In a competitive marketplace, one of the key opportunities for differentiation is to create a purposeful “experience” for the customer. Your customers are going to have some kind of experience, so the question is whether your organization is being proactive and purposeful to define and create that experience. Some companies who have created world-class “experiences” include Disney, Four Seasons and Zappos. These type companies have established the culture and systems for consistently delivering a high level of service.
Curt Gabardi, president and CEO of Metropolitan Bank, is intensely focused on creating a different type experience for the bank’s customers. Gabardi shared with me a number of ways that the bank strives to accomplish this goal. One of the first things I noted was that he referred to the bank’s customers as “clients.” This subtle difference is meant to describe a more personal relationship. Also, instead of branches, the bank has “offices,” and employees are “associates.” Gabardi said, “We are redefining the experience of banking. We started the bank from the ground up designing it around the needs of the client.” This type of ambitious goal is not easily achieved and takes a great degree of intentionality.
Gabardi certainly knows and understands his industry. He graduated from the University of Mississippi where he was first in class in the banking and finance program. He was the 1986 Taylor medalist in economics, and he also attended the Tennessee School of Commercial Lending, where he ranked No. 1 among 100 students. He has spent his entire career in the banking industry working for two banks in leadership positions under 13 different flags. In 2007, Gabardi and his partners formed Metropolitan BancGroup Inc., and in 2008 purchased Bank of the South (Miss.) as well as a Tennessee charter for Metropolitan Bank. Three years into operations, Metropolitan Bank’s assets have exceeded $550 million and deposits over $460 million.
In order to create a first-class experience, you have to understand your client and know what you are providing them. In other words, you need focus! Gabardi noted, “We try to keep it simple by focusing on being very good at our core services.” Like other great leaders, he emphasizes to his team members the importance of executing on the fundamentals. Gabardi also understands that the key to creating an experience for the client is to have his team focused on that objective. This means that that the culture of the organization has to be obsessively client focused. He shared, “My goal is for our employees to be emotionally connected to each other and to the clients.” He seeks to empower his associates and to provide them a great deal of autonomy and leadership opportunities. Gabardi has developed a very horizontal (flat) organizational culture, and he emphasizes the importance of experiencing leadership at every level in the bank. He refers to this broad based leadership as “unspoken discipline.”
For leaders in a business focused on creating a world-class experience, it takes a high degree of repetition of the key message. It takes discipline and a lot of work behind the scenes work to create a unique client experience. It also takes genuine empathy and caring for the client. This can’t be faked, so you have to hire the right people who share that mindset. Gabardi and the team and Metropolitan Bank are a good example of how you can bring a fresh approach to a very old business model. If you haven’t lately, make sure you stop and think about the “experience” of dealing with your organization.
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