Influencing consumer behavior is the goal of most marketing programs, but its not necessarily the principal function of a financial marketer. The first responsibility should be to listen. Every marketing function ? messages, products, pricing, innovation, etc. ? radiates from that one central tenant. If you dont truly understand the audience youre targeting, how can you ever hope to craft a marketing strategy that will resonate with them? Only by listening closely to what consumers have to say can we build profitable, long-term relationships with consumers. And this all hinges on unvarnished consumer feedback.

Its easy to get sidetracked and forget how important this is. Marketers are frequently isolated from retail consumers, tucked away in corporate offices and backroom cubicles surrounded by colleagues that share the same internal perspective. Rather than actively seeking first-person feedback from the banking public, marketers often rely on third-party research reports and industry studies to keep in touch.

The increased number of digital interactions in todays workplace can create even more distance between marketers and the people they are targeting. Banking executives are less likely to see customers in the lobby or eavesdrop on new account conversations.

Its become a fight to simply stay in touch.

Financial marketers ask customers to do a lot: buy credit cards, open accounts, make mobile deposits, attend seminars and a hundred and one other things. But maybe its time to turn the table and ask, What are we willing to do for them? How are you pushing yourself to stay in touch?

Here are some questions that can help you determine whether you are doing enough to stay on top of your audience.

  • When was the last time you deliberately put yourself in your customers shoes and assess the typical customer experience?
  • Do marketing staff use the products youre selling? Are you opening the same accounts, using the same mobile banking services, experiencing the same obstacles as your customers?
  • When is the last time you interacted with customers? Or sat in the call center and took phone calls from customers?
  • Have you ever personally responded to customer complaints?
  • When was the last time you visited a branch to see how customers are greeted?
  • Have you sat in on new account openings?
  • Have you or a colleague gone through the onboarding process?
  • Have you held a focus group lately to hear from customers directly?
  • Are you conducting surveys to assess service levels, customer satisfaction and the overall experience?
  • In management meetings are you recognized as an advocate for consumers?
  • How often have your challenged bank policies? Or fought for consumer-friendly products?
  • Have you met with loan officers to better understand the customer experience and/or prod for product improvement ideas?
  • Do you actively encourage questions and feedback from frontline personnel?
  • Have you ever mystery shopped the competition? Do you ever visit branches in your area? Do you contact their call center and ask them questions? Have you tried opening accounts with other banks and credit unions? Do you monitor their social media accounts, and listen to what their customers are saying?

You cant say, This isnt my job. If you are a marketer, being in touch with consumers should be your number one priority. If you are a digital specialist or a graphic designer, theres even more reason to study how consumers interact with- and respond to your work. You need to understand who you are working for.

As busy as he is, President Obama reads 12 letters daily, selected randomly from everyday Americans. David Broder, a legendary Washington reporter studied polls religiously, but he also made a point of knocking on random doors in neighborhoods throughout the country to ferret out raw voter sentiment. Hyatt, the hotel chain, has a training program that requires all new employees to spend a week annually working at reception desks, in housekeeping or valet services.

All banking executives ? particularly marketers ? must weave a robust customer feedback component into their professional lives.

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