Secret weapon helps state compete as major player

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Published: June 27,2010

Tags: Business, Martin Willoughby, secret weapon

I believe that Mississippi has an underappreciated and underutilized secret weapon in the business world.  Simply put, we have a great culture of generosity and friendliness.  We care about other people.  Mississippi consistently is No. 1 on the Generosity Index created by the “Catalogue for Philanthropy,” which analyzes the average adjusted income of residents and the value of itemized charitable donations based on income tax return filings.   While front porches and family reunions may slowly be ebbing away, we still have a sense of hospitality in our DNA.  

Corporations spend millions of dollars trying to improve their customer service.  While training, systems and methodologies are all important aspects of scalable customer service, it all begins with a friendly disposition and simply being nice and interested in the person you are taking care of.   Someone who had “sterile efficiency” in his or her job has probably helped us all. They were going through the motions and getting the job done but there was nothing “warm and fuzzy” about it to make us really feel as if they care.  In contrast, I think about circumstances where employees seem actually nice and happy.  Like the theme to the long-running TV show “Cheers,” these are the type places where “everybody knows your name.”

BankTEL, based in Columbus, has certainly utilized this secret weapon.  Formed in 1991, the company develops software solutions to help its banking customers create operational efficiencies and enhance customer service.  Today, the company has over 800 financial institution customers in 48 states across the United States and in nine countries. I recently visited with Boyce Adams Jr., vice president of sales and marketing, to learn how this Mississippi-based company has grown to be a top three solutions provider to banks.  The first thing that I discovered was that BankTEL really understands its market niche.  They truly listen to their customers and have continually evolved their products to meet their needs. 

What we really struck me though was the fact that according to Adams, “Being a Mississippi-based company has really been a strategic advantage for us. We stand out from the crowd and people are always interested to learn more about Mississippi.”  Adams also attributed their success to the close relationships they have with their customers and strategic partners.  He noted, “Our employees care and are interested in our customers.” The result of this personal touch is a high level of trust that develops with customers.  As anyone in business knows, that’s the way you maintain customers for the long term – it becomes a real relationship and not subject to the next best pricing offer. 

Adams, who has an international business degree from Vanderbilt, believes that the company will continue to expand its market share domestically and also aggressively grow its market overseas.   Interestingly, when the company started there were 18,500 banks nationwide, and now there are less than 7,500.  Despite the industry consolidation, the company still has plenty of room to grow. As the preferred business partner of the top core processing companies for banks in the country, BankTEL will continue to benefit from valuable referral opportunities.   

As BankTEL’s story demonstrates, you don’t have to be in New York City to compete as a financial services company or in Silicon Valley to be a major player as a software company.  Properly focused in a good market niche, Mississippi-based companies can be industry leaders and use our secret weapons of hospitality and friendliness to build great customer relationships around the globe. 

 

Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at mew@msbusinesslaw.com.

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