Bank of America’s CEO – Brave or Naive?


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I have seen so many proclamations like the one Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America sent to his 270,000 employees last week stating they needed to improve their Customer service. When I received a called from NPR (National Public Radio) asking for a radio interview I couldn’t make up my mind if Brian was brave or just naïve. Why do I say this? Firstly, I wondered why it had taken him the fourth year of being CEO to reach this epiphany. Secondly, changing the Customer Experience is not an easy task. It’s easy to say, but difficult to do. Many organizations, like Brian’s, say they want to improve their Customer Experience but they don’t know what it really takes. They are naïve. On the other hand he may be brave. May be he does appreciate the deep changes it will mean to him and his organization. It could be I am just getting old and my 38 years in business has made me skeptical, but in my experience a leopard rarely changes its spots. One thing for certain he has nailed his colors to the mast and we watch with interest.

At my company, Beyond Philosophy, we have found it is vital not to just listen to the rhetoric of ‘improving the Customer Experience’ but to probe the real commitment of the CEO and their team. We have discovered the first question to ask a CEO and their senior team is a simple one, “Are you serious”? Are you serious about making the change, because if you are not, our advice is ‘don’t bother’. Saying one thing then doing another is very damaging to an organization’s morale and their leadership reputation.

I have also learnt not to just take their first reply. I have developed a series of questions to enable me to determine whether they are really serious and have really thought about the implications of this decision. If I was in front of Brian, here are some of the questions I would ask to define if he is serious and whether he is brave or just naïve…

Brian, it’s great that you have recognized the need to change, but what is the real motivation? I appreciate that you are the lowest on the American Customer Satisfaction Index of the big four banks, but is that the only reason for the change? Don’t you really just want to get off the bottom and become an average performer on Customer Experience? Wouldn’t that be good enough? If not, convince me why being better than average is what you want to achieve as I am skeptical…

I am trying to get a sense of the real motivation for the change, the picture behind the story. A question I love is ‘where is the pain’? What pain are you suffering that you want to move away from? Pain is a great motivator.

Brian, I assume you know the reason you are delivering the experience you are today, is because of the way the organization is today. Therefore, to improve the experience you need to change the culture of the organization, the inside out thinking, the processes, etc. as these are all conspiring to deliver the experience you are today. Have you thought through these changes? Are you prepared to make difficult and unpopular decisions? For example, it may mean you have to let go of some of your best revenue performers as they are providing a poor Customer Experience (I wrote a blog on this recently). Are you prepared to do this?

I am trying to get a sense of how much change he is willing to make, not just to everyone else but to the way he works as well. With that in mind I would want to find out what a typical week looks like…

Can you tell me what a typical week looks like for you? Can we look at your schedule? How much time do you spend with Customers? How much time in branches? How much time do you spend talking internally about Customers? What about your senior team?

This is simple. You are your schedule. Where you spend your time is what is important to you…

Do you have Customer Experience as a regular part of your board agenda? If so, where does it come – top or bottom of the agenda or is it not there at all?

This gives me a view on how important Customer Experience is to the organization today..

What are your senior team paid on? How much of the bonus is on external Customer measures? Are you willing to make 30% of the pay on achievement of Customer measures?

What gets measured gets done. What gets paid on- gets done even more!

There are many more questions I would ask to get a sense of whether they are serious, but let me give you an example of a Managing Director who is really committed to improving their Customer Experience and the changes he made.

Steve Elliott is the Managing Director of Morgan Sindall Fit Out which comprises the Overbury and Morgan Lovell brands. They undertake fit out and refurbishment projects across the UK, ranging from a few thousand pounds up to £100 million. A few years ago Steve recognized there was a fundamental problem in the construction industry. Work was seldom completed on time, there were frequent minor faults or unfinished issues, or ‘snags’, and overall work standards in the industry were pretty low. Pretty bad equaled opportunity in Steve’s book. Let me be very clear Steve Elliott was definitely brave. Steve announced to his senior managers they would be launching a program called ‘Perfect Delivery’. Perfect Delivery is quite simple, at the end of the job the customer decides if the job has been perfectly delivered or not and if it isn’t then the customer receives a reduction in their fees.

Now stop and think. This is construction -not renowned to be the most customer-centric of industries. Many people thought Steve was mad! But Steve was not mad, he was brave, but more importantly he was committed. He spent 50% of his time visiting different parts of the business evangelizing his vision, dealing with questions and explaining why this was the right direction. Many people were skeptical and thought this was impossible, but Steve is a true leader. He led the businesses to where they are today. They moved from fourth place in market share to 1 and the progress has not stopped there. In the first two years Perfect Delivery jobs made 50% more profit than non Perfect Delivery jobs. I am proud to say we have helped them on this journey. If you want to learn more about Steve’s incredible journey watch the video case study here.

Steve was brave. Brave can pay off if you are committed and serious. I’m not sure if Brian is brave or just naïve but I guess time will tell. I wait with interest to see the change….

What is your view, is Brian brave or naive?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. The ACSI is a robust model for customer loyalty, with customer service just being one attribute.

    It may help to exhort employees to provide better service, but only if that’s backed up with the right systems and rewards.

    But this does nothing to address other missteps. Like last year when it proposed a $5 monthly debit card fee. My son at college switched to a local credit union after learning of this. What sense does it make to motivate college students to go elsewhere, when they may become valuable customers after joining the workforce.

    In another incident, my son had problems with an ATM, went inside to the branch and was informed the “service” call would cost him, because his account did not include branch visits. Amazing…

    My impression of BofA is that the company starts with the need to make money, then tries to figure out what kinds of fees will make their numbers. That’s exactly backwards from a customer-centric business.

    In my view, BofA is confused about what really drives loyalty, and inept in their execution. Improving customer service won’t help much so long as their real business strategy is focused on fees, not customers.

  2. Colin –

    The CEO of BofA is also the same individual who, after cutting 30,000 jobs in 2011, authorized the debit card fee which caused such an outpouring of complaints that, within a month, the COO said they would cancel charging the fee. Clearly, the bank was so culturally customer-insensitive that they had not anticipated the damage to their image and reputation, as well as the prospective massive customer loss. President Obama said that BofA customers were being mistreated in pursuit of profit, and Vice President Biden called the move ‘incredibly tone deaf’.

    In customer behavior research conducted among major U.S. banks, BofA has consistently performed in the lowest ranks (poor customer advocacy creation coupled with high customer alienation). This is absolutely a profit-driven, cultural customer-centricity issue; and, if BofA wants to build advocacy and customer positivism through its service organization and processes, as you note the CEO must do more than provide an occasional message:

    Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC
    Chief Research Officer
    The Relational Capital Group


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