This entry authored by Taylor W. Wells, Communications Director with On The Mark Strategies

A few weeks ago, I went to a big box home improvement store in search of a new grill. Dreams and visions of family cookouts, delicious smells wafting through the air and the satisfaction that comes from cooking a delicious cut of meat outside danced through my head as I entered the store.

Once I reached the grill section, I was completely taken aback by the selection. Row after row of powdered black and shiny stainless steel grills leered at me. It’s almost as if they knew I was in over my head and didn’t really have a clue what I wanted. After just a few moments of stumbling zombie-like amongst the grills, I was approached by a smiling sales associate, complete with a blue apron.

She asked if she could help me pick out a grill. Here’s where I have to make a confession: I made a snap judgment about her ability to do so. She was young, and — there’s no other way to say it, not a man. My chauvinistic side would not allow for the fact that maybe a younger person, and a female at that, might know a little something about grills.

I gave her some very vague terms about what I was looking for and she sprang into action. She asked me a series of probing questions about the kind of cooking I’d be doing, the space I had, charcoal versus propane, etc. She even shared that she had attended an in-store grilling class and training so she could help advise customers on the best possible purchase for their needs.

In other words — this bright young lady gave me a complete education in the world of grills and I walked away with one that more than satisfied my needs.

How does this apply to your bank or credit union? In many ways.

In order for financial institutions to succeed in this hyper-competitive age, they must empower their employees with the training and know-how to engage with consumers in meaningful ways. My grill expert was able to speak in great detail about the pros and cons of different models and never had to refer to a product manual or cheat sheet. She was the living embodiment of product guide for every grill on the floor.

So must it be at your bank or credit union. Your staff must experience full indoctrination into not only your bank or credit union culture but also the intricacies of its products and services. And most importantly, they must then be prepared to explain to consumers why and how these products can help improve and empower their financial lives. Without that, all you have is a teller or customer service rep reading bullet points off a brochure and that rarely sells anything or endears consumers to come back to you in the future.

We can learn a lot about better ways to serve our members or customers by looking outside the financial institution industry. In this case, a bright young woman working in the grill department at a big box home improvement store gave me an education not only about grills but also about inaccurate stereotypes.