Connecting with Your Customers: A Q&A with Kelly Stroble from Yadkin Bank
Kelly Stroble, Director of Learning and Development for Yadkin Bank, the largest independent and community bank in North Carolina, has more than 30 years of experience in L&D within the banking industry, and specializes in sales, services and leadership development.
I had a chance to sit down with Kelly and get her views about some of the major issues individual banks are facing today.
Q: From your perspective, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing banks today?
Kelly Stroble: In the small community banking environment, the main challenge is trying to figure out how to compete with our larger competitors and still maintain that sense of community. And as banks go through mergers and acquisitions, another big challenge is maintaining the bank’s individuality – letting our customers and employees know we are still interested in the people component of the transaction. At the same time, we need to figure out how to truly compete from the standpoint of return on equity, return on the investment we make on learning and development, and efficiency.
Just like everyone else, we’re trying to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less in a much more regulated and competitive environment.
Q: As regulation increases, what can banks do to gain a competitive advantage?
KS: We need to continue to figure out how to connect with each individual customer or client in a manner that not only builds on the relationship after the initial need is met, but provides and creates an opportunity to expand that relationship over time.
Online banking is so much more prevalent than in years past, so when you get an opportunity with a customer sitting right in front of you, somehow you think you have to get every single thing done right away. And in some cases, that might work. But in most cases, it’s more like going out on a first date. You’re not going to try and learn everything about a person on a first date, nor should you feel you’re going to learn everything about customers the first time they come in to open an account. But you should create enough of a connection that you learn something and build off of that opportunity to get a second date.
Banks must also figure out how to create a sustainable, long-term, loyal relationship that is so inviting that customers actually want to come into the bank. We also need to have creative and innovative websites that are easily accessible, interactive, and intuitive so that someone choosing to do their banking that way is going to create a sustainable relationship as well.
Q: So what are some of the key ways bankers can make deeper connections with their customers?
KS: If they will be exploring financial needs, then the individual banker must understand how to build a relationship, connect with the customer, and have a questioning strategy in which they are very well-versed that uncovers the customer’s needs. Then they have to be extremely well-versed in the products and the specific features of those products.
The banker also needs to have a strategy ready in case there is push-back from the customer. They need to be ready to close out that conversation and create an opportunity for future conversations. The whole concept of having a listening strategy, and being able to match the product or service that fits the customer’s needs — that is a key skill set.
Q: What else can they do to build lasting relationships?
KS: There has to be a coaching culture in the company that supports growth and development in those behaviors. Once these bankers learn these valuable skills, it’s important that someone is observing them and providing feedback and training opportunities so they have a chance to gain more skills, and that it’s done on a fairly frequent basis. If you’re going to gain any traction with performance, you need to provide feedback once or twice a week with your bankers to make sure they feel very comfortable having those conversations. A key component is that this strategy must come from the C-Suite on down. If it doesn’t, if it will not be sustainable over time.
Q: Can banks focus too much on the people side of the equation?
KS: I think we’ve seen banks come and go that focused too much on the numbers and not enough on the people, and we have community banks that struggle because they focus too much on the people and not enough on the numbers. It’s a balancing act, and the banks that do it well are going to be the banks that are successful and effective over the long term.
Q: So what are the most critical steps banks need to take to get new bankers up to speed in the most efficient and effective manner?
KS: I’ve seen programs that are up to eight weeks long, and in some larger banks they may be even six months long to get a personal banker or branch manager up to speed. There are so many categories in which they need to be skilled at and competent in, such as operations. They have to fully understand the systems, policy and procedure and regulation so when they are doing the tactical work of opening an account, they can do that without violating any regulation, policy or procedures that could cause blowback.
In addition to having skills in those areas, they also have to be salespeople. The companies I have worked with in the past, we actually made it a habit to pluck someone out of a retail environment who was really good with customers and relationship building that we could train to be bankers. It’s very challenging to train a banker to be a salesperson if they are not inclined that way because it takes more diligence on a coach’s part to get them where they need to be. If you’re talking procedures, policy and systems, people tend to pick that up much more quickly.
Q: So it’s a long-term commitment – not just check the box and move on?
KS: You can theoretically train someone in a week or two on your systems, your policies and your procedures. But we build in this whole concept about how to connect with the customer as part of that process because that’s the link that builds the relationship and the loyalty.
Q: As people do more and more of their banking online, how important is it for banks to invest in training?
Kelly Stroble: It’s more important than ever. Let’s say people have decreased their in-person bank visits by 20 or 30 percent because of online banking activities. When those customers come into the bank – when you actually have them in the seat in front of you – if the banker is not fluent in conversational behaviors, you will lose a crucial opportunity to grow your business. It’s critical to leverage that in-person meeting, and you must be extremely skilled in conversation because you don’t know if you’ll get another opportunity with those customers.
Q: Is it easier for community banks to establish these deep relationships?
KS: I find it interesting that bankers who work in small communities and have been in the business a long time will tell me they don’t have to meet face-to-face with their customers because they know them so well. And I will ask questions like, “When was the last time you saw them in person, and what type of life event could have occurred in that year that you don’t know about?” Any time there’s a life event, there’s an opportunity for us as a bank to reach out to that customer to ensure that the life event evolves, matures and blossoms into what they want it to be. Conversely, if it’s not a positive life event, such as a death in the family, we want them to be thinking of us as the people who are going to hold their hand through the process. You can’t always assume that you know everything about everybody just because you live in a small community.