five-star.jpgI’ve done hundreds of mystery shops over the years, at branches all over the country.  While I find that the branch employees I meet are generally friendly and professional, I’m frustrated in the small number of truly great mystery shop results that I get to report.  Banks spend big marketing dollars to get new customers in the door, but what happens when they get there sometimes becomes an afterthought.  My mystery shops usually follow a familiar scenario.  I’m just a guy walking into a branch to get some information about a new checking account.  That’s an important scenario for your bank to master.  Here are five tips to help your branch teams make better first impressions and improve customer interactions.

1.  Acknowledge people as they walk into your branch:

 Some branches I shop seem more like funeral homes than sales and service environments.  It’s amazing what an enthusiastic, “Good Morning!” can do to make a great first impression.  This is even more important when the branch is busy, and when people have to wait.  No one likes to wait.  A simple, “I’m sorry that we’re so busy today, someone will be with you in just a few minutes” will lower frustration and perceived wait times.

2. Tell your bank’s story:

Tell your story every chance that you get, especially with new customers.  What makes your bank unique?  Why is your bank the best choice?  During my mystery shops, I love it when I heard the words, “we’re the only bank that…”  Good banks invest in new products and services that give them a competitive advantage.  The great banks train their branch teams how to highlight that competitive advantage with every interaction.

3. Sell at the desk, not the teller line:

Sometimes during my mystery shops I’ll approach the teller line with the question, “Whom can I talk to about checking accounts?”   More times than not, this usually ends up with me receiving a brochure and a rushed sales pitch as the line behind me grows.  Instead, train your teams to escort teller line inquiries to a branch service person at a platform desk. 

There’s more privacy.  There’s more time.  And, hopefully you’ve got a customer service expert that is trained to ask a few good questions in order to make a good recommendation.  None of those things can really happen consistently at the teller line.  No one wants to answer financial questions with their neighbor standing at the teller window next door.

4. Build better sales tools:

Disclosures are not sales tools.  In my mystery shops, I still find branches that use them to explain products to me when I present myself as a new checking account prospect.  Make the effort to have a great brochure.  Make sure it’s designed to fit with the way that you’re teaching your branch teams to sell.  If you train them to ask questions, why not put a few of those questions right in the front of the brochure? 

At our company, we’re fans of tools that we call placemats.  They’re big.  They have lots of room to highlight features and benefits, and not just tiny text on a page.  Some banks laminate them and keep them at each sales desk.  Others print them on tear-away pads, and give them to each customer as a reminder of the things learned during the branch visit.

Regardless of what type of brochure you use, make sure that the branches keep them in stock and up-to-date.  You’d be surprised how many times I’ve watched branch people shuffle through drawers for brochures.  And I sometimes find old versions of brochures mixed in with newer ones. 

5. Don’t chain the pens to the desk:

Ok, maybe this last one is just a personal pet peeve.  But seriously, if I were a bank marketer, I’d love for all of my customers to balance their checkbook or sign their debit card receipts with a pen that has my logo on it.  It’s an easy brand-building tactic, and it’s cheap.

First impressions are everything.  Make a great one, and you may earn a customer for life.  We’d love to hear about things that your team has done to make great first impressions.

Originally published on December 29, 2011.


Dave DeFazio


Dave DeFazio is a partner at StrategyCorps. Armed with a passion for banking strategy, Mr. DeFazio has found great success and satisfaction in exploring the intersection of data, marketing, and technology. Mr. DeFazio’s extensive financial services experience and continuous research in the field help him ensure that each product and service meets the needs of today’s financial institutions.


Mr. DeFazio leads and manages the company’s direct sales efforts while working directly with financial institutions to design, build and implement a variety of checking solutions. Mr. DeFazio is a highly sought-after speaker who has shared thought leadership on innovations in financial technology, retail banking, mobile banking, customer engagement, product and customer profitability, product design, bank marketing and changing consumer behaviors in an increasingly mobile-centric world.