Photo: Photo courtesy of Umpqua Bank
Chances are at a typical bank branch if you have an issue with the customer service or need a question answered you wouldn’t be able to reach the CEO on his or her direct line. But at West Coast-based Umpqua Bank, which touts itself as “the world’s greatest bank,” they want you to be able to call the chief executive at his office.
In fact, all of Umpqua’s so-called bank “stores” are equipped with a silver-coloured phone that goes directly to the chief executive.
“Why hide from your customers? If you can be open and accessible you should be,” Umpqua spokesperson Eve Callahan said in a telephone interview with Business Insider. “It’s something we consider really important now more than ever. People are finding it more difficult to trust their bank and we want our customers’ feedback and we are here to answer those questions.”
Umpqua Bank, which has been recognised by Fortune magazine on its “100 Best Companies to work for” list, attributes its different customer service approach to its unique culture.
“The foundation of customer service that our customers experience is the internal culture we’ve built,” Callahan said, adding, “That’s just an important piece to consider because it really drives what we do.”
The bank, which currently employs approximately 2,400 people in 195 locations from San Francisco to Seattle, strives to bring people aboard who are committed to service and working with others, Callahan explained.
“We are looking to hire people who love to interact and serve people, and if we do that, the banking product and service knowledge, we can train. We want people who have that real depth and experience in terms of service.”
All of the bank’s so-called “universal associates” are trained at the “World’s Greatest Bank University” where they take courses to develop associates’ skills and knowledge. The reason they’re referred to as universal associates is because all employees are trained to assist customers with any kind of product or service the bank offers.
Associates are trained to be welcoming, call people by their names and get to known them whether they are a customer or not.
The associates are also encouraged to give back to the community in which they work. Umpqua provides them with up to 40 hours of paid time-off to do volunteer work at a non-profit or school of their choice.
“A key part of our culture is to give back,” Callahan said. “We see community engagement and community action as a way to get to know the needs of their particular community.”
Another noticeable aspect that sets Umpqua apart from other banks is its appearance.
The stores have a sleek appearance compared to other banks. They are furnished with comfortable chairs and feature a computer cafe complete with complimentary organic coffee, all of which are open to the public regardless of whether or not they are customers.
When the bank’s current chief executive, Ray Davis, took the helm in 1994, he really wanted Umpqua to distinguish itself from other banks by changing the look and feel.
“We recognised that if we could change how our bank branches look and feel and go beyond that — that in and of itself would give ourselves and give people a reason to drive past another bank and get to us,” Callahan said.
Umpqua also has its own signature elements when it comes to customer service. For instance, anyone who calls up the bank is greeted with, “Thank you for calling the world’s greatest bank.” Bank clients also receive a free chocolate coin with any transaction.
Umpqua opened its first bank “store” in 1996 and the concept has “enormously successful,” Callahan said.
The bank, which IPO’d under Umpqua Holdings in 1998 and currently trades on the Nasdaq (UMPQ), has grown from just around $150 million in assets when Davis took over as CEO to just under $12 billion in assets.
Umpqua attributes its success to the employees.
“It takes real discipline and focus to build and sustain a culture that allows associates to really put service first, particularly as a growing company,” Callahan said.”That has been teh secret to our success — our associates — they could be beautiful empty spaces, but our associates really bring them to life and make them work.”