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The Net Promoter System Podcast

Without the Customer, There’s No Food on the Table

ABN AMRO’s Alex Terpstra brings his father’s homespun wisdom to the banking sector.

  • June 06, 2019


Without the Customer, There’s No Food on the Table

Alex Terpstra was born and raised for customer service. His father, a retailer in the Netherlands, never failed to remind young Alex who put food on the family’s table.

“Every day at our dinner table we were talking about customers,” he told me. “I actually was educated by my parents that without the customer, there's no food on the table.”

Alex, head of innovations at ABN AMRO, has carried that mantra throughout his two-decade tenure at the bank. Alex’s choice of banking as a career stemmed in part from his father’s frustrations with banks. He described squabbles over loans as a frequent topic of conversation in the Terpstra household. So, in a funny, roundabout way, he devoted his career to addressing all of his father's complaints from the inside: “That's what drives me and what makes me motivated to work there. I can make a change.” 

In our latest episode of The Net Promoter System podcast, Alex explains how he helped ABN AMRO launch radically new services for its customers, even at the risk of a large short-term profit hit. The payoff, he says, has been highly lucrative customer relationships that pay dividends far beyond the initial costs.

Learn more about how happy customers put food on ABN AMRO's table by listening to my conversation with Alex on iTunes, Stitcher or your podcast provider of choice. You can also listen through the audio player below.

In the following excerpt, Alex explains how he helped make every employee feel accountable to customers by organizing a customer “thank-a-thon.”

Rob Markey: A large organization, tens of thousands of people, has grown up for years and years with a culture where it's just not acceptable to get bad news. You feel like you have failed and you're being evaluated when something comes in that's not really positive about your product. 

Alex Terpstra: Yeah, and even worse, if there was a complaint, we were too big to say, "Oh, it's my fault." But you can always say, "Oh no, it's because of the other department or about the other colleague.” And how I changed it, partly—it's still an ongoing process—is that I started with [employees] who really have the guts and who really have the power to go on, not to give up directly. 

For example, we did a thank-a-thon with a small group of people . . . people who never saw a customer in their lives but are developing products from out of the head office. I went with that motivated, small group of people. We called customers and just said, "Thank you for being customers."

They were [customers for more than 20 years] but never heard about us, because once you have a mortgage you pay every month and then, okay, we get the money in, but the bank did not contact them. And with doing that, I saw people who are already motivated becoming more motivated because the customer said, "Wow, and now you are not going to sell me something?" or "You're just phoning because you are glad that I'm a customer with ABN AMRO?"

So we communicated this to the whole bank . . . We really made it sexy and nice to work with customers, and then the community grew and also those in management say, "Okay, I want to know more about it.”

So communicate your successes and start with people who are really motivated. And never give up.

Rob Markey: It's interesting, this idea of the thank-a-thon. I love that idea.


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