By John Ruhlin, founder and CEO, Ruhlin Group
The way to a banking customer’s heart is by feeding her caffeine addiction—at least it is if you’re Frost Bank. Once a month, the company partners with local coffee shops to offer customers a free cup of joe, a gesture that helps explain Frost Bank’s consistent ranking atop the J.D. Power U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study. Free coffee might not seem like much, but the monthly treat endears customers to the bank and keeps attrition to a minimum. Considering that banks lose $750 per customer when they take their business elsewhere, according to J.D. Power findings, this simple gifting policy makes good financial sense.
Dissatisfaction is the leading cause of customer turnover, which is both good and bad news for banks. On the positive side, dissatisfaction is something you can remedy. But given how tedious it is to switch banks, you know you’ve messed up badly if people are willing to abandon your brand. Fortunately, a generous gifting strategy similar to Frost Bank’s might be enough to woo them back.
A new age of customer appreciation
Banks used to be the standard-bearers of customer appreciation. If someone opened a checking account, he might go home with a pocketful of checkbooks and a new set of silverware. Then banks became lax in their generosity. Banks tend to give out old-school swag no one wants, including many generic tchotchkes with their logos printed in the most boring font possible. People don’t care about stress balls and paperweights; in fact, they resent having more junk to clutter up their homes. You cannot make a meaningful impression with these so-called “gifts”.
Then there’s the issue of gifting strategies, which are nonexistent at most banks. A company might offer a free slow cooker or flatware set to entice people to open an account, but they don’t follow up with personalized, useful gifts throughout the lives of those relationships. Surprising customers with tokens of appreciation brightens their days and keeps them engaged with your brand. Once they know you’re in the habit of rewarding them for their loyalty, they’ll want to stick around to see what you’ll delight them with next.
TD Bank delivered the ultimate surprises to patrons with its #TDThanksYou campaign. Drawing on longtime customers’ personal data, the bank gifted them trips to visit sick relatives, vacations for their kids and once-in-a-lifetime encounters with their sports heroes. It also gave $20 bonuses to 30,000 other account holders, just to thank them for banking with TD. By choosing gifts that spoke to individual customers’ needs and circumstances, the bank proved that it cared about its customers —not just their money.
Banks as butlers, allies and friends
Banks that go above and beyond earn their clients’ loyalty by becoming indispensable parts of their lives. Some offer perks such as early access to high-profile exhibits or exclusive experiences for their most valued customers. But others quietly support their clients through trying times, forever ingratiating themselves to those individuals.
HSBC representatives helped one wealthy patron organize a funeral after a fellow traveler died tragically while they were on holiday in the Bahamas. Nedbank Private Wealth commissioned a replacement wedding ring for a client who had lost his wife’s ring after having it cleaned for her. These banks have become more than repositories for people’s money; they’re allies, and even friends.
Of course, you can’t provide butler services and free vacations to every customer. But you can do better than handing out marketing materials masquerading as gifts. Millennials, in particular, are already skeptical of banks, a side effect of coming of age as the economy collapsed. Many see traditional banks as out of touch with their preferences, viewing them as bloated bureaucracies that don’t understand how to deliver digital services. Their wariness multiplies when banks give them gifts that amount to little more than cheesy, cheap promotional materials.
A thoughtful gifting strategy can turn the tide on young customers’ negative opinions. But they’re not the only ones you’ll persuade. By surprising and delighting clients of all ages, you’ll win their long-term business and inspire them to become advocates for your bank. Here’s how to do it, no matter what your target clientele or gifting budget:
- Identify where you can be best-in-class.
You don’t have to give custom knives or a year’s worth of housekeeping services to keep customers happy—though those gifts are effective, and you might want to consider them for your VIP clients. Even everyday items such as coffee mugs can serve as a great way to thank your customers. The key is to identify what you can afford while putting a personalized spin on it.
A clay-maker once gifted my wife a beautiful coffee mug that was handcrafted and featured the story of our lives together, from our first meeting to the births of our children. It was a stunning piece of art, and my wife treasures it to this day. There was nothing novel about receiving a coffee mug, but the creativity and intention made the gift priceless.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you custom-order clay mugs for every client. But think of ways to tailor such gifts to different branches. Perhaps you commission a series of beer glasses or mugs that capture local landmarks or traditions. Maybe you team up with a minor-league baseball outfit to gift customers free tickets to a game once a season—and hot dogs and beer for good measure. The goal is to add value to people’s lives, whether that’s through a useful household item or providing a unique experience.
- Get to know your customers.
TD Bank’s campaign was remarkable because of the personalized nature of its gifts. In one instance, the company identified a customer who was helping her daughter pay for cancer treatments in their native Trinidad. To appreciate the woman for her generosity, TD Bank purchased a round-trip flight so she could spend time with her sick child. Can you imagine a more meaningful gift?
Keep tabs on your clients’ interests so you can reward them in special ways on milestones or big customer anniversaries. A high-quality yoga mat embroidered with their initials or tickets to a festival headlined by their favorite artist can make their day. People don’t often associate banks with generosity or personal attention, so tailored gifts will really blow them away.
- Give collectively useful gifts.
Take a broad view when bulk-ordering customer gifts, and focus on items most people will actually use in their daily lives. A quirky figurine or obscure kitchen tool isn’t going to go over the way a high-quality coffeemaker or camping accessory might. Depending on your location and demographics, you might offer high-tech coolers or in-demand home-entertainment gadgets.
You don’t want to sacrifice value for a wow factor, so put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What would make their daily lives a bit easier or more exciting—but that they wouldn’t necessarily buy for themselves? That’s the sweet spot you want to hit.
- Keep people guessing.
Gifts are most fun, and most appreciated, when they come as a surprise. Knowing you’ll receive a $20 bonus on your birthday every year is nice, but it’s not delightful. Give when people least expect it or when they need it most.
A customer who just made her final mortgage payment would welcome a nice bottle of congratulatory champagne, while someone who just emptied his savings account to fix his car could really use an extra $100. Pay attention to what your customers tell you and how their financial lives are progressing; then find ways to offer support at fitting yet unexpected moments.
Personalized touches don’t have to cost thousands of dollars. They just need to speak to people’s circumstances, which is why any bank can implement an effective gifting strategy. Forget about logos and bottom-of-the-barrel swag. Instead, get to know your customers and invest in gifts you know they want and need. The more you appreciate them, the more vocally loyal they’ll be.