While everyone and their brother complains about customer service at banks, I can only say that my experience with our local St Helier's branch of Westpac has been great.

But a recent problem - completely my fault - was solved by my Local Business Manager Nigel Watson. He went way beyond the call of duty and to bat for me. Big time. Here's the funny part. Even though he had asked me many times to meet for a coffee to discuss our accounts, I had kept him at arm's length only speaking on the phone or via email.

So of course I thanked him. Of course gave him (and a separate one to the local branch) a box of chocolates. Then I had a thought. Before the holiday break, you would have read several columns of mine centering around customer service.

I thought you might like to have a peek inside (and perhaps learn a few lessons) from the other side of the coin. Someone that deals with customers. I asked Nigel for a moment or two of his time to explore what his business habits were.


What I haven't mentioned either is how without prompting, every time a term deposit was due for renewal, he would telephone to see what we wanted to do and see if he could help us with a better deal. I find that stunning. Service without prompt!

This is what I asked Nigel. With lots of business customers to look after (250 plus), what was his philosophy of customer service?

Before I give you his pointers, let's get a bit of background information.

He's been with Westpac for 2.5 years. Prior to that - a broker for asset finance. Before that hospitality. A psychology degree. Yes, a grounding in sales so to speak.

Next I asked about Westpac's criteria of performance. What is he and his fellow local business managers judged upon? Lending, margin and a good customer score. Check - customer service is important.

1. Know your customers

Nigel went to a North Shore business function. He met two people there that were already Westpac customers and discussed calling into their premises and having a chat. The following week he followed up on his promises and whilst there asked for referrals.

2. Involve yourself in their business

Don't just keep to the phone and email. Go to visit your customers. You'll notice areas where you can do new business. When Nigel does this - he'll sometimes find new opportunities for loans or insurance.

3. It's all about relationships

Not only with your clients - but with the people that refer business to you too.

4. Persistency overcome resistance

Don't be afraid to keep on asking - in a nice way - for more business or to turn someone into a client. Most of his new business comes from existing clients - validating his philosophy of knowing them, asking for more business and giving good service. Always ask for referrals. In networking he cleverly works with accountants. What could be better? That's another point to look where you can get the most bang for your buck.

What industry would be a good referral source for you? Determine it, then work it.

Note from Debbie about the two points above - you know the easiest way to do this is to have a regular 'what's in it for them' communication strategy and a database so you can be persistent, build relationships and add to your perceived value add with a push of a button.

5. You earn respect from good service

Do not be afraid to be honest in setting expectations. Sometimes clients don't understand the time frame and work involved in getting approvals. Keep a dialogue going. He also finds that consistency of care, and being nice will generate people responding in kind.

6. Act

Nigel has the bank's Customer Relationship Management program to work with (as many people do). If you don't, simply set prompts with your email Task or To do program. Create a list in excel, enter the dates, then sort weekly for your follow ups.

Nigel says 'when that reminder pops up - do it straight away. When the phone rings, answer it' (except when with someone of course). You'll save time that way.

I guess the question is, when was the last time that you - or your business provided great enough customer service to actually drive someone to write about it?