Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Every Customer Becomes a Friend"--More Than a Slogan

Officially, he is J. Reid Moore, CFO of Republic Bank of Georgia, launched just six months ago in Suwanee, Georgia, near Atlanta. After 27 years in banking--including international stints in Brazil, Buenos Aires, Dominican Republic, Brussels, and Belgium--his credentials are impeccable. Predictably, he dresses conservatively and speaks quietly. Yet once Reid Moore starts talking about his bank's commitment to customer service, his eyes light up and you can feel his energy building.

The bank's slogan: "Every customer becomes a friend, and returns with a friend." Sounds interesting. You wonder if it came from a PR firm.

"Not at all," Moore clarifies. We didn't even choose our mission statement until we had brought our ten employees on board--five days before our opening. We spent one full day deciding what we wanted to be and accomplish. There was total agreement that we wanted to meet the needs of customers, not 'just sell them the flavor of the week.'"

Hiring procedures, not surprisingly, were unorthodox. A candidate for any position faced interviews with every employee, from the CEO to the entry level data specialist. In two cases, not everyone felt the candidates would match the desired "chemistry and compatability." The bank didn't hire them.

When completed, Republic Bank's building will have a homespun look--"lots of soft wood and rock, like a lodge." You won't notice people lined up to see a teller. Instead, bank personnel will welcome customers to individual tables, where high tech equipment will, quite quickly, perform all the transactions a teller would enact.

Having worked extensively with small banks as a consultant, Reid Moore knows the impact one disgruntled employee has on the work force: "When you have ten employees and one comes in with a sour expression, that means ten percent of your work force has bad morale that day."

Being a family means being flexible enough to help your colleagues. You cannot say, "That's not my job." You cross boundaries, and help your fellow employees serve customers well.

Another key word with Reid Moore: communication. "All employees have a right to know what we are doing. There are no secrets." For a half-hour before every Friday's opening, the employees meet, tell what is happening with them, and express their needs. No one feels reluctant to say, "Hey, I need help with this." Moore said it well: "We complement each other, we're not just bookends."

Some employees are surprised at the empowerment they experience. "You approve that bill for cleaning," Moore told one staff person, "your signature will be as good as mine."

Shareholders, too, stay well informed, with a monthly E-mail memo to every shareholder--far different from the typically stilted, and often dull, bank quarterly statements.

Moore smiled widely when he added: "We want every employee to have fun. At our quarterly
celebration (we avoided the word 'meeting') everybody got involved in a paintball fight."

Republic Bank extends recognition to employees with exemplary performance. Examples:

"Best Deal of the Quarter Award" went to Valerie, who closed a new loan application within two hours, while the CEO enjoyed lunch.

The MVP award honored Nicole, who "went out of her way to help others in her area."

The Customer Service Award went to all employees, who stayed long after closing time to count by hand the cash and coin savings of a new customer--$3,000 in dollar bills and $900 in change.

So far, new customers have come mainly by referral. "Nobody knows where our temporary building is," Moore observed, "yet they hear about us from very happy customers."

Republic Bank uses simple, inexpensive amenities to demonstrate genuine friendliness. The customer who got a car loan gets a thank you note with a $10 car wash coupon. The bank orders a $10 pizza for the family with a home loan, delivered at noon on moving day. "These gestures of good will generate far more powerful publicity than thousands of dollars of advertising would spark," Moore said.

Using a marketing firm from nearby Athens, GA, Republic Bank solicits customer feedback through focus group meetings.

Summing up our conversation over a delightful lunch, Reid Moore capsuled his bank's central purpose: "The people part and the ability to be creative separate us from every other bank."

For more information, visit the bank's Web site: http://www.republicbankofgeorgia.com

To read my comments about how our attitudes impact customers, read this article:
To order my audio CD about how to give magnificent customer care:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

South American Colleague Crosses Many Boundaries

Several weeks ago, my E-mail Inbox contained a message from Monica Yaneth Loeb Willes of Cali, Colombia, South America. She requested my permission to translate more than a dozen of my published articles into Spanish and post them on her Web site. As you can guess, I welcomed her interest in introducing me to a new audience. So my first impression was: Here is an adventurous professional who crosses boundaries.

Soon, Monica directed me to her site--and I could see several of my articles posted in Spanish. Check her site: http://www.empresariovirtual.com

As our correspondence developed, I realized that Monica knew plenty about me from my articles, Web site, and blog. I needed to learn more about her life and work. I expressed this to her in an E-mail. Her reply let me know that she has spent her life crossing boundaries--and will continue to do that, with remarkable success. Check these examples:

TECHNOLOGY: How well versed were you with computers in 1980? Well, that's when Monica started mastering technology--"selftaught," as she puts it. She wrote her first commercial quality software at age 12, got a contract with Xerox Colombia when she was 15, and soon built an impressive list of corporate and government clients.

GRAPHIC DESIGN: Not content with mastering the technical side of communication, she moved into graphic design. She exports "overseas" her expertise in slides creation

BUSINESS: "I felt the need to understand what I did from IT side from the managers side as well. That prompted me to study the career of business management studies at the Universidad del Valle, one of the best in my country." Monica studied also the complete human resources and marketing management emphasis.

HEALTH CARE: Recognized as an expert in medical informatics, for more than fifteen years Monica has served as an external IT consultant in hospitals such as Centro Medico Imbanaco, Hospital Unversitario del Valle, and other leading medical organizations in Cali, Colombia. Currently Monica contributes her services to physicians of all specialties. Worldwide, she assists physicians in doing medical presentations and also in establishing their Web sites.

RELIGION: Ten years ago, Monica felt compelled to pursue religion more deeply. Living in a country that did not recognize ordination of women, she became connected with a Christian chat room, dialoguing with other programmers. By 2000, she founded Christian Hope Ministry and Network. Since 2003 Monica has co-directed that organization with Pastor Matt Smith (NC) and Mrs. Pat Goshorn (PA). Monica helps poor churches by improving their ministry through websites and knowledge based resources. Pioneering even further, she became an ordained pastor--the only one in Latin America from her denomination.

LANGUAGE: Self-taught in English, Italian, and Portuguese, and speaks "German and Spanish because of my family roots." Two years ago she started studying the Hebrew version of the Bible--"really complex, but amazing."

PUBLICATION: Monica has written sixteen books--the first one at age 17. Soon she will produce them as E-books, making them available worldwide.

PATRIOTISM: Her confidence in Colombia convinced her to "start a business now in times where others are leaving." Her commitment: "I have decided to help to raise this country and not only dream but also work hard for a better future for other Colombians who stay here too."

That's part of the motivation for her Web site, where she not only features my articles but will feature my instructional videos and my book, along with other authors, speakers, and trainers. Monica intends to "tell the entrepreneurs here and in all Latin America that there is more ahead than just the conventional ways of doing marketing."

Looking ahead, she foresees "Colombia in peace that I have never seen." She continued: "I don't want that the children of the future live in a violent Colombia where I have lived, but in a place where they can develop as human beings and live a reasonably happy life."

Her goal? "My dream is to position my company as a world quality class organization and I am sure with time I will achieve it."

My prediction: Monica, as many boundaries as you have crossed already, so early in life, I have full assurance that you will achieve whatever you want.

My appreciation: Thanks to Monica, for showing us that we can communicate to the fullest extent of our potential--if we use boundaries as bridges we step across.