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What research reveals Featured

8:41am EDT February 26, 2004
Tom Nist's wife doesn't share his enthusiasm for banking. If he tells her something that might interest banking insiders, she's rarely impressed.

Her typical response, he says, is, "So what?"

In truth, Nist, senior vice president, business banking, for PNC Bank, isn't surprised by his spouse's lack of interest in his industry. He and PNC have found that most business owners don't share his enthusiasm for banking, either.

"You don't get very excited about banking," Nist says of most business owners.

Nonetheless, he says, businesspeople rate a good, competent banker as a valued member of their team.

PNC's research over the past three years, much of it through focus groups, has revealed plenty of information about the attitudes that business owners have about banking and has spurred PNC to improve the way it serves those clients.

"Those focus groups aren't at all about how do you like your checking account," says Nist. "We already know you don't like your checking account."

Instead, PNC uses focus groups to determine customer satisfaction levels and customer commitment, which Nist describes as the willingness of customers to refer the bank to other potential customers and to purchase their next banking need from PNC.

PNC found that 75 percent of its customers use the bank for transaction processing, access to payment systems and other services, not for loans. While only 25 percent borrow money for their businesses, all want the bank to be available to provide funds should they need them.

"Everybody is very attentive to the bank's willingness to provide capital," says Nist.

To respond, PNC added some touches to improve the borrowing experience, Nist says. Most improvements revolve around making sure the client has the right information to make a decision about borrowing, such as how to collateralize a loan.

The research is also designed to determine customer perceptions of their relationships with their banker.

"Part of our research got into a so-what-is-your-banker-to-you conversation," says Nist.

Industry research revealed that 70 percent of business customers said they never heard from a banker. PNC's surveys revealed similar results.

In response, PNC implemented a contact strategy, which calls for every banking customer that has a relationship with a contact officer at the bank to hear from someone within PNC at least four times a year. The contact may come as an in-person visit, a telephone call or an e-mail from a branch employee or call center worker.

PNC also discovered that customers at PNC and elsewhere aren't fully aware of the range of services that banks can offer their customers.

"There's a huge gap across the banking industry between what a bank can do and whether their customers know it," Nist says.

For instance, most customers are unaware that they can complete an emergency wire transfer of funds by going directly to the bank's wire transfer department, completing it in half the time and at half the cost required if they went through a branch office.

Even if business owners don't display the same degree of eagerness about banking that Nist and his colleagues share, they can be assured that they are needed nonetheless.

"Business owners tell us very consistently, with a lot of emphasis, that a good banker is a really important asset," says Nist. "What I'm hearing most from my customers is, 'Can you figure out what I need?'" How to reach: PNC Bank, www.pnc.com