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Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Volume 16 | # 368
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The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you're playing by somebody else's rules, while quietly playing by your own." » Michael Korda

Projecting the Right Image

I was reminded last week that the efforts of even one engaged employee can compensate for the incompetence and/or disinterest of a larger "team."

I was in the market for a projector to use for the various Cub Scout and PTA responsibilities I've been roped into (uh…volunteered for) this year.

After an online search, I was pretty confused. I didn’t want to spend too much for a unit with more bells and whistles than I needed. But I didn’t want to throw money away on a cheaper unit that wouldn’t meet my needs.

I made the dangerous decision to seek the advice of salespeople at the largest electronics store in our market. When I got to the “home theater” section, I found over a dozen projectors on display.

The fun began as salespeople walked up to “help” me. When I asked the first two what they could tell me about the projectors, they actually began reading the shelf tags.

Apparently, they thought my problem was an inability to read.

When the third young man, John, approached, he didn’t seem to be much more informed. But he was honest. He told me, “You know, unfortunately, we don’t get enough training on these things. People end up just thinking that the most expensive ones are better…but I don’t think that’s always the case.”

Over the course of the next 20 minutes, he helped test several models and twice jogged back (a long jog) to the warehouse to get models that weren’t on display. I may be a sucker for genuine effort because I found myself okay with the fact that this kid was learning about his products at the same time I was.

But he was sincerely tying to help me.

After reviewing a half dozen or so models, I bought one that wasn't even on display. John then did a little research and got me a $50 discount (over the initial objection of an uninformed "floor manager") that I hadn't even factored into my decision.

I walked out of the store feeling like I had gotten a good deal.

What could have easily been a wasted and relationship-killing trip to this store became a positive one for all involved.

Don't get me wrong. Employees should know more about their products than customers. (A crazy concept, I know.) But in the end, customers respond to honesty, genuine effort, and personal service.

How will your team project itself this week?

A Simpler Focus

A recent column in American Banker gave me a sense of déjà vu. The piece by Heather Landy discussed how a small bank some folks may have heard of called Citibank is on a drive to simplify its checking account offerings.

Going forward, Citi plans on limiting its checking account line to just three choices. They'll offer a basic, mid-tier, and premium account with fees and waivers based on simplified balance and transaction criteria.

Landy sums up many folks' thinking in the first line of her column with, "Sometimes a business decision seems so deeply rooted in common sense that it's hard to imagine why things were ever done differently."

I agree with her that this decision seems wise and screams of common sense.

But I don't think it's hard to figure out why our product menus end up making even Starbucks' seem limited. (By the way, if your Starbucks order involves more than 5 directions, seek help. Coffee, and life, shouldn't be that complicated. I'm just saying.)

Over time, we've become convinced that "customization" is a driving factor of customer satisfaction. Sure, there is obviously value in individualizing a product or service to varying degrees. What happens too often, however, is that we create something akin to "analysis paralysis" in customers. Too many choices increase a customer's perceived risk that he will make the wrong choice.

Years ago, a friend of mine running a large in-store program shared their "amazing" jump in new account openings when they chose to take most of their bank's 11 different checking accounts off of their menu board.

The bank still offered 11, but the in-stores promoted only 4 of them. New DDA openings jumped 20% in those branches within 90 days.

It was nothing magic. People simply had fewer, clearer choices, and it was easier for employees to be "expert" on 4 accounts than on 11. 

I haven't spoken to her about that issue for several years now. But if you made me bet, I'd wager that their menu offering today is again closer to 11 than to 4. There's a natural tendency to want to offer everything to everybody. Whether or not that becomes a net positive or negative in customers' decision processes is debatable.

In an increasingly complex and cluttered world, are you bringing more confusion or clarity to customers? Hopefully, the answer is a simple one.

Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats. » Howard Aiken

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