The Advantage Letter by Dave Martin
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Saturday, October 01, 2011
Volume 17 | # 393
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Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. » Leroy Satchel Paige

Putting on the Ritz

I witnessed two service gestures last week at companies on opposite ends of the "luxury scale" that made equally positive impressions.

The first happened at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. Frankly, it's hard for those guys to surprise anyone with great experiences. You expect them.

What made me smile was that this positive impression had nothing to do with luxurious facilities. It had everything to do with personal gestures that show customers that they are the company's focus.

In the morning they place an iced bowl filled with bottles of water just inside the hotel's Canal Street entrance. An engraved sign on the cart reads, "Welcome back joggers." When I investigated, I saw that they had also printed cards with 3 and 5 mile running maps that steered joggers through more scenic (and by my assessment) safer areas of town.

Even folks not interested in jogging on a humid New Orleans morning smiled at the gesture as they walked by. It cost the Ritz-Carlton relatively little to reinforce to passersby that customers of the hotel are truly "personal guests" of the hotel.

Later in the week, I was in a considerably less luxurious operation called Food Town. It's a small grocery store in my hometown that doesn't exactly cater to the wine-and-cheese crowd.

As I walked to the registers, I noticed two young cashiers standing in front to show their lanes were open. They were deep in conversation.

But as I approached, one smiled and said, "I'll get you right here, Sir." As soon as she did, the other young lady ran around to bag the groceries. When the first cashier saw her doing that, she kidded, "You're not a bag boy. Where are they?"

The second cashier replied, "They're collecting carts outside. But I've got it covered. Don't make this man wait on a bag boy." As basic as that gesture was, I made a point to smile at the second cashier and say, "I appreciate a team player."

The Ritz-Carlton and Food Town couldn't be more dissimilar in the businesses they are in, their target demographics, or the type of facilities in which they operate. But in their own way, they delivered simple service gestures that showed their priorities are thinking about and taking care of customers.

What simple gestures or services can you and your team(s) perform today to remind customers of why they continue to do business with you?

Now That You Have Their Attention

One of my favorite topics when addressing groups is how our level of enthusiasm and outlook on business (and life in general) on any given day are greatly influenced by the things we consciously choose to focus on that day.

Something that should have bankers a bit concerned these days is the "woe is us" meme that has overcome so many of us. The economy is bad. New regulations are onerous and capricious.

The sky isn't simply falling. It's pelting us with rocks!

It's easy these days to find all the reports, surveys, or expert opinions needed to build a great case for poor results. But I worry that some folks are spending more time and effort in preparing excuses for poor performance than in making the necessary (and sometimes overdue) changes required in an increasingly evolving industry.

I'm not trying to belittle the real challenges our industry and individual companies have in front of us. And I'm an absolute believer that competent folks should be mentally prepared and have contingency plans for when setbacks occur.

But times of tumult are also times of opportunity. I've long suggested to bankers that their toughest competition is customers' human nature. Folks have a tendency to become entrenched.  Many customers who have been with a bank for some period of time simply aren't shopping for a new one.

We don't sell products or services that folks run low on or run out of. We don't sell perishables or products that get used up. No one is walking by a branch today thinking, "As soon as I use up what I have left of XYZ bank, I'm going to give these other guys a try."

We are almost always in the position of having to prod folks to even think about their banking situation before we can get them to consider us.

Whether or not it's for reasons of our choosing, the status quo is under assault these days. No one doubts that banks and their services are as important today as they have ever been. The need for and the importance of what we provide is not in question. Folks are simply (practically being forced into) taking notice of what they get for what they pay.

That's not terrible news for folks with solid value propositions. Now is the time to truly make your case to existing and potential customers of why you're the best choice for them, regardless of price.

They're paying attention now. What are you saying to them?

The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you're not going to stay where you are. » John Pierpont Morgan

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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