A Customer’s Perspective on Engagement

When was the last time you actually walked into your bank branch? Something has changed. And it feels a little creepy.

For several years, I’ve had a business account with SunTrust. When I first opened the account, I was introduced to several of the local branch managers. My business account manager helped me evaluate options for the firm and offered to be a resource as we grew. It felt good. He knew me by name, and it stayed that way until he transferred to take a promotion at a larger branch. Over time, of course, tellers came and went – which is pretty much what you might expect from a bank, where employees have to act and dress as if they were paid twice what they are actually paid. So, I wasn’t surprised by the spinning Rolodex of happy faces.

Then, about a week ago, I chanced into my local branch. And as soon as the vacuum lock was broken between the foyer and the lobby, an energetic (and recently retrained) young manager leaped to her feet and raced toward me. “Welcome to SunTrust,” she said, through a forced smile. “How may we help you today?”

If I hadn’t just finished a Stephen King novel, it might have passed me by. But there I stood, face-to-face with a Brand Warrior. I smiled. (Given my occupation, I am inclined to forgive overzealous behavior. After all, it’s languor that kills most customer relationships.)

The next day, my husband and I walked into his bank. “Welcome to Wells Fargo,” chimed two eager, young manager trainees, as if calling for a fly ball to shallow left centerfield. “How may we be of service?”

“I’m just here to make a deposit,” my husband mumbled, in his charmingly inattentive way.

“Certainly!” replied the Left Fielder, “If you’ll just step up to the window, someone will be right with you.” (We would have never guessed.)

Then, yesterday, I stopped by another SunTrust branch and was greeted by – you guessed it, “Welcome to SunTrust! How may we help you today?”

Customer experience warfare.

Apparently, in this post-bail-out economy, someone is telling branch managers the best way to gain consumer loyalty is by faking the “friendly, neighborhood banker” routine.

Whatever happened to a simple but heartfelt “Good Morning, Mr. Jones”?

It’s not consistency that consumers want; it’s authenticity. Engagement cannot be forced, it must be earned. And while Brand is built slowly, with each touch-point, a disingenuous “how may we help you” is powerful enough to wash away years of progress.