Have a bank customer conversion coming up?

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Pick your favorite metaphor for bank acquisition conversions – heart surgery during a marathon? Tunneling with a busted teaspoon?

Why so bad? There’s plenty of blame to go around. If nothing else, conversions are insanely complicated with huge consequences for failure.

Then again, bankers have been doing this for a long time. The art and science of bank conversions could build a university. Yet still, no two conversion projects are alike and the complexity is exploding.

Conversions have become social network events. Bank acquisition conversions used to involve only the systems of the two banks. Today of course banks have to convert customers’ systems too, along with their workflows, understandings, timeframes, limits, and more. This is just one of the reasons conversion efforts are thrust into the public forum, with most of the voices coming from places over which banks have no control.

This calls for new strategies. The web demands more transparency, more searchable information, more current news, more accountability, and better engagement. Banks need to join the web culture, especially when going through a difficult conversion. The risk in not doing this is that others will take over the voice of the bank.

Here are a few approaches that are emerging. Some of these will feel awkward in an industry that has historically preferred keeping internal projects in black boxes.

#1: Aim for happy. Bankers are war torn by conversions, making conservative, under the radar approaches common. For this reason, one will often see project mission statements take the quieter approach, such as “To Minimize Problems” or “To have no reaction from customers.” These banks consider a success when customers hardly know it happened.

Yet this no-reaction approach neglects opportunities to solidify and grow relationships. Aiming for a positive, even enthusiastic reaction from customers, pays off in a public effort. Besides, in bank relations, “no news” is not always “good news.” This requires the CEO to step up to bat while pointing at the center field bleacher seats declaring a great experience for customers and employees. It means going above “conversion” to “improvement” and above “converting systems” to “enhancing experience.” It means owning all of it, and declaring problems as they arise.

#2: Dig dig dig. Bankers who rely only on product/service usage will miss the insights that will make a conversion more comfortable for customers and lead to less surprises. Customer engagement is a key to future bank growth, and engaging during an acquisition conversion stands out as a critical example. This requires more knowledge of where customers are before conversion. It requires more data and analysis. Banks should leave a month at least before starting a conversion to create a dossier on each major client and work that information during the conversion.

Examples: The audit trails generated by bank online systems unlock treasures like what equipment they use, how organized they are, problems they have had, even how each individual utilizes the system. Customer service logs are another meaty source. CRM sales activity tracking a third. A quick pre-conversion survey unearths even more.

#3: Tell’em straight. With all due respect for marketing copy, it is designed for positive spin. This leads to one sided leanings, except where disclosures are required by law. The web generation (all of us, not just youth) wants the whole picture, good and bad. People will ridicule publically those who don’t lay it out. Research backs up that good and bad news together generates more loyalty in the long run. Tell customers more than required by law. Talk to them honestly like the lifelong partners that they are.

#4: Plan to cross sell AFTER the conversion. Conversions are intimate. During complex difficult times, discussions go deeper than happens in routine maintenance or sales. Conversations discussions reach farther into the organization: office managers, company treasurers, and their assistants who are often better at identifying needs than C-level folks.

Example: Make a plan around post-conversion sales. Train all points of contact to listen for and write down comments that even nudge toward needs, or offer fresh insights on the people and business behind the customers. Conversions are not ideal for selling, but keep a central repository for use later. Once the conversion is over, turn this data into a fountain for cross selling and engagement. If a conversion doesn’t lead to a bonanza of cross selling and relationship building, the bank is missing a huge opportunity. Even if the conversion doesn’t go well!

#5: Treat the bank’s project members like executives. This suggestion aims inward, toward the people in the organizations on whom success relies. Aka, “employee engagement.” The bank needs to give project team members the strategy, motivation, long term impact, mission, vision, etc. Banks often do the opposite, feeding teams the minimum view so they are “not distracted.” Yet nothing is more distracting than not knowing the big picture, especially if there is the potential for layoffs after a conversion is complete. Openly sharing information creates more teamwork, less debilitating gossip, and a more professional face to customers.

#6: Post frequent articles. Relevant, interesting, and current data, readily available on the web, is now a differentiator. Communication creates trust. A conversion that flourishes with news will bring engagement, partly because people will be more inclined to read it.

Examples: Here are some suggested blog post titles:.

  • TestimonialsReal examples of businesses or individuals using the new system for their betterment.
  • How We convertBe transparent about the plan outline. Introduce project leadership.
  • How we handle problemsAdmit they happen. Tell a story or two. Layout how the bank responds.
  • UpdatesBe open about how things are going. Not a full airing of all dirty laundry, but enough to bring people into the process and see the successes and obstacles. This will create connections. If things are delayed, readers will be less likely to criticize.

#7: Treat newly converted customers like new customers. Onboarding programs address the weeks and months that follow a new customer of the bank. With a little tweaking, these clever customer engagement tools can work for post-acquisition conversions too. The sales and relationship information gathered during the conversion (see #4) can be metered out in this way as well.

Together these additions will please the web crowd, grow loyalty, engage the teams, and increase revenue!