Winning Back Customers

A Renewed (or, Perhaps, First-Time)

September 12, 2002

FleetBoston is improving its customer service with its Winning Gold initiative. Now it needs to make customers aware of its improved service and offers.


(Near the) Bottom of the Heap

When surveyed last year, banking customers didn’t proclaim that FleetBoston was the worst at serving consumers--it was the second worst!

That was the bad news for Fleet. Now, the good news for customers is that the bank is actually doing something about it. All bank personnel is now operating under the new “Winning Gold” initiative, which is dedicated to “providing the highest level of service for customers, the best possible work environment for employees, translating into higher stock value for shareholders.” At least on paper, Fleet has got it right! Take care of customers and employees, and you increase the value of your company.

Vastly Improved Experience

Just last week, I had the opportunity to test the service level at my local Fleet branch. I have been a Fleet customer since the financial giant bought out BankBoston (which bought out BayBank, which bought out Mutual, which bought out Suffolk Franklin--the bank I actually started doing business with). A two-year CD had just matured, and I had received word to come in to transfer the money or else it would be rolled back into the CD for another year. Interest rates being what they are, I went into the branch office.

PAST DISAPPOINTMENTS. Now, this is usually a trip I avoid like the plague. Previous trips to Fleet had resulted in long waits and customer service representatives who tried, but didn’t have the information that I needed. (Just last year, when in the bank to transfer some money around, I inquired about refinancing and mortgage rates. The vice president I was dealing with told me that I could either call the mortgage line or go to another branch where they had a mortgage specialist. I didn’t pursue the issue.)

EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS. T his time, however, I was greeted pleasantly, and someone attended to me within a few minutes. The customer service representative, Joanne, listened to my questions--what’s the best rate I could get for the money in the CD account?--and provided a thoughtful answer. The account and interest rate she quoted, however, was considerably less than I had found at an online bank (an Orange account at I told her so, and she agreed that it made sense for me to take my money out of Fleet to get the higher interest. I was amazed! She was concerned about my financial state and admitted that Fleet didn’t have the best offers.

SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY. Then she went to transfer my CD money to my checking account so I could send it to my Orange account. Looking at my complete financial profile with the bank, she commented that, combining all the various accounts and loans I had with Fleet, I qualified for premier status. This means that I was eligible for higher interest rates.

Terrific, except the published premier rates were still lower than my Orange account.

Joanne didn’t give up, though. She asked me to wait just one minute, and, sure enough, she came back quickly to say that there was a special offer for premier savings accounts at a rate several tenths of a point higher than what I could get online.

When I hesitated--if you fall below the minimum requires for premier status even once during the month, you were faced with a penalty fee--she reassured me that she would indicate in my account that the fee should be waved for up to six months.

Bottom line--my money stayed with Fleet, and most of my Orange account was transferred back to the premier Fleet account (at least for the time being). I would now be treated like royalty at any Fleet branch, and Joanne was a hero at work!


No question about it--doing business with Joanne as a representative of Fleet was a vast improvement over past experiences. But, as positive as it was, the experience also got me thinking about what more FleetBoston could be doing to create even more positive relationships with its customers and overcome the bad reputation it is currently stuck with.

BE MORE PROACTIVE. The first thing that came to mind is that Fleet knew all along that I was eligible for premier status. The bank could have proactively contacted me with the benefits of upgrading my status--shorter wait times at branches, higher interest rates, waived fees, a shiny new gold-colored ATM card. But they didn’t. It was only when I was already sitting in front of them that they brought up the opportunity.

The benefit to the bank is obvious--in order to be eligible for higher status, you must maintain higher balances. And, in a world where it only takes a quick online transaction to deposit and withdraw money, anything that incents customers to keep their holdings in your bank is invaluable!

The benefits to the customer are tangible--much better than the rather vague or unlikely benefits that moving from a regular to gold to platinum credit card offers you--e.g., higher insurance payoffs if you die in a plane crash and, of course, that status of being a platinum card holder! Just show me the money (in the form of interest payments and waived fees). And the bank did. If only I had known earlier.

AVOID HIDDEN OR “TODAY ONLY” OFFERS. The higher interest rate that I ultimately received seemed very suspicious to me because it wasn’t documented anywhere in the branch (at least not publicly) nor online (I went back and looked). It felt a bit like dealing with a used-car salesman (“Look, I shouldn’t do this, but, for you, I’ll throw in the spare tire.”) who makes up the deal on the spot just to win the business.

When you have a special incentive to attract business, let customers and prospects know! We aren’t mind readers. I know that it seems taboo to put up signage with actual interest rates (and that these rates change daily, if not hourly). But the online banks are very explicit about the rates they offer. And they are prominently displayed on the home pages of the Web sites. You must fight fire with fire! Why not tempt the customer who has come to take money out of the ATM or to order more checks. Indeed, use the ATM as a marketing vehicle. Simply saying that you have excellent rates on a splash screen doesn’t mean anything. Quoting specific rates might move that customer from the ATM lobby to the customer service area.

USE THE WEB SITE BETTER. There have been recent improvements to the site. I am a Fleet HomeLink banker. I check my accounts and pay bills online every month. And it has gotten easier. But there are still many improvements to be made.

No matter how hard I look, I can’t find out what interest rate my accounts are earning. I must call and ask a customer representative. That’s just not right! I am logged into a secure page with my information. It is my right to know!

Onto less frustrating matters--the home page doesn’t highlight any special offers. There are no calls to action. And it took me about four tries before I even found the information on premier status (you have to go to products & services, then checking, then FleetPremier checking). And the verbiage is certainly not compelling. I had to read it two or three times to figure out exactly what was offered--most of the important information was in footnotes.

It might seem strange that I’m recommending being better at marketing when the goal is better customer relationships. But providing compelling and easy-to-understand information where I expect to find it is both good marketing and good for customers.


The Winning Gold initiative seems to be helping. A colleague of mine reports that she, too, used to hate to deal with FleetBoston, but has changed her mind. Her most recent interaction--applying for and receiving refinancing on a home--was quick and easy, and the customer service rep “held my hand each step of the way.” Quite an improvement!

Now go the next step and make it easier for customers to find the information they need. And reach out to your customers and tell them when they are eligible for higher levels of service. It is now much more pleasant to do business with Fleet. Now make me eager to do business with you!

Contact Info:

Sign in to download the full article


Be the first one to comment.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.