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Q&A: How One Community Bank Is Using CRM to Improve Its Customer Experience

Nov 15, 2018

Many community banks are driven by deep relationships that transcend generations, and they focus on providing personalized service that allows associates to know their customers’ needs and challenges inside and out. And though the marketplace has seen many new advancements over the past few decades — think “robo” financial advice and online, mobile-based banking services — many value direct relationships with these institutions and believe in investing their funds within their community.

As community banks grow their reach, expand their services and build their teams, they’re also leveraging customer relationship management (CRM) solutions to ensure they’re providing the most valuable services to their customers with complete visibility into their customer base.

First State Bank and Trust found itself at this same juncture earlier this year. The independent community bank, which serves customers from western Wisconsin to the Twin Cities metro area, developed an aggressive, long-term strategic growth plan for its four branches. “We appreciate our relationships with our customers and believe that community banking is a critical resource to ensure the success and viability of local communities,” says Jason Howard, First State Bank and Trust’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO). “Our deposit and lending dollars stay in our community; our employees live in our community; and our shareholders invest in our community. For us to achieve our strategic goals and remain an independent community bank, we felt a CRM system was a critical piece to help us better develop, manage and maintain customer relationships.”

After a comprehensive research and due diligence process, the organization decided on the Wipfli Connect for Banking solution powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365. So what challenges has First State Bank and Trust faced in the implementation process and where does it stand today? We sat down with Jason to find out:

First State Bank and Trust (FSBT) has experienced notable growth and expansion over the past two decades, both in terms of the locations you serve and your suite of products and services. What new developments or challenges prompted your search for a CRM solution?

“From a community banking perspective, our organization is pretty unique. We have four major business units that operate individually. Coupled with traditional banking functions, we also have a large trust department, an insurance agency and a relationship with a financial planner. Each of our business units has found great success in building strong books of business — but we have traditionally taken a siloed approach to growth.

“We believe there is true value in being able to offer our customers many products and services underneath one umbrella. Historically, we tracked our business development activities manually by each business unit, and there also was no consolidated system that housed basic contact information and communications across all units. We needed to patch those inconsistencies.

“As we looked to the future, and as part of our quest to continually offer our customers a wide range of financial products and services, we needed to ensure our business units worked together and viewed customer relationships from a holistic viewpoint to better serve their needs. However, our current referral system relies on manual processes and is extremely inefficient. Currently, we have one employee solely dedicated to tracking referral opportunities manually. We needed to find a way to streamline the referral process and better leverage staff time focused on business development efforts.   

“And finally, we needed a better way to hold our associates accountable to identifying and following through on referral opportunities. We were looking for a ‘30,000-foot view’ of our entire service ecosystem. After doing some research and having many discussions with the board and our management team, we started our search for a CRM solution.”

Before we dive into your decision-making process, what are some of the goals you set out to achieve with the implementation of the solution?

“With this implementation, our primary goal was to create a holistic view of our customers across our four key business units. To encourage referrals and knowledge-sharing, we wanted to provide these units with an intuitive, easy-to-use platform that allowed them to assess each unit’s relationships with its customers, the complexity of those relationships, the services we provide to them and potential needs we haven’t solved for yet. Previously, this was a very manual process — for instance, if a trust officer wanted to get intelligence about a customer, they would need to call down to banking operations to figure out which services they currently used. That discussion may lead them to the insurance department, and then the financial planner … there was no way to easily see that information and maintain transparency over what was going on across the organization.

“From the very beginning, we’ve told our associates that CRM is not intended to be used solely as a sales tool; it’s a business intelligence tool for the organization that empowers us to better understand the needs of our customers. We hope that it will allow us to identify referral opportunities more easily and create a workflow for referring opportunities to other business units in an efficient manner. Our associates can leverage the system to track interactions across all business units and provide more proactive service to help customers achieve financial goals in a personalized, professional manner.

“The world of community banking has evolved immensely over the past few decades, and competition has increased both locally and via online banking services. When we think about our goals for this implementation, we see CRM as a key component to drive our long-term strategic plan. Moving forward, we’re going away from a siloed approach to growth; CRM will promote collaboration across all business units and ultimately allow us to serve more customers and grow our business.”

How will Microsoft Dynamics 365 help your associates?

“For one, it will automate and simplify many of the routine, inefficient and manual processes that our associates used to maintain relationships. Some business units used Excel spreadsheets to track their business activities; we kept contact information in our core operating system, which didn’t allow for automation or proactive relationship management. With CRM, our associates will be able to focus on valuable opportunities to grow the business and better serve our customers, including real-time insights about customer relationships, across all business units. Associates will have significant, valuable knowledge about a customer’s situation before they even interact with them.

“Our marketing department also stands to benefit from CRM — rather than sending out mass marketing communications for certain products and services, our team can tailor those messages to specific types of customers and focus on the offerings they care about most.

“One CRM feature we’re particularly excited about is the creation of the ‘wealth management’ scoring matrix, which allows associates to easily understand any customer’s current relationship, including how engaged they are with our bank and the business units with which they already do business. Our bank can serve the vast majority of our customers’ financial needs — and with the traditional, siloed approach to collaboration we’ve taken in the past, most of our associates were only focused on the service they directly provided to the customer. But we’ve seen our associates get excited when they make a referral to another business unit. They hear customers express appreciation for thinking beyond just one way we can help. CRM will continue to fuel this activity, and it not only means we’re helping our associates — we’re doing the right thing for our customers, too.”

How else do you see your customers benefiting from CRM?

“As a community bank, we pride ourselves on offering personalized service. Our direct relationships with our customers mean everything to us, and we strive to go above and beyond to serve all of their needs.

“We also recognize that our customers are busy people; many of them are small business owners. A challenge we see in the current competitive market is that it’s saturated with options, and our customers don’t have time to shop around for different solutions or work with other financial services companies. With CRM, we can use information we already have to better understand who we work with and make proactive, focused recommendations. They will get quality products and services from one source without sacrificing the personalized service they’ve come to know.

“The level of business intelligence we can pull from CRM will give us insights that empower us to have more personalized interactions. We’ll have more consistent methods of handling interactions across all business units, and our customers will experience more effective, direct communications, which puts time back in their day to focus on their business, not deal with banking concerns or service providers.”

In your opinion, what does success look like for the implementation of Microsoft Dynamics 365?

“For the first time in our bank’s history, we will have complete and total visibility over our customer base — we’ll know our total unique customer count and the products and services with which they work across all business units, at a very detailed and granular level. For me, success means raising our average wealth management score (using the feature I talked about previously) and increasing the number of services we provide our customers. And hopefully, our ability to better serve our customers’ financial picture will make them more engaged in our brand and spread the word about how we can help to the rest of our community. We see our CRM driving new relationships from existing ones, allowing us to touch the lives of more business owners and individuals in our area.

“Success also comes from seeing our associates fully adopt CRM and get excited about it. I want our business units to see it as a tool to help them become more efficient in their day-to-day work and help them more effectively manage customer relationships. The system is intuitive and allows them to track customer activity and enter information on-the-go, at their convenience. Our hope is that the tool reduces the amount of time and effort our associates spend on administrative work and empowers them to focus their energy on activities that enrich our business and our customers’ lives.”

Conversely, what are the biggest obstacles to success in this implementation?

“The challenges tie back into associate adoption. When we vetted CRM solutions as part of the decision-making process, we had many discussions with our peers in the banking world, specifically those who implemented a CRM solution. When we broached the topic of challenges, adoption was the most common theme. We understand that it’s a big cultural change, and our goal is for our associates to know that we are all on the same team and are committed to providing better customer service. We want them to see the value of CRM as a customer engagement tool, not as a sales management tool.

“From the beginning, I stressed that the tool wasn’t meant to be another process our associates have to do, or another item to check off their list. It will replace cumbersome, manual processes and make them more efficient in their work. They’ll be able to gather and view information in a simplified, intuitive way, and focus less on administrative tasks. And we have invested in resources — and in partners, like Wipfli — to ensure that our employees are trained, know the system, understand the system, are comfortable using it and are being held accountable. We want our associates to get away from siloed approaches and help them understand the importance of developing holistic customer relationships, using technology like CRM. And technology can be a risk, but it’s part of the reason we decided to enlist Wipfli’s help with designing the system and facilitating implementation.”

Can you expand on the reasons you decided to enlist the help of a partner to lead the implementation of Microsoft Dynamics 365?

“During our search, we looked at several CRM systems and considered both an in-house and outsourced implementation process. Ultimately, we decided the biggest risks were usability, how quickly (and accurately) the system could deliver information and associate adoption. And we decided that to mitigate those risks, we needed dedicated staff to ensure timely implementation, proper development and a tailored system. Wipfli immediately offered to help us outline a design and implementation timeline that could keep us focused on getting to a launch date.

“Given our size and budget, it made sense to outsource the implementation and development.  We also recognized that we couldn’t allocate resources to having a full-time, on-staff CRM developer. But we saw the value in bringing on an independent, outside third party, because we felt our associates may feel more open to sharing feedback with a team that wasn’t affiliated with our organization. All of these factors influenced our decision to look outside for assistance.”

Why Wipfli?

“We’ve worked with Wipfli for several years in the audit and bank consulting arenas. Not only do we maintain a strong, personal relationship with the team, but we have also come to appreciate their immense industry knowledge. In researching solutions, we realized that a generic, off-the-shelf CRM solution wasn’t going to be enough for our organization. We needed a team that truly understood our industry and what drives banking operations — and Wipfli had it. Their technology consulting team introduced us to Wipfli Connect for Banking, and it was the tailored, personalized approach we needed — a combination of good technology and industry insights. We have been very impressed with their team, and it’s clear they understand what a CRM should look like in a banking environment.”

Want to learn more about Wipfli Connect for Banking or explore CRM solutions for your organization? Contact us today.


Jason Muhlstein
National Regions Leader
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