Sign up to get full access to all our latest content, research, and network for everything customer contact.

Commerce Bank on What It Means to be a "Super-Community" Bank

Kindra Cooper

Commerce Bank customer service

B2C industries are locked in a digital arms race to design better customer experiences; banking and finance is no exception. Google and Mastercard are developing new user interfaces for customers to complete banking transactions by voice command using virtual assistants. Meanwhile, competitors in the non-banking sector like Transferwise and Venmo are supplanting traditional banking services by offering online payments at lower fees.

However, for small to mid-sized community banks like Commerce Bank, location and in-person service are still more important for customer acquisition and retention than, say, enabling P2P mobile payments on wearable devices.

A midwestern bank headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, Commerce Bank bills itself a “super-community” bank, meaning: “big bank resources with hometown service.”

A major source of funding for midwestern businesses like Sprint and H&R Block after World War II, the bank has always played it safe by steering clear of risky mortgages since its founding more than 150 years ago. When the 2008 recession hit and the US government spent billions bailing out major banks, Commerce was the country’s third-largest bank to decline government assistance.

Getting impartial financial advice from friendly and skilled personnel in a bank branch used to be the main selling point for all banks. Now it’s the value proposition for smaller institutions like Commerce, which was bought by TD Bank in 2007 for $8.5 billion.

Read more: TD Bank Designed an Omnichannel Strategy from Scratch - Here's How

“We like to call you by name, and we’re going to take care of you,” Gary Haworth, workforce management manager at Commerce Bank told CCW Digital at Verint Engage 2019 in Florida. “Whatever your issue is, we’ll find an answer for you.”

In May, following a series of tornado outbreaks in the midwest, Commerce created a dedicated phone line to offer individualized support for customers to discuss their current accounts and future options.

“Our role in their recovery is to serve as a financial emergency response team, combining our best-in-class banking expertise and heartfelt compassion to personally assist affected customers,” said Adam Steven, director of consumer banking for the Kansas City region at Commerce Bank.

The bank has been under the leadership of the Kemper family since the 1920s; then-president W.T. Kemper’s philosophy of “ask, listen and solve” still permeates the bank’s CX philosophy.

“Any time we’re with a customer we ask the questions, we listen to what the customer wants and we offer them solutions,” Haworth explained.

VIDEO: Former Rockstar James Dodkins on Creating a "Rockstar" Customer Experience

While slightly slower to digitize than its larger counterparts, Commerce has introduced online banking and a mobile app serving 458,000 active online banking customers, and it’s currently working on rolling out video teller capabilities at its ATMs.

The company also recently combined its workforce management, quality assurance and CS training teams so that staff could share data, take on each other’s roles in case of understaffing and benefit from cross-training.

“I’m excited to get all three groups working as one for the same mission, working for the customer and combining roles a little bit,” said Haworth. Doing so ensures consistent customer service, so that customers get the same answer no matter which CS rep they speak with.

Commerce Bank’s “Challenge Accepted” ethos means employees have to be ready to help the customer beyond their typical call of duty, like helping to orchestrate one customer’s mountain top marriage proposal by getting him approved for his first credit card, or advising a local schoolteacher on how to offload unnecessary bills that were crippling her financially.

While some of its CS agents are contact center careerists that have been with the company for over 20 years, others will leave their post for 25 cents more per hour on a 6-month contract at a rival contact center – a common attrition problem in the contact center industry. Haworth says the leavers tend to be new graduates paying off student loans.

Read more: Telstra and AT&T Shed Thousands of Contact Center Jobs

“What we’ve started doing as part of the process for retention is we’re meeting individually with those agents and doing touchpoints with them,” said Haworth. “We ask them how’s it going, is there anything you need from us, what are some areas where you’d like to grow, what are your struggles?”