A recent conversation with an area manager gave me a strong sense of déjà vu. I found myself reflecting on how many times through the years I’ve been asked for tips for bankers to generate “quality conversations" with potential customers.
I usually try to explain to frontline bankers that the biggest obstacle to a quality conversation is confusing who it is that gets to decide what a quality conversation is.
Many branch bankers (and the folks they report to) seem to think that only a conversation that involves a financial services topic is a “quality” (productive) conversation.
To make a point, I like to ask a few simple questions. I laugh at the consistent answers I get from groups when I ask, “What do people like talking about most?” Collectively, they say, “Themselves.”
I then ask, “What do they often enjoy talking about even more than that?” Instantly, folks say, “Their kids!” When I immediately say, “And…” they shout, “Grandkids!” or “Pets!”
I then respectfully suggest that a quality conversation is one in which customers get to talk about themselves…or their kids…or their grandkids… or their pets… or anything they really enjoy talking about.
What they might enjoy talking to you about at this moment may not include anything on your bank's list today. And that's okay.
I’m quick to point out to the more cynical among us not to undervalue “small talk”. When we show customers that we’re most interested in hearing about the things that are important to them, we begin to build real relationships.
Existing and potential customers begin to think of us as the kind of people to speak with about issues that matter most to them.
The more "small talk" we have, the more we learn, and the more able we are to converse intelligently on their favorite subject – themselves. (I'm not being snarky. It's a pretty universal trait.)
A great facet of human nature is that most folks like to reciprocate friendly gestures. When we take a few minutes to let folks talk or explain or brag about what’s important to them, they’ll usually return the favor.
Then, you get the chance to talk about yourself (or bank) - and you’ve been invited to do so.
How many folks can you get to tell you about themselves or their families or pets or hobbies today?
It may be "small talk", but it has big impact.
My wife and I have been contemplating having our kitchen remodeled. On cue, our oven kicked the bucket. My wife researched ovens online and by visiting several stores. She decided on an oven and narrowed the store choices to two.
The quoted prices for the appliances and installation were almost identical, so she went with the store that had the most helpful employee in their appliance department. A couple of days later, an installer arrived with our new oven and microwave.
After he removed the existing oven, he informed my wife that our space was too small for the new unit.
She immediately questioned him about the size of the oven. She had measured it herself and conferred with the salesman.
The installer explained, "Yes, mam. This is the right model. But the manufacturers change the outside specs on these things every few years. We're going to need to do some carpentry work in order to make the oven fit."
When my wife asked how much extra it would cost, she was told it would be another $175 for a "customized" installation. A bit perturbed, she asked him, "How often does this happen?"
The installer sheepishly said, "Mam, I can't remember the last installation that we didn't have to make cuts. All of the homes around here old enough to be replacing ovens have spaces that don’t fit the new models."
She continued, "Is this a secret to the guys at the store?" He said, "No, Mam. We tell them. And I wish they would tell customers because you guys are always surprised, and I get screamed at a lot."
Facing the prospect of an uninstalled oven sitting in the kitchen, my wife gave him the okay and paid what was almost double the quoted price for installation. And that store instantly entered her "dead to me" list.
Instead of having a leg up in soon getting a kitchen-remodel job, they lost a customer.
Heck, the installation price may have been fair for the work done. And the installer was a nice guy, and he did a good job. But feeling misled trumped any positive aspects of the purchase. Had the salesman at least mentioned the chance of an extra charge, it wouldn't have been an issue.
Instead, he chose to be less than forthright to make a sale. And he lost a much larger one because of it.
Make sure that your customers never have to wonder if they're getting the whole story from you.