Secret ingredient to bank customer onboarding – it’s a surprise


Literally. The secret ingredient is – a surprise. If a bank can surprise a customer with something that flies past expectations, it can create loyalty on the spot.

Customer engagement is hotter than ever. One reason could be that all but the very largest banks are losing customer satisfaction. So says JD Power’s 2015 study. That feels like a switch from the dogma that smaller banks have the edge in customer service. It is also a sign that megabanks may have finally cracked the customer engagement nut with data and technology.

Onboarding is planned customer engagement. A good onboarding plan provides a backbone structure around communicating with new customers. It tickles employees about whom to contact when, and about what. Some are linked to printing facilities that send out mailers with near automation.

Good ones have a velvet glove of cross sell on an iron fist of useful information.

Community focused banks have an advantage. This is where “surprise” comes in. It takes a deeper level of customer knowledge, the kind that community banks traditionally have.

Example one: surprise people by allocating employee time to engagement

Mrs. Smith happens to mention to a customer service rep during her orientation that her daughter is nervous about applying to colleges.

Traditional onboarding: The smart onboarding bank has trained their customer-service reps to add tidbits like this to the onboarding system when they hear them. This triggers a mailing, on a predetermined week, with an offer of a special student loan package.

Surprise-enhanced onboarding: The traditional steps roll out the same. Only here, the relationship manager sees that Mrs. Smith is due for a surprise. The manager asks a female bank employee college graduate near in age to Mrs. Smith’s daughter to call and offer to connect with the daughter to share experiences. This gives the customer real value, especially the daughter. It’s not just marketing.

Surprise-enhanced is more likely to create loyalty because it goes beyond what Mrs. Smith would expect. Any cross selling that goes on after a leap in service like this will get a boost.

A word tells a thousand pictures. Banking is definitely becoming more “pictures” (websites, app pages, emails, mailings, ads). Connecting with a real person still holds value, maybe more than ever. The grid below shows how relatively inexpensive is to have enough time to create a truly memorable experience for a customer.


Doing what? It depends on how the bank structures it. The Mrs. Smith example could be part of a surprise related effort to have employees contact new customers who share aspects of their life experience. An employee with experience in an industry could be sent to customers in that industry to, for example, offer advice on how they use QuickBooks. A team of advocates for a nonprofit could be sent to their facility to rake leaves. The size of the surprise can be set to match the value of the lifelong relationship with the specific customer. It may involve a few minutes of a branch employee’s time, or a couple of hours of a CEO’s time.

Example two: using employee surveys to convey valuable information

A teller hears notices that a business customer is making a deposit at her branch, but the customer’s business is located in a town that is 30 miles away. The teller asks the customer if they have tried using the bank’s remote deposit capture, the customer said the deposit limits were too low for her purposes. The teller relays this story to the branch manager, who contacts the customer and raises the deposit limits on the customer’s account.

That surprise took about 15 minutes. This small gesture builds the bank’s brand more than a routine cross sell communication, and connects the customer to the bank employees. From the grid, if the branch manager makes 50K, 12 minutes cost the bank a miniscule $5 in time. This is what customer engagement gold looks like. A survey of employee opinions on many local topics can offer fresh fodder for many surprises.

Finally. Adding surprise is presented here as a thought provoking exercise, not as an off-the-shelf solution. When trying to justify something like this, remember it has another value – it forces staff to think harder about customer engagement. Of course, any program that systematically reaches out to customers needs to be validated against regulatory and legal constraints. Just avoid managing it down to where there is no surprise left.

McCabe Duval and Associates offers onboarding help: Education on one-to-one marketing; Financial justifications for onboarding; Structured onboarding programs; Targeting and segmenting customers for the best cross sell potential; Central versus branch level deployment of onboarding; Gathering pertinent customer information; and of course, how to add a surprise to onboarding! Contact Chris Duval at 207-347-8614.