A Sucker for Customer Appreciation

I walked into my local bank branch on Peachtree Street in Atlanta and discovered it was Customer Appreciation Day. How did I know, you ask?

The lobby was filled with green and white balloons and streamers. Which in itself is interesting, since neither color is included in the bank's corporate identity color spectrum. Here was another dead giveaway something was up: Most of the tellers were munching on cookies. There was no signage referencing the occasion, so I had to ask, "So are we celebrating an internal decision to do away with any form of human interaction in banking?" The teller responded by asking me if I'd like a snack. She pointed to a streamer-laden table that offered punch, gingerbread cookies, and green suckers.

The sugar was tempting, but I was not to be put off. "No thanks, but I would like a zero-interest unsecured loan." That brought out the truth. "It's Customer Appreciation Day," the teller informed me, biting the head off a gingerbread man. I couldn't resist, "So do you just appreciate your customers one day a year, and why today?" This brought a concerned stare from the adjacent teller.

My teller fidgeted and offered, "We appreciate all customers, every day sir." All customers, huh? As a marketing professional immersed in customer profitability management, I couldn't let this go. "All customers, really? Even your low value and unprofitable customers that don't borrow money and/or generate a lot of fee income," I asked. It was at this point that I noticed the adjacent teller reaching for something under his cash drawer. My teller's fidgeting increased, but her smile never faded. "We appreciate all customers sir, otherwise we wouldn't have jobs." Little did she know she just added fuel to the fire. It was at this point that a crisply pressed and very tall navy suit showed up with a broad smile and extended hand. The adjacent teller looked relieved that he pushed the correct alarm device.

The suit was the customer appreciation manager. She asked if we could carry on this conversation elsewhere--perhaps over a cup of punch. She gestured to the streamer-laden food table. The teller handed me my deposit receipt. An armed guard moved toward the punchbowl in the background. Suddenly, I actually was thirsty.

As the customer appreciation officer and I walked together I asked if she really appreciated the six in 10 customers that statistics reveal offer a breakeven proposition to the bank, in addition to the two in 10 customers who actually cost the bank money to service. In other words, I pointed out that the bank might want to focus its appreciation in a more targeted manner. She responded that the bank did not discriminate based on any customer criteria.

I assured her that I wasn't insinuating that the bank discriminated. I was trying to educate her about the benefits of better matching the bank's customer investment to customer value received, and shed some light on a more intelligent way for the bank to increase its return on both marketing and corporate resources. Recognizing and showering appreciation on those customers who really cover the costs of a customer-appreciation manager salary, balloons, streamers--not to mention all the refreshments that the bank guard was fast depleting.

Before today, I've never actually witnessed a woman shoot a cup of punch tequila-style. She informed me that the decorations and refreshments were her idea, and that the employees raved about them. Not to be intimidated by this towering figure, I asked, "So, then this is really Employee Appreciation Day, isn't it? You guys are smarter than I give you credit for. Attempting to influence both employee and customer loyalty in one fell swoop--you must be a student of the book The Loyalty Effect, too. I'm impressed."

I stopped myself from expounding further on the tie between customer loyalty and customer profitability when I sensed her mind racing back to that Problem Customer Conflict Resolution class she took in Charlotte last year. With an outstretched hand she said, "Mr. King, thank you for your business."

My lesson on customer valuation was concluded--I quickly pocketed a handful of green suckers and stuck one in the guard's shirt pocket on my way out the door. He dropped his punch cup. In passing, I told him, "Don't worry, that's just the sound of appreciation around here. Obviously, we're all suckers for that sort of thing. Just ask that tall woman over there."

Ten to 1 my checkbook doesn't balance this month.

About the Author
Michael King is group vice president and creative director of the Grizzard Performance Group. King offers 20 years of direct marketing experience from both client and agency perspectives. He has won dozens of awards from industry organizations, including the AMA, BMA, DMA, based primarily on campaign results. King has a BBA in marketing from Stetson University, and an MBA in marketing from Georgia State University.

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