When you can handle banking transactions on your smartphone, it’s easy to think that customer service isn’t really important — until there’s a problem.

“A lot of people shop prices. At that point, though, some may not be as concerned about what happens after that.  But you usually get what you pay for,” says Rich Birchard, senior vice president, Depository Services Group manager at Bridge Bank.

Birchard says a recent personal experience illustrated the difference superior customer service makes. At the same store, in one department, he received great service when the salesman when out of his way to make him feel good about his purchase, even going the extra mile to make sure that he was getting the lowest possible price, while in a different department, the salesman he had been working with previously didn’t remember his name, didn’t answer all of his questions and didn’t make him feel good about his purchase. As a result, he backed off on that purchase until a later time.

“Even though I spent a little more for the first purchase, I felt really good about it as a result of the way I was treated. I even went back to the first salesperson and asked if there was a way to get him to sell me the other item because he deserved the sale. Unfortunately, people are getting used to being treated sub-par, which is really sad and not the way it should be.”

Smart Business spoke with Birchard about the benefits of good support services and what you should look for when deciding where to deposit your money.

What is the best way to evaluate a bank’s support services before becoming a client?

In the age of technology, with electronic payment systems and remote deposit capture machines, the need for a local bank is not as important as it used to be. The Internet is usually the first tool that people use when looking for new financial service providers. How a bank’s website looks and the ease of maneuvering through the pages is a good indicator of how much attention is given to client service.

The use of referrals is another way that a prospective client can find out more about his or her future financial institution. If a local bank is what you prefer, you may want to visit the bank and ask to talk to the client support manager to see how the bank support clients firsthand. A good client support manager should be honored to introduce you to the client support staff so you can put a face to a name or a voice on the phone.

In today’s world of self service and automation, why do I need a bank that provides a high level of service?

In most cases, clients want to be in total control when doing their daily banking. They don’t want to take the time to call someone and explain what their needs are. An online banking system that provides full service and is easy to use creates efficiencies for the client.

But it is inevitable that there will be a time when the unexpected happens and an important payment doesn’t go out, or someone calls in sick and you don’t have appropriate access to approve transactions. It is those times when you want to call the client support center and hear a familiar voice on the phone, someone who not only knows you by name but knows your company, how you are set up and how you do things. Someone who understands your urgency and not only will help you resolve your initial problem but also identify other issues that may occur as a result and take care of it in advance so you don’t run into another problem as soon as you get off the phone. That person can also inform other areas of the bank about your needs and situation so you can stay focused on the tasks at hand in your company.

There are a lot of good companies that are happy to sell you a solution. What takes you from good to great is the personal touch you put on it from a client service perspective.

How can I evaluate the quality of service I get from my bank?

People are smart. They know when they are treated well and with respect, and they also know when they are treated badly. If you call the client support center at your bank and spend too much time pressing buttons or entering account numbers, or hear, ‘That is not a valid response, please try again’ when you press zero or say ‘operator’ to try to bypass the interrogation process, you are not dealing with a bank that cares a lot about its clients.

Ask yourself what your gut tells you and how you feel when you get off the phone after talking to a client service representative. Did they call you by your name?  Did they listen to your needs? Did they respect your time and sense of urgency?  Did they fulfill your needs? Did they thank you for your business? Did they follow up later? If you’re answering ‘no’ to these questions, you’re not getting good service.

Do different types of banks provide different levels of client service?

You may find a bank that gives you great rates, but you usually see why when you need support going forward and it is not what you expected. The initial deal closing comes and goes, but your day-to-day support needs go on forever and when you want a resolution, you want it fast. In those times of need, the last thing you are thinking about is the two basis points you may have saved.

When you feel good about the consistent quality service you get, you don’t mind spending a little more.

Rich Birchard is senior vice president, Depository Services Group manager at Bridge Bank. Reach him at (408) 556-6528 or


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