The Wallet. Now on the Verge of Extinction.

I recently purchased season tickets for my beloved Auburn football games, and believe it or not, couldn’t quite figure out how to get my hands on them… the tickets, that is. Literally. My guess is that if you’ve tried to purchase tickets to a game or concert recently that you’ve probably had the same experience.

Gone are the days of a physical ticket, apparently.

The tickets were right there on my phone. I could see them, but was told -- by the ticket office -- that I could not print them out and present them at the gate, nor could I present a screen capture.  I was also told that I could only “transfer” the tickets once. The problem is that I have been buying tickets with a friend for 35 years. He received the digital tickets and then transferred them to me.

So now, how do I transfer them to my kids? How can I sell extras on the corner of Heisman Dr. and S. Donahue? What happens if my phone battery dies before I get to the gate? They didn’t consider that, I guess. We’re all struggling and fighting our way into this new digital age! I guess it’s time to start buying Apple stock again. And my friends with flip-phones need to go shopping.

It’s not like I haven’t been paying attention. I’ve been hearing and watching the news regarding digital wallets and the move to “all things digital.” And, like most people nowadays, I do use my phone to make deposits, make online purchases on Amazon, etc.  I guess, however, that it wasn’t until this recent experience that I was confronted with the true reality of what “digital wallet” means.

It does makes sense, doesn’t it? Why carry around two or three 6-month-old Home Depot receipts, three of four photos of your kids when they were toddlers (and are now out of college), that Total Wine loyalty card, your Silver Snickers membership card and the insurance cards, credit cards, and at one time in a bygone age your college football game tickets?  Especially when there’s a very good chance that you’re going to leave that wallet somewhere and never see it again.

Joanna Stern, author of the recent Wall Street Journal article, “Wallets are Over. Your Phone is your Everything Now”, made the point that wallets “are over” with a reference to this scene from Seinfeld; which I think pretty much says why this is the best thing that could ever happen to guys and wallets; George Costanza’s bulging, exploding wallet.

Of course, the whole “contactless” thing got a big boost during COVID, and really hastened the demise of wallets and the rise of the smartphone as its replacement; especially when it comes to banking services, such as making payments.  Remember the “checkbook?  I think that the only place you can see one now is in the Museum of Natural History. Thanks to the pandemic and, as Stern puts it, “our new collective fear of touching, well, anything, we’ve embraced contactless payments as an alternative to handing over plastic rectangles. In 2020, in-store mobile payments grew in the U.S. by 29%, according to research firm eMarketer, which predicts that more than half of smartphone users will pay with their phones by 2025.”

Hotel chains now let you bypass the lobby and go straight to your room, and a soon-to-be-released app from Apple will let you add hotel keys right to your Apple Wallet. The same goes for house keys and car keys, provided your home has a compatible smart lock and you drive a BMW. With the exception of just a few things, your keys, your personal info, your passwords, your credit card numbers and your Total Wine loyalty card are all stored in this one little device. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, instead of that wallet that gets left somewhere, what if it’s your phone that gets lost? Unlike your wallet, your phone “is a secure device, with all of the info encrypted and biometrically protected,” says Stern. Plus, as she points out, if you lose your phone you can remotely wipe it using Apple’s Find My Phone.  You can’t do that with a wallet, can you? Not yet. Maybe Find My Wallet is on its way. Along with Find that Matching Sock.

So these days, while I do much of my banking, buying, and football game attending using my phone, I still love carrying a wallet, including my 50 year old “electronic” key to the War Eagle Supper Club!  It feels good there in my back pocket. Maybe there’s something almost nostalgic about it, connecting me with a time that once was.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


Interested in cutting customer service costs by 30%? Let’s chat!

Robots have been demonized for a long time. And understandably. Hard to believe, but it’s been 50 years since HAL, the spaceship’s computerized brain, threatened to kill the Discovery One astronauts in the film, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  It’s one of the earliest films that I can remember that warned us about how Artificial Intelligence could very well be “an experiment gone horribly wrong.”

In years since, robots have continued to be characterized as malevolent, destructive, and emotionless job-stealers. Manufacturing jobs would disappear as robots could work much more efficiently, safely, accurately, and less expensively than human beings.  In the meantime, their view of the world -- one of course where robots ruled -- would supplant that of their creators. They would then revolt against the human race and take over the world.

My, how times have changed. The kind of thinking (aka Artificial Intelligence) that made HAL a monster is exactly the kind of thinking that today’s community banks are utilizing to supplement their service to customers.

Until now, customer service was largely built on human interaction. Whether a mega financial institution or a community bank, the standard for quality customer service is extraordinarily high. Customer service representatives must be patient, efficient, knowledgeable, and quick to address customer questions, concerns, and complaints. Maintaining this high standard is labor intensive, and certainly not cheap. And during these pandemic days, finding and keeping individuals who can deliver this type of service has become almost impossible. So, say hello to CHATBOT!

Okay, what exactly is a chatbot? The latest tactic in “conversational marketing,” a chatbot is a “software robot” that chats with customers on your various customer experience touch points such as websites, messaging apps, and devices. A chatbot mimics conversation through text (e.g., 1800flowers.com) or voice (e.g., Alexa). If you’ve just spoken to your Google Assistant, well, you’ve just chatted with a chatbot. So, are people really using chatbots?

Absolutely, and there’s plenty of consumer research to prove it. Recent research from Survey Monkey and Drift show that “only 38% of consumers actually want to talk with a human when engaging a brand. This isn’t to say they always prefer chatbots, but it highlights just how many ways there are to get answers today that don’t involve live human conversation — text messaging and self-service portals, just to name a few.”

Chatbots can learn and evolve, as well. IBM’s Watson, for instance, “uses machine learning algorithms and asks follow-up questions to better understand customers and pass them off to a human agent when needed.”  Pretty clever, isn’t it?

According to an August 13, 2021 article by tech consulting firm, CapTech, “back in 2019 40% of consumers in the U.S. were using chatbots to shop with retailers. In addition, 77% of customers said chatbots will transform their expectations of companies over a five-year span.”  The article goes onto say that “aside from meeting consumers’ needs… there are other advantages to chatbots… Businesses spend over $1.3 trillion per year to address customer requests, and chatbots could help reduce that cost by 30%. In fact, virtual customer assistants help organizations reduce call, chat, and email inquiries by 70%, while 90% of businesses report recording large improvements in the speed of complaint resolution.” 

According to a Juniper Research study, healthcare and banking industries in particular, which manage large volumes of human interaction, are set to benefit most from the AI-driven chatbot technology. “We believe that health care and banking providers using bots can expect average time savings of just over 4 minutes per enquiry, equating to average cost savings in the range of $0.50-$0.70 per interaction.”

In closing, a chatbot might seem like a small contribution to your ability to service customers, but there are certainly big benefits to be realized for the banks that use them. Just be careful if it starts asking for a salary increase and better benefits…


About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


What A Small Town Taught Me About Artificial Intelligence.

As a community bank, nothing is more important to your success than understanding your customers and delivering value. What’s different today? There was a time when understanding your customer’s needs and overall financial behavior was, well, easy. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case anymore.

For a long time, community bankers achieved this customer insight by interaction. If you’re old enough to be reading this, and grew up in a small town, I’m sure you remember. I do because that’s how I grew up.

You’ve seen “It’s a Wonderful Life,” right? Remember when Potter questions the loan that George has approved for Ernie, the cab driver?  “I can vouch for his character,” George tells Potter. Having grown up in a small town, not terribly unlike Bedford Falls, I had a very similar experience myself… many of them, in fact. When I was ready for my first car loan at age 18, Mr. Jepson, the kindly gentleman who ran our local community bank, didn’t need me to fill out a loan application, survive a host of credit checks, or have a bunch of agencies confirm that I wasn’t a criminal. He knew my parents, my grandparents, and all my family. He knew I had a steady job at the IGA grocery store, was headed off to college and was in church on Sundays and Wednesday nights! He knew all about me.

Those days are gone. Vouching for someone’s character just isn’t an option anymore. With online and mobile options, customers are no longer walking into their local branch and doing all their banking there. The insights that bankers need, that they used to get by interaction, are tough to get. Instead of that personal interaction to gain those insights and act upon them, bankers are now relying upon Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies.

This past January, Business Insider talked about the tremendous impact that AI can have on a bank’s customer experience. “Banks can use AI to transform the customer experience by enabling frictionless, 24/7 customer service interactions.”  The Insider goes onto say that banks can, and are, “using AI to deepen customer relationships, and provide personalized insights and recommendations.” Thus, artificial intelligence is now gathering and analyzing the data that a banker’s “real” intelligence once gathered and analyzed in order to know the customer. Today, without personal interaction, that customer is a “persona,” an AI/ML-generated individual who can be used to predict behavior and personalize an experience.

Creating personas is nothing new and unfortunately in a pre-AI/ML world, have been developed using assumptions and/or simply on past actions such as purchases. The drilled-down insights that AI/ML provides can help bankers develop a far more accurate picture of their customer’s identity and behaviors. Forbes, in the article, “10 Ways AI Can Improve Digital Transformation's Success Rate”, states that, “using AI to better understand customers, personas need to be the foundation of any digital transformation initiative. The most advanced uses of AI for persona development combine brand, event and product preferences, location data, content viewed, transaction histories, and, most of all, channel, and communication preferences.” In short, you not only know the “what” about your customer, but the “when, where, why, and how,” as well. 

Despite its necessity, the implementation of these technologies in banking is still something that most banks are “planning for.” Why has this transformation in customer data management taken so long?  The legacy data solutions that are so pervasive in today’s banking industry cannot be transformed quickly, easily, and inexpensively. As a result, a growing number of community banks have looked to multiple core and edge systems for gathering, analyzing, and reporting. The integration of these systems, though, is time consuming and costly. So time consuming, in fact, that it’s quite possible that the data gathered can be obsolete by the time the integration is complete.

Through these advanced consumer profiles and AI/ML’s predictive analytics, you’re far better equipped to reach the right customer in the right place at the right time with the right message. It’s almost a return to those Bedford Falls days, when you knew the cab driver well enough to approve a loan app based on knowing his character… but, not quite. Unfortunately, “personalization” through technology will never be the same as personalization through personal interaction. But, this is the world in which we now live.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. To view our campaigns, visit bankmarketingcenter.com.  Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


What Banks can Learn from Caramel Colored, Carbonated Water

All the talk these days seems to be about digital transformation and offering a personalized digital banking experience. Or, on the in-branch side, the need to offer the kind of personalized, financial guidance that people simply won’t find with non-traditional institutions, such as digital only banks. It seems to be all about services; that the only way to win and keep customers is by offering them products and services that are better than the competitor’s. Which, as a former ad guy, leads me to ask this question: What happened to branding? 

To answer it, I invite you to take a time-machine spin back to 1985-86, which was the height of what was then called “the cola wars.” The warring factions? Coca-Cola USA and PepsiCo. Coke and Pepsi were at the time, and I believe the same holds true today, within a point or two of each other in terms of market share. The soft drink market, at the time, was a $26 billion market, and the two giants battled it out by spending hundreds of millions of dollars, largely on television. If you’re too young to remember, it was kind of fun to watch. Brand image campaigns were supplemented by “taste test” commercials. Oddly, but not surprisingly, both sides claimed to win these taste tests, which only added to the fun… and confusion.

Back then, Coke’s brand position was “Always Coca-Cola” while Pepsi went with “The Choice of a New Generation.” Coke watched as Pepsi, making use of superstar athletes, actors, and musicians as endorsers, began to grab that much-coveted target audience; the pre-teens who were “transitioning” from juice drinks to soft drinks.  You see, it was (and still is) common knowledge among those in the soft drink biz that cola drinkers are some of the most brand loyal on the planet. So, winning that pre-teen was (and still is) critical to a soft drink’s success.

As Pepsi earned the loyalty of these just-starting-to-drink-cola youngsters, the folks at Coca-Cola, of course, began to panic. Their solution? To develop and market a product that could better compete with Pepsi. Makes sense, right?  What happened afterward, however, didn’t. The decision was made to take the current Coke product off the market and replace it with this new product; one that, with a re-formulation, would taste more like Pepsi… less carbonation with a bit more sweetness. This “new” coke would be called “New Coke,” a cola that would hopefully appeal to the younger market by offering them “the great taste of Coca-Cola with the sweetness of Pepsi.” Unfortunately, Coca-Cola was somehow ignoring another critical market: Their current, brand loyal customers.

On July 20, 1986, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Keeping New Coke Alive.”  The article described just how difficult a time Coca-Cola was having with the new product.  At the time, McDonald's, along with Denny's, "several other fountain customers," and many of Coca-Cola's bottlers wanted nothing to do with New Coke. Coca-Cola Classic, the new name for the old cola that New Coke was supposed to replace had, in less than two years since New Coke's launch, outsold New Coke by a margin of more than 4 to 1. Ironically, the brand that Coca-Cola had sought to shelve saw record sales and profits with the New Coke launch with revenues climbing almost 20%.

So, why do I think that this anecdote is relevant to today’s discussion about services, digital transformation, AI-driven user experiences, etc.? Because what those of us in the banking industry need to remember is that while the products and services we offer are important, so is building and supporting the brand.

Fast forward to the present day. Marketing pundits now frame it this way: “No one cares what you do. They’re only interested in why you do it.” A superior digital experience is important, and so is in-branch financial advice, but consumers consider more than just features when choosing a brand. In the ABA Journal article, “What are you doing about customer loyalty?” author Phil Seward had this to say: “In the digital age, financial services providers have seen the industry drastically change due to an increase in competition from non-financial institutions. Technology organizations are embedded in consumers’ daily lives, and pride themselves on putting the customer experience first and foremost. This expectation of an enhanced customer experience has made it harder for traditional banks to break through the noise and remain top of mind, putting them at risk of losing customers. Building brand loyalty can be a powerful way to influence customer behavior and enhance the bottom line.”

Look at Coca-Cola. The company had created such powerful brand loyalty for Coca-Cola Classic that when they tried to replace it with something new and improved, Classic came back stronger than ever. Classic's brand was so strong, that New Coke never had a chance and taste wasn't even a consideration; it was all about a brand with fans, a brand that, nearly a century old, people knew and loved.

So, what can banks learn from the cola wars?  Know, and love, your audience. Build your brand around these individuals. Supplement your product/service messaging with consistent messaging that reinforces “why you are,” instead of what you do.  Constantly remind your customers how important they are to you. Build a strong brand by building strong relationships. Do this and, like Coca-Cola Classic, your brand will be well prepared to defend itself from any attack.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical, and compelling communication with customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and revenue. In short, build your brand. To view our campaigns, both print and digital, visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


Personalization versus Privacy… the Banker’s Tightrope.

Is there a big push to monetize customer data and leverage that learning to better personalize the banking customer’s experience? You bet there is. Where, however, does this leave banks as they walk the tightrope between monetizing data, protecting their customer’s personal information and navigating a patchwork of regulations?

There is no doubt that personalization is a big deal in customer engagement. Having that deep understanding of each customer’s unique needs, driven by data and analytics and aided by machine learning, is every marketer’s dream. Knowing what a customer is thinking, feeling, and needing forms the very bedrock of any solid, strategic marketing effort.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, “a majority of people who are either open to or actively mulling changing banks would consider banking with a tech company—such as Amazon, Facebook, or Google—if they could. This is not surprising, because such companies have spurred a desire for more customized interactions and fostered a willingness to trade data for a better experience.”  BCG goes onto say: “Several consumer brands have shown the way forward. Netflix uses personalization techniques to make movie and series recommendations. Yet while many financial institutions are conceptually on board and heavily investing, the Netflix of banking has yet to emerge. The main reason is that true end-to-end personalization requires developing new muscles—such as strong cross-channel offerings, cross-enterprise collaboration, a single view of the customer, and a new technology ecosystem—all of which are difficult to build.”

Agreed… for the most part. Is receiving a “you might like this, too” recommendation from Amazon or Netflix the same as getting one from your bank? I’m not convinced. When Netflix tells me that I might be interested in a certain program because it somehow aligns with one I’d watched previously, I have no concerns about data sharing and privacy. The kind of personal data that a bank needs to personalize one’s digital experience is far different from the data that Netflix uses to recommend their latest docuseries.

I think it might have been one of those satirical commercials done by Saturday Night Live a while back, I’m not sure, but what I do remember was their lampooning of banks using personal data for marketing purposes. At one point in the faux commercial, which featured a young couple, the young man receives a series of SMS messages from their bank. The messages are fairly innocuous at the start but become progressively more disconcerting. The first text seems ordinary enough: “We hope you’re enjoying the new truck you purchased with one of our auto loans.” When it’s followed shortly afterward by, “we’ve noticed that you made a large purchase at the grocery store just the other day… having a party?”, the couple gets a bit concerned. The last message really creeps them out: “We have the loan you need when you’re ready to decorate that baby room. Congratulations.” The gag, of course, is that the couple doesn’t know they’re pregnant, yet their bank somehow does.

Granted, this is a bit of hyperbole, but it does point to the fact that monetizing consumer data can pretty quickly run afoul of the consumer’s desire for privacy. Consumers want the convenience of products and services being brought to their attention based on their “buyer journey” and purchasing habits, but they’re definitely conflicted about how much of their personal information they're willing to share in order to make that happen. “Despite consumers’ growing comfort with (and demand for) personalized interactions,” says BCG, “a significant percentage of consumers are still protective of their personal information.” Twenty-five percent of consumers see getting personalized offers as “creepy,” and 32% say that getting personalized experiences is not worth giving up their privacy. More than one-third (36%) feel that companies don’t do enough to protect their private information. Where does that leave data monetization, from a privacy standpoint? What if you received a text or email from your bank saying: “Your oldest daughter is nearly 28 years old. Shouldn’t she be getting married soon? Maybe you should consider one of our HELOCs for that reception.” Or, better still, “Is everything okay at home? Over the past two weeks, you’ve spent $187.50 at the liquor store.”

And then there’s the challenge of Congress, which isn’t helping the matter. In the ABA Banking Journal blog, “State Data Privacy Laws Pose New Headaches for Banks,” author Penny Crosman sums it up this way: “States are stepping up their efforts to protect the privacy of consumer data, and the trend is adding to banks' compliance challenges as stewards of vast amounts of personal information.” If you’re an institution that operates across, say 20 states, you may be looking at 20 different frameworks and bills applying to them and their accounts, some of which are potentially in a state of revision.

So, how will banks personalize their customer experience by monetizing data, while at the same time protecting their personal information and navigating a patchwork of regulations? Opinions vary from “proceed with caution” to “don’t worry, consumers will give you whatever you want if you give them what they need.” BCG estimates that for every $100 billion in assets that a bank has, it can achieve as much as $300 million in revenue growth by personalizing its customer interactions. Banks will certainly appreciate the $300 million in revenue growth… but they’re smart to take a thoughtful approach to trying to be the next “Netflix bank.” After all, isn’t personalization about listening to, understanding, and responding to the wants and needs of customers? Those who are listening are, in my opinion, being justifiably cautious.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, relevant, and compelling communication that will help you build trust, relationships, and with them, your brand. All while saving you time and money.

To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to in-branch brochures and signage –  visit bankmarketingcenter.comOr, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com.  As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. 


Your Mail? Don’t Worry, It’s On Its Way.

I’m sure you’ve had this experience, as well.  It’s 9 o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday when I discover that there’s an item on Amazon that I simply must have…today.  I place my order. That afternoon, I have it in hand.  Brought right to my door… I didn’t even need to walk to my mailbox (which I don’t usually mind, since it’s one of the few forms of exercise I have time for these days!?) in order to get it.

Which makes for a good segue.  Speaking of mailboxes, why is it that Amazon can deliver a package the same day and it takes the US Postal Service up to eight weeks to take an envelope from Baton Rouge to Atlanta?  This is not hyperbole. Just a week or so ago, I received several letters, all from within a couple hundred miles of me, that had been mailed in the last two weeks of April.

According to a recent Fortune.com article: “Current standards call for delivering First Class mail in one to three days. Under revised standards, delivery time would stretch to as much as five days, according to the Postal Service plan. It also said it would “align hours of operation” at low-traffic post offices. Under the plan, the Postal Service would add a day or more to its standards for First Class mail delivery, increase rates, and reduce post office hours to ward off as much as $160 billion in deficits over the next decade.” There’s no doubt that the Postal Service is struggling to deal with sagging letter volume and dropping revenue. But wouldn’t fewer letters mean faster delivery?  I guess not, and it sounds like for now anyway, we should not look forward to any improvements in delivery times.

I bring this up because I continue to see companies -- many of them financial institutions -- that are still using direct mail to get their marketing messages out there. I may not know if DeJoy’s plan can save the postal service, but I do know this:  The key to marketing effectively is “the five rights”:  get the right message to the right person at the right time in the right place in the right way. That’s a lot of “rights,” I know, but in order to be effective, this is what it takes. In today’s economy, with supply chains and scarcity of materials slowing the production of all sorts of products, does it make a lot of sense to market those products with direct mail?  Recently I received a mailer that got me interested in the product; that’s the good news. The bad news? When I went to purchase it, it was already out of stock and backordered for an indefinite period of time. Why market products you can’t sell?  Lately, when I get a direct mail piece from a bank that touts, say, an interest rate, I can’t help but think that that rate has gone up a quarter point while that postcard was in the mail!  The upshot?  Follow the five rights and make use of media that can offer you the speed and efficiency that effective messaging requires: email campaigns and social media, for instance.  If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about digital marketing, social in particular, we’re here to help. Another potential benefit of not using the mail? Say you’re still printing and mailing statements to customers.  You may want to encourage them to go paperless; one, because their statement is weeks old by the time they get it and two, you can save a lot of money by going paperless.

Believe me, I love getting letters in the mail. Who doesn’t? As an ad guy, I have always loved direct mail. It can be a powerful marketing communication tool and I think, should always be part of your marketing mix. However, I would steer clear in the short term. Unless you can get that Christmas Club promotion postcard in the mail next week.

What do you think?  As always, I welcome your thoughts!

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, relevant, and compelling communication that will help you build trust, relationships, and with them, your brand. All while saving you time and money.

To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to in-branch brochures and signage – visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


Customer Service. Can Technology Fix It?

A lot has been written lately about how banks and credit unions need “digital transformation” to succeed.  Is that true?  Sure. If you don’t offer a great app or online banking services, you may as well turn your branch locations into coffee shops.  Note: Some are pretty close to that now!?

But how about customer service?

You know, the best personalized digital banking experience in the world isn’t going to help you keep (or earn) a customer if you abandon customer service. 

This is, of course, a problem across every industry at the moment… probably most notably in food service. The futureofcommerce.com, in “2021 customer service trends: Doubling down, post-pandemic,” states that “this year has put the spotlight on customer service as businesses grappled with an influx of calls from distressed customers as well as wide-ranging disruptions to their operations.” I’m sure you’ve experienced it, too.

While I don’t do fast food very often, I was just recently in a burger joint drive thru where I was told that the wait might be extra long because there weren’t enough employees working.  There was even a handwritten note taped on the drive thru window glass (I’m surprised that letters cut out of a newspaper weren’t used) asking patrons to “not lose it with the worker at the window. It’s not their fault that the food takes so long.” At a local restaurant, I was told that even though the dining room was empty that my wait would be close to thirty minutes. The reason?  Only one server.  When I asked if they were hiring, the hostess told me “yes, we’ve been trying but we can’t get anyone to work.”  On the other hand, get in a Chick-fil-A drive thru line and you can pretty much bet on having your food -- even where there are a dozen cars ahead of you -- in just 5 to 10 minutes.  Which is probably why the line at Chick-fil-A is 12 cars deep and the one at the burger joint is non-existent; and you still have to wait 15 minutes to get food you didn’t order! 

Now, onto online businesses. As for seeking help over the phone for issues I’ve had with some of my favorite e-commerce sites, well, “fuggedaboutit,” as Joey Peeps used to say. Canva, for example.  Canva throws everything but the kitchen sink onto their website in hopes that they’ve covered everything. Unfortunately, like most e-commerce sites, the word “support” doesn’t even make the top navigation. Instead, if you scroll all the way down to the footer, you’ll find -- somewhere under what they call “Resources,” I think -- answers to “commonly asked” questions.  What happens if your question isn’t commonly asked?  It doesn’t get answered, and there is no one to call to get it answered, either.

Then there are those companies that do go the extra couple hundred yards and offer an 800 number for customer service. If you can actually wait long enough to simply get a recorded, audio-animatronic response, it usually starts with “Thank you for your patience.” I’m not sure what makes these people think I’m being patient; I’m not. I’m not just calling to say hello.  I’m calling because I need help and urgently. The shopping cart won’t accept my card, my login credentials aren’t working, an item I want to order is out of stock and I’d like to know when it will be back in stock… Then the recorded customer service person goes through a litany of things that I could have done, rather than try getting someone on the phone.  “If this is a medical emergency, call 9-1-1. Did you know that you can visit us online?”  Yes, I did. In fact, that’s why I’m calling; your online isn’t working!  And this old standby: “This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes.”  Obviously, no quality or training is going on here, so I’m not sure what the point of that is. One of my favorites is “press 1 for English”. Unfortunately, more often than not, the person you’ll finally get to speak with is probably in another country, and however well intended, does not speak English as their first language.

A bright spot in all this?  My community bank. Can we say small community bank? I love these people.  Why is their customer service so much better than everything else out there that I’m encountering?  I don’t know the behind-the-scenes, but I do appreciate the result:  A friendly and knowledgeable individual who answers the phone within about four rings.  Even if they told me that there was absolutely nothing that they could do to help, I’d still appreciate it. That’s because, well, at least it’s something.  Futureofcommerce.com also makes this observation, which I found interesting: “After a challenging year, organizations are looking to the potential of this alignment -- between sales and service -- to improve customer experience, increase revenue, and reduce cost. Too often, customer service is seen as a separate unit, triggered when something goes wrong and customers complain. This mindset causes businesses to miss out on growth opportunities. Aligning sales and service helps customer service agents deliver more personalized customer experiences, which naturally leads to better business outcomes. Also, agents with insight into how customers have interacted with sales teams have increased upsell and cross-selling opportunities.”

Is the balancing act that companies walk in controlling customer service costs without sacrificing service quality a tough one?  Absolutely. I’m even a bit reluctant to say this, since a reliance on technologies helped get us into this customer service mess in the first place, but maybe technology can offer the solution. With intelligent technologies like machine learning and the Internet of Things, companies can automate routine tasks like ticket categorizations, giving service agents more time to focus on value-added interactions with customers in need.

Slaask.com in “5 Ways to Improve Customer Happiness Through Technology:” “Now that we have so many ways to contact customers, there’s really no excuse for businesses to have a poor communication model. The best thing about having so many forms of technology available is that you can connect with customers through their favorite communication media. For example, there’s a huge majority of customers today that would rather use live chat to communicate.”  Hmmm. My experience with live chat has been less than stellar. Instead of chatting with a live human, I end up with an AI “chat bot” who can do little more than greet me, then redirect me to another useless page on their website. Or, my question gets referred, finally, to a real human being who, unfortunately, proves to be no more help than the robot.

In the end, I just don’t know.  Can technology fix the problem?  Maybe. What do you think?  As always, I welcome your thoughts!

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, relevant, and compelling communication that will help you build trust, relationships, and with them, your brand. All while saving you time and money.

To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to in-branch brochures and signage –  visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.



Introducing Martech Without the Migraine.


Just in case you stepped away from your computer for a few minutes, marketing technology or martech, describes the software and technology used to attract and retain customers. There’s been a lot of talk about it, and rightfully so. According to HubSpot’s recent article, “What Marketing Leaders are Investing in This Year”, 60% of marketers indicated that they are set to increase their marketing technology spending in the next 12 months. The reason, of course, is that investments in marketing technology are the solution du jour when it comes to a financial institution’s ability to, as HubSpot puts it, “retain and delight their audiences and react at speed when necessary. And the options are vast. As of 2020, there are 8,000 different martech tools to choose from, ranging from data analytics platforms to CRMs, to internal team collaboration tools.”

Now, the need for better data analytics, automated processes, and collaboration tools has been around for quite some time.  With the changes we’re seeing from COVID-19, and the trend toward virtual officing, that need has increased significantly. The processes, and the personnel, that facilitated the concepting and execution of marketing messaging no longer live under one roof.  With stakeholders scattered -- the usual players such as product development, sales, brand, and creative -- it’s just no longer possible to simply get together in a conference room and “hammer things out.”

What’s the solution?  Marketing technology. Well, unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that.  As  Laurie Busby pointed out in her Financial Brand article, “Marketing Automation Doesn’t Have to End in Costly Failure, marketing automation can, unfortunately, end in costly failure. “Some financial institutions are so eager to enter the martech world that they let themselves be sold deluxe software packages and empty promises. Many such teams sign on with tech-giant platforms that charge monstrous upfront costs and require exhaustive training. Months later — sometimes longer — these institutions still won’t have the software up and running. Without the right support, these once enthusiastic folks find themselves stuck wading through massive “bloatware” platforms. No one on their teams has the bandwidth to train new users on properly, let alone manage. Worst of all, they find themselves no closer to their goals and can’t demonstrate any ROI to their key stakeholders.”

First Interstate, a community bank headquartered in Billings, Montana with more than 150 offices across Idaho, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming, solved this challenge with a private label portal from BankMarketingCenter.com.

“As a large community regional bank with a diversified suite of financial products and services, we knew that we needed a way to get branded, compliant, approved messaging out into the marketplace in an efficient, cost-effective manner. That led us to BankMarketingCenter.com and the development of a private label portal.”

- Sara Becker, SVP, Director, Marketing & Communications

First Interstate’s portal is a custom designed, automated system that organizes assets, streamlines the review process, tracks projects at every stage of development, archives the entire project process from start to finish, offers high quality templates along with thousands of images, and ensures both information accuracy and brand standards compliance. 

“Anything going through our agency was expensive and had a long turnaround time; sometimes as long as two weeks. And, we could never be sure that the information in those materials was current and compliant. When we access materials in the portal, we know that the information in those templates is current and that it meets compliance demands.”

-  Rhianna H. Tretin, Marketing & PR Specialist

BankMarketingCenter.com allows First Interstate Bank to get their marketing message out quickly, efficiently, and always on brand. Through the portal, the bank’s 1,200 users can access approved, branded materials and customize them in seconds to target their local markets and then have them downloaded or electronically delivered to the approved vendor. The software also builds in controls from a budget and compliance standpoint since there are levels of access and approval for different users. Once a marketing product is ordered, the technology automatically routes the request through marketing/compliance for approval. Once approved, the product is sent directly to the bank’s approved printer or media outlet. 

By working with BankMarketingCenter.com, First Interstate Bank can maintain control of their brand image and empower team members at the local level with high quality, professionally created ads and marketing materials they can customize. The portal has helped the bank save thousands of dollars in marketing costs, facilitate compliance, and respond more quickly to demands for marketing materials. And the bank anticipates that this trend will continue as it expands its use of their customized private label portal.

Busby concludes with this thought: “That is why when choosing a platform and package, you must not only consider your marketing needs, but also ensure that meeting them with martech falls within the scope of your department’s capabilities. Throughout the selection process, remember your end goal: You are aiming for better, personalized communication and smarter use of your team’s capabilities. The right software is out there — you just may need to poke around before you find it.”

We couldn’t agree more.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, relevant, and compelling communication that will help you build trust, relationships, and with them, your brand. All while saving you time and money.

To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to in-branch brochures and signage – visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


The Right Marketing Resource is Out There… If You Can Find It.

There’s no doubt that the gig worker pool has grown. According to Upwork, “the U.S. freelance or “gig” workforce is growing faster than the overall U.S. workforce, outpacing overall U.S. workforce growth at a rate 3x faster. Freelancers are expected to be the majority of the U.S. workforce by 2027, based on growth rates witnessed in the past year.” And it’s no surprise. While gig workers are finding the independent contractor lifestyle appealing, businesses are enjoying the savings they’re realizing from a reduced workforce.

Hiring marketing talent, or any talent for that matter, can certainly have its challenges.  The hiring process is time-consuming and costly, and studies have time and time again shown that nearly 50% of new hires don’t last more than 18 months. As a result, the marketing professionals at smaller, community banks are looking to external providers; ad agencies, design firms, and, of course, the gig worker.

These service providers are not inexpensive.  Long term, retainer relationships with ad agencies, for instance, are tough due to shifting budgets, market conditions, workload, and more. “Project-based” relationships aren’t easy, either. They’re expensive, too and can require a significant investment of your time, as well. Then, there’s the freelancer; the individual who is usually “repped” by an Upwork, Freelancer, or Fiverr… or a recruiting/talent management firm such as Robert Half or Creative Circle. Here, since gig workers are less expensive than ad agencies and design firms, there’s an opportunity to, perhaps, save some money and get the work you need done. 

While I can’t claim to have had experience with all of these resources, I’ve had more than my fair share with some and, in general, the talent I’ve seen is pretty good.  Some quite good, in fact.  But the point is this:  Finding the right freelance help is not about talent. 

Say your bank is launching a new product or service. Perhaps you’ve just re-designed your website to radically improve your customer’s digital banking experience. You now need a multi-channel campaign to get that message out:  In-branch signage, social media messaging, press releases, print and online advertising, a drip email campaign, and blogs. You don’t want to engage an outside agency because of the cost so you take on the role of marketing “general contractor,” and hire the freelancers you need with the goal of managing them just as a contractor would manage the electricians, dry wallers, plumbers, etc. in constructing a new home.

First, you need to find the right individuals for the job. That, in itself, can be your fulltime job for weeks. Here, for example, is what you’ll find on Fiverr in your search for someone who can put together an animated video:

“I’ll do an amazing, animated explainer video for you… starting at $120.”

“I will create an animated explainer video… starting at $5.”

“I’ll do a great animation video for your business… starting at $2500.”

So, after a somewhat exhaustive search that involves judging their creative and strategic-thinking abilities, as well as widely differing pricing, you identify your team. Once you’ve worked with them on their availabilities (add another week of discussion) and they’ve all “cleared their decks” to start work on your campaign, you then need to get them ramped up not just on your campaign parameters, but on your brand. Your deadline still looms.  You’ve gotten them on-boarded and they’re on the job.  Your front-end web developer suddenly needs to go out of town while at about the same time, your copywriter takes on another project that pays better but “can still do what you need.”  Your project’s schedule and timeline have now gone out the window and several of your team members are having scheduling issues. Your “new and improved” digital experience is, unfortunately, no longer that “new.”

You get the picture, I’m sure. As the old adage goes, it’s sometimes easier to do something yourself then to try to explain what you need to someone else. And this can certainly be true when working with hired guns, no matter how talented they are. They’re not employees, so you can’t manage their schedules. Nor have you really gotten to know “how” they work. You know “what” they can do, but skill sets are often not as critical as attitude. 

Freelancers go through a process that, like The Seven Stages of Grief, we can call The Five Stages of Project Work.

1) Initial conversation where parameters and compensation and are agreed upon; both parties are excited

2) First deliverable not up to snuff; freelancer pushes back on critique

3) Timeline changes, forcing all to re-arrange their schedules; freelancer is privately wondering if he/she did the right thing by taking on the gig

4) Second deliverable not up to snuff; freelancer feeling truly demotivated at this juncture

5) Issue of compensation arises with “scope” change; freelancer actively looking for another project.  Yours is now relegated to “if I have time” status

Now, having said all of the above, I’ll also say this. Not every creative project goes this way. Some, by stroke of luck, act of God, whatever you want to call it, go smooth as silk; the work is great, deadlines are met, everyone’s happy. But, when you’ve invested in a product or service worth marketing, and you’re investing more in the messaging around it, can you afford to gamble on talent you’ve probably just met?

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, relevant, and compelling communication that will help you build trust, relationships, and with them, your brand. All while saving you time and money.

To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to in-branch brochures and signage –  visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.



Free Stock Photos Often Come with a Price.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s an adage that, in my personal experience anyway, has proven all too true. Whether it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal on a pre-owned automobile, a “ground floor” investment opportunity, or the “right around the corner” date when I’ll finally be able to get my COVID-19 vaccine, I’ve learned over the years to take such barely believable opportunities with a grain of salt. This brings me to the promises that companies are making when it comes to the use of stock photography.

The reason I bring this up is that 1) my business relies on the use of stock photography, 2) I’ve been hearing a lot about this lately from my financial industry friends, and 3) I hate seeing people get taken advantage of.

Here’s an example. Right now, many banks and credit unions are promoting their mobile banking and thinking that it’s okay to use a photo of an iPhone with an Apple logo on it. That’s because there are stock photo suppliers out there that will tell you it’s okay. Truth is, it isn’t… okay, that is. Apple states this pretty clearly in their Trademark Guidelines: “Only Apple and its authorized resellers and licensees may use the Apple Logo in advertising, promotional, and sales materials.”  Of course, if your marketing department is planning on using it in your advertising, well, that – as Apple states – is very illegal and could put you in legal jeopardy.  (Note: Any major brand is going to have similar trademark restrictions and you must always remain aware of the fact that such use is commercial use, not personal, and the rights, restrictions and fees associated with commercial use are much different from those that apply to personal use.)

Now, you’ll probably find this amusing. I know I did. I did some research into stock photo websites – their available images, how to use them, how much they cost, etc. – and here are some of the things I found. 

Check out this quote from a site I came across when I conducted a Google search using the phrase “royalty-free images”. This comes from a site that supposedly guides you to the best stock image resources around:

“But don’t fret, my friend! Free stock photos are easy to find if you know where to look. Grab this list of over 80 places to get royalty-free images. However, while there are places to find copyright-free images, you need to understand the legalese to avoid getting into trouble using stock photography that requires additional licensing. We are not saying these sites have 100% risk-free images. What we say is theirs are safer than the rest.”

Not exactly helpful, is it? I found this info on another site that supposedly provides guidance in using stock images:

“No free stock photo site can guarantee the author (the uploader) has the appropriate releases on file, so you have to do that instead and do your own diligent research. Or just stay away from photos that are on thin ice or just flat out dangerous to use and choose more generic ones, with non-identifiable people or property.”

Now, I don’t want to name names, but this quotation is from the License Agreement section of Canva’s website. Canva is a very popular web-based design application that gives you the ability to create your own ad designs utilizing an image resource called Pro Stock Media, which states:

“While we have made reasonable efforts to correctly categorize, keyword, caption and title the Stock Media, Canva does not warrant the accuracy of such information and Canva also does not warrant the accuracy of any metadata that may be provided with the Stock Media. If you want to end this agreement you don’t have to get Arnold Schwarzenegger involved. Just shred any printed copies of the design and delete any files related to the design. We can change this license whenever we want. If anyone takes legal action over any Stock Media you are using, you must stop using the Stock Media, delete or remove the Stock Media, and let us know about it.”

Okay, so now that Canva has made it clear (sort of) that they take no responsibility whatsoever for what they’ve just told you, they’re then going to confuse you further with other parameters that you maybe should or shouldn’t be concerned about:

  • Your final designs can be no larger than 600px by 800px
  • You cannot remove any embedded copyright notices from the stock image.
  • You cannot use the stock images in a way that competes with Canva
  • You cannot use the stock images identified as relating to events that are newsworthy or of general interest and expressly excludes any advertorial sections

We reached out to a couple of the photographers that have photos on Canva and asked them if they have releases on their iPhone photos. We received responses similar to this one: “Unfortunately I don’t, which is why I don’t sell this photo (and instead I give it away for free).”

If all of this sounds confusing, and perhaps even a bit frightening, that’s because it is. What’s really frightening, however, is that with companies like Canva, that tell you that you can use their images without getting sued, well, you can end up getting sued. What do you do then?  Just follow Canva’s advice, “You don’t have to get Arnold Schwarzenegger involved. Just shred any printed copies of the design and delete any files related to the design.” Then, since that advice is completely worthless, get yourself a good lawyer as your bank or credit could be on the proverbial hook for damages; in which case, even Arnold probably won’t be able to help you.

About Bank Marketing Center

Here at BankMarketingCenter.com, our goal is to help you with that vital, topical and compelling communications with your customers and prospective customers; messaging that will help you build trust, relationships, and with them, your brand. In customizing our layouts, you'll have access to thousands of images. Since we have a relationship with the stock image provider, you can use any image you choose, worry free. To view our marketing creative, both print and digital – ranging from product and brand ads to in-branch brochures and signage –  visit bankmarketingcenter.com. Or, you can contact me directly by phone at 678-528-6688 or email at nreynolds@bankmarketingcenter.com. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.