Over my past 15 years in market research, I have worked on a countless number of surveys, focus groups, and other studies for banks and credit unions. No matter the client, every bank and credit union market research project unveils new and impactful insights.
No matter how much a bank or credit union thinks they may know about their customers or members, market, or product offerings, the market research always sheds light on some shocking or unexpected findings. The discovered findings directly change how the financial institution operates, markets their product offerings, and who they market those product offerings to.
The market research we conduct for banks and credit unions is centered around learning. Where some of the responses validate what our clients already know, there are always a few shocking or surprising data points.
Which 4 were the most surprising to us over the years? I’ve recapped those below. Among all the bank and credit union market research projects I’ve worked on, here are the insights that stood out to me the most.
You don't know your bank or credit union members as well as you think you do. Use our 4 unexpected research findings to improve how your financial institution operates.
Finding 1: Telephone experiences with your bank and credit union can be the largest driver to overall satisfaction with your customers or members.
I bet this one might be shocking for you, right? Who would think a telephone call could be the largest driver to overall satisfaction with a bank or credit union? Why? How can this be?
For one institution this was absolutely the case, and we have seen similar supporting data for other customer satisfaction surveys with other banks and credit unions as well.
This shocking finding was derived from regression analysis run by our bank market research firm. Regression analysis is an advanced statistical technique which works to understand the importance of independent variables on a dependent variable. In many cases, the dependent variable is a global key performance indicator (KPI) such as customer satisfaction (CSAT) or net promoter score (NPS).
Regression analysis looks at ratings of other customer touchpoints or experiences at the bank or credit union to understand hidden relationships and correlations within the data, to better understand what most impacts overall satisfaction ratings or NPS.
For example, as satisfaction with a banking mobile app goes up, does overall customer satisfaction with the bank go up? As satisfaction with wait time at the branch goes down, does overall satisfaction with a bank go down? And so on. That is regression analysis.
When our bank market research company ranked this analysis, we found the touchpoint which had the largest overall impact on customer satisfaction was telephone experiences with the call center. With a high degree of statistical reliability, the regression analysis told us if the call center experience was good, overall satisfaction with the bank was good. If the call center experience was bad, overall satisfaction with the bank was bad.
How can this be true?
Here is our insight. When issues arise with a bank or credit union, a customer wants answers immediately. Say their account balance is incorrect, a check did not go through, or they cannot pay their loan online by the due date.
What is the first action they will take? Likely not email where it may take hours or days for the bank to respond. Likely not visiting the branch in person because the customer may be at work or at home, and jumping in the car to drive is inconvenient.
To get an immediate response, we learned customers prefer to call the bank or credit union. If their issue or concern is handled correctly, it diffuses the problem and creates a happy customer. However, if the callers problem is not solved, needs additional time to manage, or has to meet with the bank teller in person, it festers more frustration on the overall bank customer experience.
In today’s world of customers expecting immediate solutions and gratification, nothing may impact satisfaction with a bank customer more than a well-handled phone call which offers the customer help and problem resolution.
Discover why banks and credit unions are uncovering key business findings with customer satisfaction surveys.
Finding 2: The in-person experience at your branch is more important than ever.
Say what? There is no doubt the banking industry as a whole is shifting more and more away from brick and mortar touchpoints. Staff-less kiosks, mobile apps, and remote check deposits are all signs pointing to customers and members preference for digital.
Not a day passes where a syndicated bank market research report comes out highlighting the growth of online and mobile banking. Heck, there are even banks who exist without a single face-to-face branch to visit. Here’s looking at you Ally. As a result, they are able to offer some incredible rates and low fees without having the staff or branch overhead to pay for.
Over the past 15 years, it has been interesting and fun to watch preference of visiting a branch location for day to day business transactions drop continually from study to study. But what does this all mean for the bank tellers and loan officers on-site?
In a counterintuitive sense, this trend is actually making the on-site experiences with staff more important. Why? Since they occur less frequently, customers and members are more likely to remember the experience over time.
If a customer or member visits the branch and has an outstanding, friendly, and helpful representative, this creates a halo effect for the overall branch for what could be weeks, months, years (if they rarely visit).
Vice-versa, a poor in-person experience can have negative ramifications on a bank or credit union for a long time as well. One bad experience may not be ramified with a good experience for the same amount of time: weeks, months, or years.
Because the in-person branch visits happen less frequently nowadays, it is of vital importance for your tellers, loan officers, and staff to offer the ideal experience.
The ideal experience might include:
- Short wait times
- Knowledgeable representatives
- Explanations to questions
- Confidence the representative will complete the task with no errors
These best practices must be communicated to branch managers and trickled down to the front-line customer and member-facing staff. Every visit, every transaction, every conversation matters when it comes to branch experiences. An excellent and often shocking finding to help motivate your staff.
Finding 3: For the most part, you have no control over deposit account closures at your bank or credit union.
We all like to think if we are incredible at what we do no customer or client will ever leave. The very essence of market research is based on this principle. Market research for credit unions and banks often works to uncover what about your brand makes customers and members loyal? What keeps them coming back? Why would they never consider a competitor? Would they ever close accounts with us?
Most of the time, our banking market research company uncovers those core brand differentiators: fees, service, product offering, sentiment, etc. However, sometimes no market research can help avoid churn or lost customers.
How and when does this happen?
We often see this occur when we complete research for closed checking or savings accounts at a bank or credit union. All financial institutions experience regular churn (i.e. an average of 300 lost customers per month, 1,000 closed accounts per month, etc.) It is the right thing to do to ask yourself, “why did they close their account with us?”
Some banks and credit unions do an excellent job at this. As a member calls or goes in-person for the deposit account closure, the staff member will simply ask and record the reason.
Going one step further, the best banks and credit unions will stop and ask the customer or member if they would like to talk to a manager about the account closure. This gives the financial institution one final chance to keep the account or customer prior to closing.
Unfortunately, there are far too many banks and credit unions who simply close the account for the customer or member with no questions asked. Thereby they are left asking “why” so many account closures occurred last quarter without knowing the details.
The good news is, market research can find those answers for you. The bad news is, in many cases, there is nothing you can do to control deposit account closures.
In all of the account closure surveys we have conducted in the financial services field, the vast majority of account closures are driven by factors outside of a bank or credit union’s control. This includes reasons such as:
- Closing an account to merge with another joint account
- Customer is leaving the area
- Even some follow-up has resulted in us learning the customer had passed away
Although these reasons often constitute the large majority of closed accounts, in every survey we do there is a sizeable percentage of closures caused by the bank or credit union. This can range anywhere from 10% to 30%. These include problems and issues driving an account closure including:
- Fees and other surcharges
- Poor customer service
- Lack of ATMs
- Better products or rates offered by a competitor
It is vital to understand both what percent of your account closures fall in this bucket as well as the percentage breakdown of each. These are all items within your control and gives your marketing team the opportunity to market differently or adjust products to keep more loyal customers and members over the year.
Unfortunately, it still might be shocking to hear there is nothing your bank or credit union can do about 70% to 90% of deposit account closures. It is largely out of your control.
Finding 4: Customers and members want more from their bank and credit union. They want more proactive financial advice, less reactive.
Convenience is always at the top of the list when our banking market research company asks about top factor(s) in choice for a bank, credit union, or primary financial institution (PFI). We have learned in our market research the barriers to switching a PFI are incredibly high. Customers and members do not want to put the time, effort, and paperwork into a switch.
Going along with this theme, we have learned through qualitative focus groups for banks that the service model is very reactive.
- A customer brings a check to a bank and it is deposited.
- A customer inquires about opening a new loan.
- A customer inquires about a higher interest savings account.
In cases like these and many others, little is done by the bank through proactive customer engagement.
When we say “proactive” customer engagement we are not talking about direct mailers pushing home equity loans or social media posts announcing a new low-interest loan product. We increasingly hear in our surveys customers are looking to banks and credit unions to offer more sound financial advice and savings tips.
This includes actions such as, suggesting higher interest savings account when the customer reaches a minimum account balance. Or, suggesting a different checking account product if the customer unknowingly qualifies for a free account. Or, suggesting a line of credit instead of a home equity loan, even if the customer comes in looking to fill out a home equity loan application.
There is an abundance research online regarding customers thinking they know what they want when they come into a bank. However, having a one-on-one conversation with a staff member who is knowledgeable and trusted can go a long way with customer satisfaction.
Drive Research is a bank and credit union market research company located in Syracuse, NY. We work with financial institutions across the country to assist with both qualitative and quantitative survey needs.
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