The Customer Effect
Send flowers: How banks are wooing customers with personal gifts
- Facing increased competition, banks are rushing to personalize the customer experience through gifts and random acts of kindness.
- Analysts say these efforts are important elements of customer acquisition and retention.
Talking to a bank customer service representative is something many customers dread -- except when they help chip in for your broken bike, host your wedding or send flowers after a breakup. Capital One customer and Pittsburgh resident Christina Grady, who was going through a difficult time after a breakup, phoned Capital One's call center last year after her credit card was shut down due to suspicious activity. Tonya, the customer service agent, did more than just reactivate the card. She gave Grady miles to use on a vacation and sent flowers. Grady posted her story on Facebook, and it went viral on social media. Tonya and Grady met for the first time as guests on Ellen DeGeneres' show last September. Banks are increasingly trying to forge a human connection with customers through what they call a "surprise and delight" customer experience strategy. This means empowering customer service agents to go the extra mile to make a connection with the customer. "Surprise and delight -- this is what empowers associates to bring humanity to banking," said Joseph Whitchurch, Capital One’s head of customer experience and innovation for small cards, speaking at the Customer Experience for Financial Services Conference in Boston earlier this week. "Every single one of us, whatever our job is, has the power to reach out and impact these customers." Through this approach, Whitchurch said, Capital One decided to let front-end service representatives send small gifts to customers or mark life milestones with cards (though birthday cards aren't allowed). Employees can go on Amazon and Etsy to find the gift that best suits the occasion. (Whitchurch said most gifts offered by service agents are under $10.) It's a tactic that seems to be working, with customers sending hundreds of thank-you notes each month, along with birth announcements and event invitations. "It was really profound; we hadn't developed operational processes when customers called in to get them transferred to the right agent to say thank you," Whitchurch said. "There are customers who are insistent that they're not going to get off the phone until they talk to the CEO and say how great this random stranger was." Other big banks like TD are trying to nurture relationships through customer appreciation days and social media campaigns like #TDThanksYou. historically had been in a position where they could dictate the terms of experience," said Latimore. "Fintech companies and other tech-driven companies have raised the bar on customer experience, and in so doing, changed customer expectations." Photo: Umpqua Bank employees in Modesto, California, chip in for a new bike after a man's bike was destroyed in a nearby accident. (Courtesy of Umpqua Bank)