Vernon Hill: Creating Fans, Not Customers

13410_vernon Vernon Hill: Creating Fans, Not Customers PERSON OF THE WEEK: Vernon Hill is no stranger to growing a financial services business. In the U.S., he was responsible for taking Cherry Hill, N.J.-based Commerce Bank from a single office into a significant regional player. In the U.K., he founded Metro Bank, one of the nation's major retail banks. Hill credits his business success to taking customer engagement to new heights, and his new book ‘Fans! Not Customers: How to Create Growth Companies in a No Growth World‘ (published by Profile Books) offers a distinctive view of how a successful business model should operate.

Q: The U.S. financial services industry – with the exception of community banks and credit unions – is widely perceived as offering poor customer service. Why has this industry traditionally had so many problems in dealing with its customers?

Hill: Great service is a result of a differentiated value-added model delivered with fanatical execution through a radical supportive culture. Few financial institutions are willing to put service at the core of their model.

Q: As a follow-up question, is it possible for larger financial services companies to emulate the level of personal service that smaller community banks and credit unions enjoy with their customers?

Hill: It is almost impossible to build a service model from an existing broken business.

Q: You've worked in the U.S. and U.K. financial services industries. How do these industries differ in regard to customer service?

Hill: The service component is notably absent from the financial services industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the U.K., banking has become totally product and sales focused, with little regard for the customer experience. The American community bank model does have the ability and sometimes delivers a unique customer experience.

From my experience with Commerce Bank between 1973 and 2007, the bank grew from one office to 500, from nine team members to 156,000 and from a market value of $1.5 million to $8.5 billion. It can be done on both sides of the Atlantic with a differentiated model.

Q: In addressing alleged issues that face mortgage servicers, the concept of a ‘single point of contact’ is now mandated. In your opinion, does a single point of contact automatically lead to improved customer service?

Hill: Single client view and contact is the key to delivery excellence. Customers want one banker, one mortgage broker, and to have their problem solved.

Q: In your book, you encourage employees to treat their place of work as if they own it. But is this possible if their managers treat the employees poorly?

Hill: Empowered team members build a culture and create, as my book title suggests, fans and not customers. Managers who do not embrace and deliver the ‘brand experience’ need to be reformed or replaced. Our mantra to our team members is: Buy In or Opt Out.


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