is saying, HI! Tell me about your day. I’d like to get to know you better. At my local bank branch, all the tellers are seated at desks with chairs for customers in front of them.  They know my name, and the physical environment is echoing what Stephanie or Desiree or Kyle (who shares with me a fondness for Four Peaks Brewery and Vegas) is saying. Which is something along the lines of, Come on in and have a seat. I trust you and I’m here to help.

*Disclaimer: Haven’t read the book yet. Special thanks to The Barter Group for inviting me.

Sidenote: I’m a marketing person, and I know from my own feelings when reading posts from marketing or PR people that I’m usually thinking, “You’re just promoting your client. You’re paid to say that.”  So in case you’re a natural skeptic like me, I want to tell you that none of the companies mentioned herein are paying me for anything.

4 thoughts on “How Big Banks Are Blowing It”

  1. Tracy, I know exactly how you feel… Wells Fargo is doing the same thing, asking me about my work, what I’m doing this weekend, etc. It ridiculous! I never have the same consecutive teller, and only one has ever remember me before looking up my accounts. Their approach to caring sucks, but I don’t blame them. Each branch has 100s of customers, how could they possibly remember us all. It’s unfortunate that they’re forced to care.

  2. Tracy — How long have you been in Arizona? I’ve been here since ’86, and the bank tellers have ALWAYS made conversation, especially if they know you (which they do if you walk in all the time.) It doesn’t matter if you’re at a local bank or the branch of a national bank. And I’ve never received any kind of promotion by mail, email or phone that had anything to do with my bank-teller convo.

  3. Thanks Merlin and great meeting you at the event!

    Hi Angelique, I think the comment Gary made about receiving a promotion was “off-the-cuff” and not necessarily literal. It was the sentiment (or lack thereof!) that I think he was trying to emphasize: They want something from you. The point being, as Merlin alludes to, it’s not genuine. So yes they are making conversation and even if they always have, Gary’s message is that people are more suspect of it–and less tolerant too. At my local bank, for example, there are only 3 stations so the odds are better that even if I don’t go in all the time, someone there will know me. It just feels like the local banks are better positioned to compete in a Thank You Economy.

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