Building Trust Beyond the Branch

Customer service has been a large part of a bank’s strategy to build trust among consumers. Despite the bad press banks have been receiving, their ability to provide high level customer service at branches has been an integral part of their relationship building strategy. As a customer, I’m always suspiciously pleased by the exceptional friendliness of the tellers and their interest to make small talk while completing transactions. This strategy has been an effective way for banks to get consumers to trust them, and I often find myself leaving branches feeling somewhat more popular than I was before the transaction.

However, over the past few years, two things have been happening that have increased the need for banks to promote trust outside of their customer service strategy. Firstly, with the increase in ATM capabilities, and technological improvements with online and mobile banking, fewer customers want to make that trip to the branch to complete their daily interactions. This means that fewer customers are benefiting from the highly trained branch personnel and bonding with their bank on a weekly basis.

Secondly, and more importantly, to say consumer sentiment of banks has soured over the past few years is a huge understatement. While the blame for the financial crisis will always be thrown around among banks, regulators, and consumers, one fact is clear: customers have lost trust in financial institutions. A study earlier this year by PEW confirmed this sentiment by finding that 47% of American’s don’t trust banks, and this is a serious problem considering banks are often asking customers to trust them with their life’s savings and financial decisions.

In the wake of the financial crisis, banks and financial providers have some big hurdles to conquer if they want to continue to grow their customer base and keep them happy. They need to build consumer trust again and convince people they are on their side. And having friendly branch staff might not be enough to cut it anymore.

To build trust successfully, providers need to go beyond the frontline staff and think about providing products that build consumers trust. As the Compass Principles recommend, products and services should be designed to help consumers clearly understand and derive value from their financial products and services. The marketplace today is flooded by products that aim to take advantage of consumers by charging fees or setting consumers up for failure. By providing transparent and reliable products that consumers can depend on, financial providers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves among competitors and build consumer confidence and trust for long-term relationships.

There are some great examples of providers who have integrated a sense of trust into their products. Cardtronics, one of the largest ATM providers, aims to provide relevant support to customers before, during, and after every transaction by offering transactional advice in locating an ATM and suggesting ways to reduce fees. ZestCash, an online lender, differentiates itself from other small dollar short-term lenders by allowing customers the ability to design their own repayment plans and rewarding positive repayment through cheaper loans. NetSpend, a successful provider of reloadable prepaid cards, clearly outlines its fees on its website and promotes savings by offering competitive interest rates. These kinds of product designs help signal to consumers that providers are looking out for their best interest and providing a product that meets their needs without penalizing them inappropriately.

These are only a few of many providers in the marketplace today finding new and innovative ways to build trust among customers. I encourage readers to share their own experiences and best practices for how providers can continue to design products that customers can trust.

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