Personal service is not enough to make a difference

The following is an excerpt from Market Vision 2000, a national study examining what it takes to have a relationship with consumers in the '90s.As consumers see all banks as basically the same, what will it take to break from the...

The following is an excerpt from Market Vision 2000, a national study examining what it takes to have a relationship with consumers in the ’90s.

As consumers see all banks as basically the same, what will it take to break from the pack?

% of consumers saying that the products & services of the companies in the following industries are ‘all the same’

Oil and gas 71

Breweries 65

Banks 64

Computer

manufacturers 49

Car companies 44

Source: Market Vision 2000 Study

As Canada limps out of the recession, why are so many banks focussing on customer service messages?

Can advertising one bank’s commitment to personal attention really differentiate it from the others in consumers’ minds?

Research suggests the answer will require more innovation from communicators.

In the recent ‘Market Vision 2000′ study, 1,034 consumers were asked to rate ‘how similar or different are the products and services offered by the banks.’

Almost two-thirds of consumers (64%) said they were ‘all the same.’

Among bank customers, the customers at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the Bank of Montreal were somewhat more likely than others to see some differences between the banks.

However, these differences were far from reaching statistical significance.

So, one important question for communicators is, ‘What are the banks doing about this apparent lack of distinctiveness between them?’

As seen in the accompanying chart, marketers in various other industries need to pay attention to this battle for the consumers’ wallet as well.

The most likely answer to be given by the banks’ marketing managers in response to the question. ‘What makes you different?’ is that their bank is concentrating on improving customer service.

Looking at the slogans, it is difficult to point out meaningful differences: ‘We’re not just talking,’ ‘We’re paying attention,’ ‘Get us working for you.’

In fact, as the cibc’s Rob McLeod says, ‘At the cibc, we’re focussed on winning customer loyalty through service excellence.’

According to McLeod, the key to differentiating the cibc from others is keeping the customer’s interest in mind as a fundamental business practice.

Personal service taken to the bank floor needs to pay more than just lip service. It is ironic that one of the largest changes in retail banking over the past decade has been the influx of automatic teller machines, or atms.

In 1983, there were about 1,250 atms, and, by 1991, there were more than 10,500.

The tell-tale sign for personal service, then, must have something to do with what all those tellers, who used to provide the routine tasks now accommodated by atms, are up to.

The Royal Bank has been able to convert about 70% of its routine transactions to the atms – freeing up its representatives to concentrate on more in-depth personal service for more complex transactions and products.

Comparably, Bank of Montreal is estimated to have transferred about 28% of these transactions to the machines.

Presumably, BoM’s much-touted retraining of its 22,000 customer service reps was aimed at giving them things to do that would please customers and be profitable for the bank – selling other products, perhaps?

If image is only one component, and especially if most of the leading banks are communicating the same personal service image, it is clear that other stories will need to be told.

These new stories will have to help hold on to existing customers, solicit more business from them, as well as convince those banking elsewhere to switch.

Certainly BoM’s interest rates have led the charge over the last 18 months, delivering for its best customers exactly what they want – lower borrowing rates.

Yet, it may be the Bank of Nova Scotia that attracts more customers with the introduction of its new Value Visa Credit Card.

Introduced toward the end of 1992, the card carries a $29 annual fee, a 10.5% interest rate and a 21-day grace period.

In March, Scotiabank introduced a mortgage package that claims to have the lowest cost and most flexible terms available. Yet, how long will it take before another bank comes up with a similar or better offer?

It may be telling that finding out whether Scotiabank had a slogan from workers at its Toronto corporate office was near impossible. As one Scotiabank rep suggests, the bank is so busy keeping up with giving customers what they want, who has time for a slogan?

New products are the marketing lifeblood of more than banking.

Canada’s beer industry seems destined to outpace even the most adventurous of beer drinkers with its on-going introduction of better brews.

If the banks and breweries are fighting it out on a product-by-product basis, how are the other industries minding their stores?

As with banking or beer, most consumers believe that gas is gas. So, Shell now offers Air Miles travel miles to build customer loyalty, in concert with BoM and a growing band of customer-conscious retailers.

Esso is fighting back with a rewards program of its own that has been quietly introduced to the public.

All the major oil and gas retailers are trying to increase their returns by adding more services to the basic gas offering, i