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Fans Not Customers

  • 23 October, 2014

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to Vernon Hill, founder of Metro Bank(UK), Commerce Bancorp and PetPlan (US). He is an atypical banker who answers questions directly with great humor. Reading his opinions on the world of banking and business, you would be forgiven for thinking that he is a twenty-something, converse wearing, VC backed, San Francisco based start-up founder. He is actually a suit wearing businessman in his seventies. What struck me most was that the values he extols in banking represent the cultural characteristics that credit unions should be focused on.

Dogs are welcome in Metro Bank branches; they even have water bowls and treats for the dogs. Employees remember the names of their customers' pets. This can easily be dismissed as a gimmick but the underlying principle is profound. Find what is important to your customers and embrace it. Your customers will appreciate it and become a fan. A fan will be loyal and promote your business and drive growth in your organization. The principle applies beyond dogs and cats and can be aligned to the culture of your institution and the culture of the locality. For example children are important to your members, how do you show that you also value them? Do you sponsor the softball team, put toys in the branches, distribute savings boxes, teach financial education in schools? It is likely you do many of these things without understanding why and without creating the individual connections. Your connector does not have to be family; it could be cars, sports, technology, music or a myriad of other connectors. Metro Bank is known for how it treats your dog, what unique cultural characteristics is your institution known for?

Metro Bank has "Magic Money Machines". This should not be confused with what most children think their parents have, it is actually just a coin counter. It is available free of charge to both customers and non customers. Many financial institutions would baulk at the thought of providing a free service to non-customers and yet spend millions advertising and promoting their brand to get the attention of non-customers. Providing this service provides a fantastic opportunity to create a customer or member relationship for what is a relatively low cost.

Financial services are a cut-throat business that many would argue is on a race to the bottom. Large billboards advertise loan rates, credit card rates and deposit rates. Believe it or not, there is more to a customer decision than price and Vernon Hill has proved this and then proved it again. Reliability, trust, accessibility, flexibility, interaction and understanding are all qualities that are so important to your members that they are willing to pay for them. Paying for these does not usually mean fees, it may a lower rate.

This all makes sense but do not be fooled in to thinking it is easy, it requires a cultural evolution where all of your employees execute the vision every day with every interaction. Executing phenomenal customer or member experience is a process that is all about people. Credit unions are all about people, both members and employees. Your members and your community do not need a "me too" of what the big banks provide, they want a personalized local service. They want to be fans of the "local team"; you need to give them the reasons to be a fan.

Vernon Hill does not conform to the title of "banker", he is an entrepreneur that understands that people and emotions build brands which build value. For a more coherent insight you should read his book – Fans Not Customers.