Become an Expert in Your Business

It’s imperative that you become a (the foremost?) expert in your particular field if you really wanna reach your potential as a true leader.

You must be completely confident with your knowledge of your particular position…all aspects, incl technical, financial, people management, problem/conflict resolution, legal & regulatory, policies & procedures, etc…as well as that of your people, company & the industry.

Yeah, that’s a mouthful!

You may be in Operations or Customer Service or Sales Risk Management or whatever, but your working knowledge of all different facets of the business is essential to making smart & well-informed business decisions.

You neither live nor work in a vacuum.

To be successful in your specific specialty, you must improve your knowledge of, and familiarity with, other parts of the business. No, it’s not necessary to be an expert at everything…nor is that even feasible.

However, you’ll find these working relationships with other areas/divisions to be enormously-helpful opportunities to learn as well as provide you the chance to help out beyond the scope of your responsibilities.

It’s also great as you always should be striving for “Best Practices” in your area. (Before the Age of Enlightenment, we called them “Common Practices”.)

Lemme give you a couple of examples of how this can & will come into play…

> > Many years ago, our Marketing Department was planning to raise the “minimum balance requirement” for “membership” in our Priority Services “club”.

Priority Services customers received various perks around the bank, e.g., unique phone # with specially-trained representatives & enhanced response time, designated account officers at branches, specific marketing offers, etc..

Yes, the predecessor of CitiGold and a very, very solid business reactive.

Note: Not everyone’s created the same, be it customers, employees, family or friends.

And while you MUST treat everyone FAIRLY, that does not mean that you must treat everyone the same.)

Marketing was planning to raise the minimum balance requirement (for eligibility in Priority Services) from $25,000 to $50,000.

As such, they were planning to do 2 separate mailings…one to customers with balances between $25K & $50K (to inform them of the new balance requirement & the need for add’l funds to meet the $50K level & thereby, retain PS membership) & then another mailing to customers with current balances below $25K (let them know that they significantly need to increase balances for the new $50K level).

They forecasted a certain response rate & net incremental balances that we would receive as customers attempted to meet the new guidelines.

I made a proposal.

Since we’re already doing a direct mail drop that’s generally pretty inexpensive, why don’t we also mail to the portion of the current Priority Services customer base who already have $50K or more with us in balances?

While they already met the new/higher requirement, we could thank them for being such wonderful customers, tell them how very much we appreciate their business & let them know that they already meet the new balance requirements for this exclusive membership.

Ya know, stroke ’em.

Make them feel (even more) valued.

Oh, and there’s one thing I learned a very long time ago…

The people who have money? They have a helluva lot more than you ever imagined!

I got a few raised eyebrows (“How could this Operations guy know anything about real marketing? He even talks funny!”), but I had a few close allies in the room who agreed with my idea.

It received a resounding “Well, it can’t really hurt now!”

Final results from the mailing?

Over 87% of all new money received came from those customers who already met the $50K balance rule…”MY customers”!


I knew from all my years in servicing this customer base that they enjoy being pampered…that they’re extremely thankful when they receive exceptional
treatment…and that they like to feel special.

That was the whole purpose of my proposal…you already have a base that’s extremely satisfied & they’ll be willing to trust us with more of their business.

And you know damned well that if they had at least $50K in our bank, they most probably had more funds in other financial institutions as well!

They did & the marketing campaign (originally designed to convey a new balance requirement that, for most customers, could actually be “bad news”) turned into a resounding success!

> > Another example of using knowledge & expertise gained over the years involved the introduction of “check imaging” to our Consumer customer base.

Citi would no longer return the actual, paid cancelled checks themselves with the monthly statement, but instead, include pages containing 8 digitized images, front & back, of every paid item.

This actually represented a major service improvement for our customers as it would help simplify record-keeping by having a few sheets of paper vs. all these separate checks all over the place.

There was really no need whatsoever to have the original checks themselves as these digital images served as official payment records.

Yes, even for the IRS.

Marketing drew up this massive plan where they would mail letters to the customer base, asking for their approval for the conversion to check imaging.

They forecasted an initial acceptance rate of ~40% in year 1, with future mailings planned each year thereafter for another 4 years until we got close to 100% (I believe it was 98% after 5 years).

Seemed well thought out, right?

“NO WAY!”, I protested. “That’s gonna be an absolute horror to manage!

It’ll take us 5 years to take full advantage of the forecasted expense saves!”

(Note: It’s much, much easier to print a few pages at statement time than to end the entire month collecting & sorting checks as they’re being paid & then putting them into the same envelope as the statement.)

“Here’s what I suggest we do. We don’t ask for anyone’s permission since we really don’t need it to proceed & merely do a “negative-option” mailing.”

With a negative option mailing, you inform the customer of the change(s) you’re gonna make and then, allow them the opportunity to write back & refuse it.

“I guarantee you we’ll get the overwhelming majority of our customers to agree to it, or, at least, not reject it!”

Again, I was waaaaay too familiar with customer mailings…MOST customers do not read them, regardless of the specific message or its importance.

Hell, thee are so many customers who never even read their statements! (And again, with this being the late 80s, “eliminating the paper statement altogether” was not yet an acceptable business practice.)

Marketing actually readily agreed with my “negative-option mailing” proposal & we did the mass mailings.

Less than 1% of the customer base refused the change (as a result of reading the mailing & saying “no”)!

We kept communicating with our customers about the upcoming change (the mailing took place in Month 1 while actual implementation was scheduled for Month 4). We included inserts with our statements & placed special message alerts on the statement themselves.

When we finally implemented the program in Month 4, we did receive customer feedback (as I knew that they wouldn’t read anything & wouldn’t wake up until they actually got the statements themselves), but our people did a great job handling any issues.

We had thoroughly trained them, continuously communicated with them & provided useful job aids that would help them easily easily address any customer concern.

Worse comes to worse, if the customer was absolutely adamant, we would still be able to switch them back to “actual check return”.

All in all, only 1.2% continued to receive “check return” instead of check imaging! The program was a resounding success!

We reached an 98.8% penetration rate in 4 months vs. 98% in 5 years!!!

A few years later, we assigned a fee for “check return” that convinced most of that 1.2% (the stubborn ones) to now accept check imaging.

Finally, we simply eliminated check return altogether & there was minimal customer dissatisfaction. Check imaging really was the best thing for both the bank AND the customer, so I always felt extremely comfortable with our (strong-handed?) approach to converting our customers.

It’s kinda like giving needed medicine to your kids.

If they never realize it, great!

If they do & protest, maybe you’ll wait a few minutes…but they’re gonna take it as it’s really the best thing for them.

See? You can do similar stuff at your place of business when you become an expert in your specific discipline, then form strong working relationships with other parts of the place.

It becomes especially helpful when you’re on the “receiving end” of a process change or new marketing program or improvements to any of the customer access tools (on-line, mobile, phone, ATMs, IVR, written, etc.).

Oh, one more thing…

If you REALLY, REALLY wanna gain the respect & admiration of your people, then the more you know about your area & your business, the better it is!

You can speak their language & better understand the challenges they face every single day.

You can add tangible value to THEM & THEIR ROLES SPECIFICALLY. (Yeah, it’s really cool when your area does well, but your people must feel that you’re invested in THEM. You know exactly way THEY are going through. You’re better able to champion THEIR causes as you’re not just obsessed with “simply steering (or trying to steer) the ship & writing reports”.

You gain legitimacy with your people…something you’ll rarely hear in management books.

And that’s because you wanna be a LEADER!!!



As always, thank you so very much for listening!

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