Asking Questions is Critical to Expanding Banking Service

As financial service professionals, we get the opportunity to directly interact with customers and prospects. During these interactions we generally ask questions to get a feel for how things are going in their life (family, church, social events, congratulations, etc.), and we tend to focus on the specific financial issue that aligns with our particular area of expertise. However, when we get a chance to have a conversation with an individual or business representative who banks with us, this is a grand opportunity to ask different questions to learn more about our customers. Perhaps, the resulting conversation will result in an opportunity to provide a greater level of service.

I was recently in the Denver airport waiting on a flight.  As I was standing near the boarding gate, a young woman walked up that looked as if…she had literally ridden a horse to the airport.  She was dressed in well-worn work jeans, a cowgirl style “fancy” shirt, western style straw hat, large ornate belt buckle and riding boots…complete with spurs.  As you can imagine, this is not a usual outfit one might see at an airport, even for a western town like Denver.  To cap it off, she had as her carry-on…a western saddle.  Just picture that for a moment.

She wound up a few feet away from where I was standing, and I just felt compelled to talk with her. I had questions.  I started off by saying, “That is one of the more unusual carry-ons I’ve seen …” She was very gracious, and we talked for maybe 15 minutes. I learned that she is a professional saddle bronc rider and as she travels, she carries her saddle with her which is used with whatever horse she is assigned for competition.  She was on her way to Montana to teach aspiring women bronc riders. I also learned about how their rides are scored. Since I wasn’t close enough to see the detail on her belt buckle, I asked what it was. She said it was from the 2023 Saddle Bronc Riding World Championships.  “Who won?” I asked.  “I did,” was her proud reply.  She needed to find something to eat, and I suggested a couple of options for her.

After she walked off, I realized I never introduced myself or asked her name.  But if she is the 2023 champion, then Google knows who she is, right? Turns out, I was talking with Allysa Spierings, the two-time Saddle Bronc World Champion.

What is the point of my sharing this story with you?  It is that you should take the opportunity, when time and place allow, to ask questions to people you meet and learn about what they do and what challenges they face.  In most cases, you may have a nice exchange of information similar to my interaction with Allysa, but there is a chance that you might pick up something in conversation that allows you to offer insight or even some additional product or service that your organization can offer.

Suppose you run into a manager of one of your commercial clients at a social function. The two of you know of each other but are otherwise personally unacquainted.  You could make uncomfortable chit chat about the weather or how the local college football team is doing but instead, consider asking a question such as, “what is your biggest work challenge at the moment?”  You’ll notice that the question is not asking about their biggest financial related challenge.  There is no reason to limit your line of inquiry to just financial services related questions.  When you ask, “what is keeping you up at night?” You will get a much better idea of the main issues causing angst.  In most cases, what they share is not something that you can remediate, but you can still profit from learning and share empathy.  Furthermore, you gain an understanding of what is going on outside of your organizational bubble, and maybe, just maybe, there will be a situation where you could offer something meaningful to address your customer’s issue.

Say the business customer I referenced above answered your question with, “We feel that we are not getting an appropriate share of local business. We are fighting national advertisers and people just shop online.”  Now regardless of whether that company sells haircare products, cooking oil or insurance, there are potential elements that a financial institution could offer to assist its local businesses to reach its local potential customers.  If the company primarily sells to other businesses, you could host an after-hours business meet-up and introduce this company to other area businesses, many of which are also your customers. If the company primarily sells to consumers, you could create a banner ad featuring this company that would be presented to online banking customers (preferably via an interstitial page once they had logged out of an OLB session).  If you have multiple companies that offer the same service, you can simply rotate the banner ad across multiple companies. In either situation you are introducing your customers to potential clients, and this activity is so unexpected that the customer would never consider even asking whether activities like this would be an option.

When you ask questions and listen to responses, you gain the insight necessary to provide truly unique solutions that leave your customers (and prospects) truly “thrilled and delighted.” And not for nothing – asking people questions gives them license to talk about themselves, their career, their passions and their pain points.  So maybe only one or two out of every ten conversations in which you engage yield an “aha” moment.  Take those odds and start asking meaningful questions of people you meet.  If you come up with a great story of how a question led to a new relationship or expanded share of wallet with a customer, let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

If only I had thought to ask Allysa how she got through TSA with those shiny, sharp spurs…