Integrating Customer Service Into Every Day


Monroe Bank & Trust demonstrates the effectiveness of incorporating customer service into all facets of the business

As part of its ongoing commitment to helping businesses excel in customer service, Customer Care News is pleased to recognize those companies that are implementing and reaching success with customer service programs, such as Monroe Bank & Trust.


I can’t believe I am stuck waiting for this train! I knew I should have left a few minutes earlier, John mumbled to himself as the caboose honked by. Now I just need to quickly find a parking space. A space was waiting for him on the street. Where’s the loose change that usually sits in the console? Which one of the kids took my change? John frantically opened the car door. He jumped out and started to fumble through his car looking for change to feed the meter. Just then a man walked up, introduced himself and offered to make change for John.

MoneyAt Monroe Bank & Trust (MBT), opportunities for service aren’t always about banking. Ken, part of the MBTeam, directs the employee parking lot on a part-time basis. He noticed people with business downtown often had problems finding a place to park. Instead of ignoring people in distress such as John, he saw this as an opportunity. Ken regularly brings quarters from home to help people so they don’t need to run to get change.

John made it to his meeting on time. He was so appreciative of Ken that he brought 13 quarters for him to “give away” to others. John may have already been a customer of the bank, but after his encounter with Ken he is now an advocate of Monroe Bank and Trust. Ken also helps kids he knows from his days as a police officer by giving them bus money when they don’t have it.

Service is a necessity for community banks now more than ever. What used to be an anecdotal benefit when handing over your money to a teller now seems to be the driving force of sustainability in an industry that is depleted with competition and riddled with government intervention and bureaucracy.

Service is a solution that is simplistically, diabolically complex. How hard could it really be? This stuff should be innate to people because they are, in essence — consumers. Is this something that you should really have to teach, or even verbalize as an expectation? If you assume this, you would quickly become disenchanted when simply buying gas or filling a prescription at a local drug store. You may even ask yourself as you drive off, “Why doesn’t the corporate office develop a customer service training course for these people?” It may be even more depressing to find out that the employee, who was too busy texting and chatting with co-workers, did in fact attend a service course and probably exhibited that same behavior during the course and still received a certificate for completion, maybe even accolades.

MBT has taken a very different approach to service and sales. Doug Chaffin, president and CEO, had the vision to bring service into the forefront of MBT’s culture. The bank’s CARE program was introduced to the organization in 2003. CARE stands for Communicate, Ask Questions, Refer/Respond and Enjoy the Results. The CARE program looks and feels just a little bit different to each and every department, however one thing that is the same for every department and every employee: following the program is not an option, but a basic expectation. When new employees are introduced to the CARE process, the focus is on relationship development. This is the goal behind every interaction with every customer, both internal and external. The message isn’t about quotas or outcomes, rather it’s about creating win-win-win situations. It should be a win for the customer, a win for the bank and a win for the employee.


Don’t treat it like an event

bankFor some corporations, service is treated like any other “required training.” The new employees are asked to attend service training. They have a great time discussing customers and situations. When they go back to their respective front-line jobs, nothing changes. There is no accountability and little or no expectation for making any type of change. The reason why it’s just an event is because service just isn’t in the company’s culture. It’s so much easier this way, isn’t it? Everyone can just cross it off his or her lists and go back to business as usual. Ensuring the legacy of service in a culture isn’t something that can be done one time, or even annually. Training isn’t the end all, be all — especially when it comes to service.

When CARE was first introduced there were training sessions, but they were treated more like a kick-off. After each person left the session and returned to the office, the expectation was there for things to be different. And they were. Employees and managers were expected to communicate on a regular basis with one another. This included team meetings and one-on-one meetings. The communication didn’t stop at that level. Managers were expected to report to their managers. Many corporations tend to drive information from the top down. These management routines, however, allowed for a better flow of information, especially at the top so the senior management team had an idea what was working and what needed adjusting. The expectation for communication didn’t stop there. Managers were also required to observe their staff on a regular basis as they interacted with their customers. The result was that managers had better feedback to give employees and also had firsthand knowledge to use in coaching them on specifics. It also made it easier when it was time for mid-year and annual performance reviews.


It has to be nurtured and modeled from the top

When these concepts were first introduced, there were only a few early adopters. The rest of the organization had a “wait and see” attitude. Early on it was successful because it was talked about and modeled at the very top of the organization. At every employee event, Chaffin spoke about CARE. At every meeting, Chaffin asked and requested information about CARE. His commitment and reinforcement made it clear — it wasn’t a promotion or flavor of the month — this was going to be the new “business as usual.” Chaffin committed to a bi-weekly check-in with the CEO of the consulting group that assisted with the training and implementation. This was a three-year commitment of which Chaffin never missed a meeting. That’s modeling from the top.


Service is not one size fits all

What works for one organization may not work at all for another. Regardless of what many marketers say, it is not something that can be bought (not even in a can). Remember Ken at the beginning of this article? In another organization, Ken’s act of service may not be regarded as that. He may even be reprimanded for not doing his job.

Often, service in banking is overshadowed by following policies, mitigating risk and the occasional slow computer. The focus is on how to have quality conversations, not scripted ones. At the front lines it means taking time to understand the customer and ask quality questions. The idea is to listen for clues to help the customer. The goal is to become a trusted advisor not a product pusher. Behind the scenes it means taking the time to communicate with other departments and understanding that everyone is working toward the same goal. Service is the people side of the business and these expectations must be relayed to the back office just as often as the front line.

When a customer’s loan was up for renewal, Tamara, a specialist in MBT’s Loan Documentation Department, had to inform the customer about a rate increase in insurance. Rather than allowing the customer to find out about it through an automatic letter notification, Tamara took the initiative and contacted the insurance company to understand why the increase was being applied. She didn’t stop there. Tamara then requested more quotes to see if her customer would be better served by other options. The end result was that she called her customer prior to sending the letter about the rate increase. She explained that there would be a rate increase, but she also explained why the insurance company was raising the cost. She then offered other quotes and options that she had requested on her customer’s behalf. In the words of Ellen, Tamara’s manager, “the customer was basically ‘wowed’ and forgot to be upset over having to increase the…insurance. Instead, the personal ‘I care’ phone call became the tone of the conversation and the customer had no problems with spending the extra money on increased premiums.”


What good is icing if there is no cake?

bankIf there isn’t substance to your service efforts, then when you have celebrations it’s just fluff. Rose and her team at the MBT Carleton branch understand the importance of this concept. She and her team have built solid relationships with customers to the extent that many continue to bank there even after they move out of the area. During the summer of 2011, Chaffin was the master griller at employee appreciation events at approximately 10 branches, including the Carleton branch. It’s quite a commitment for an already full schedule. When he introduced himself to customers Amy and Lance they asked who he was and what he did at the bank. He replied, “I’m the president,” and Amy asked, “Of the whole bank?” He said, “Yes, of the whole bank.” Before they left they commented to another customer that these types of experiences are the reason why they are willing to drive an hour away to bank at MBT. As impressed as they were to meet the bank’s president, it’s the time that Rose and her team took to develop and nurture that relationship that laid the foundation for their satisfied experience. Their encounter with Chaffin was just the icing on the cake.

There is no final destination point of WHEN you are a service organization. You have to build it one relationship at time, over time. The organization just has to be clear on how it defines service and then find ways to weave it into the culture until it becomes the culture. It has to be open to the opportunity to create positive experiences, one customer at a time.


Wendy Warrington Parker is the Vice President, Organizational Development and Training Manager for Monroe Bank & Trust (MBT). Having been with MBT since 2003, she is currently responsible for spearheading change management initiatives, developing a corporate university, and consulting with the bank’s various departments to develop and implement traditional and web-based employee education and management leadership programs.

MBT Financial Corp. (NASDAQ: MBTF), a single bank holding company headquartered in Monroe, Mich., is the parent company of MBT. Founded in 1858, MBT is one of the largest community banks in Southeast Michigan with 25 offices, 41 ATMs, and a comprehensive array of products and services. For more information, go online at