Off Center
Tons of financial service organizations claim to be highly customer-centric. Only one, however, has ever proven it by firing all of its agents and replacing them with frustrated customers.

Since its revolutionary staffing change in 2010, First Second National Bank (FSNB) has seen a 40% increase in its Customer Satisfaction rate.

“Our Customer Sat scores used to always be in the toilet,” explains Robert Abernathy, CEO of FSNB. “Then, when the recession hit hard in 2008, we noticed many of our customers were losing their jobs. We saw a big opportunity. The very people who for years had been telling us how crummy our service was and what we needed to do differently were now in the market for a job. So we thought, ‘Why not bring them in and see what they can do?’ Of course, we, too, were hard hit by the recession, so we had to let all our existing staff go to make room for the new blood.”

Abernathy acknowledges it took a while for many of the new agents to get up to speed, as most of them had never worked in customer care in their life. “We took a real risk in bringing in out-of-work engineers and software developers and writers and butchers to provide customer service to our valued banking customers, but once we told them to just treat callers the way they would like to be treated, things really took off. That said, most still haven’t come even close to learning all the acronyms on their daily performance reports, thus they aren’t really sure what they need to work on.”

As much as service has improved since the bold move, FSNB agents know they can’t afford to become complacent. To keep them focused on the customer and continuously improving, the company has a unique policy in place that allows highly dissatisfied callers to fire agents with whom they interact. The customer who does the firing then has the option of applying for the opening they have created. “Our customer creed is, ‘If you think you can do the job better than us, prove it.’”   

Giving Social Customer Care a Starring Role 

Hiring customers isn’t the only innovative initiative FSNB has undertaken of late. The contact center recently implemented a one-of-a-kind social customer care strategy, outsourcing all social media monitoring and interactions to famed television/film star and Twitter junkie Ashton Kutcher.

“Our regular agents just don’t have the skills and experience to truly captivate social customers,” Abernathy explains. “We figured, who better to engage people who have nothing better to do than tweet all day than a really famous guy who has nothing better to do than tweet all day. It’s a win-win-win: FSNB is able to sustain a strong social presence, customers get to interact with a celebrity, and Mr. Kutcher is kept busy enough to keep him from making any more movies.”

Two Very Different Types of Agent Recognition

FSNB management understands the direct correlation between agent engagement and the customer experience. That’s why the bank doesn’t fool around when it comes to employee rewards and recognition. Agents who consistently meet or exceed key performance objectives – or who at least don’t smash anything at their workstation – receive occasional plaques, “thank you” notes and gift certificates. Those who truly excel contend for the center's “Agent of the Month” and “Agent of the Year” awards – each of which comes with a cash prize, a premier parking spot for a limited time, a dinner for two, and free Valium during the peak season.

That’s not to say that only those who perform well receive recognition. Agents who demonstrate incompetence or who simply don’t give a damn receive plenty of recognition, as well – just not the kind one should be proud of. For example, an FSNB agent named Bob, who is routinely tardy and out of adherence, recently showed up to work and discovered the message “Bob is the reason we missed our service level objective for the month and why our customers despise us” flitting across the center’s readerboard. Another agent, who continually struggles to resolve customer issues and to identify up-selling opportunities, found his picture on a poster with the caption “Wanted for Sucking” hanging in the breakroom.        

“It’s all part of our ‘You Get What You Deserve’ initiative,” explains Abernathy. “If you work hard and achieve, you’ll be duly rewarded. If you don’t, you’ll likely face a beating.” 

Abernathy adds that, while he’s proud of FSNB’s unique programs and bold approaches, this entire article has been one giant APRIL FOOLS gag! 

FSNB – the Big Picture:
Location: Cannot be disclosed (the entire contact center is in the National Witness Protection Program) 
Hours of operation: Open 24 hours – just not in a row.
Number of agents: Between 50 and 100 – depending on their mood
Products/services provided/supported: Customer service and sales for the bank’s entire line of products. In addition, the center handles overflow calls for cast members of Jersey Shore.
What’s so great about them? Don’t be so lazy – read the freaking article. 


JR Hardenburgh
4/1/2012 10:49:39 pm

You had me until the Aston Kutcher line. Actually do business with Fifth Third Bank, so the name was plausible. Hiring unemployed disgruntled customers is within the realm of possibility although ver risky. Banks behaving badly is S.O.P. for some. Enjoyed being the April fool for 5 paragraphs.

Kevin Carly
4/1/2012 11:07:43 pm


You've outdone yourself again, much as if you successfully counted from 1 to 2. I can't say that I had that "Sixth Sense" moment where I realized what the plot twist was. I must admit, however, that I was hook, line and sinker through at least the "valued banking customers" line.

Many of these ideas are what the industry needs, but the words valued, banking and customer are like the words quality, all-you-can-eat, Chinese and buffet; they simply don't belong in the same sentence.

I'm still sitting here, though, wondering if HR would let me get away with "Wanted for Sucking" posters. That is soooo sublime.


4/1/2012 11:27:35 pm

@JR: Fifth Third Bank's name actually inspired me for this piece. Glad I had the wool over your eyes for a while, and glad you were a good sport about it. Some people will enjoy the absurd and playfully irreverent humor; others will hunt me down.

Thanks for reading!



4/1/2012 11:33:59 pm

@Kevin: Brilliant comment, though I must distance myself from your banker bashing -- half of my 8 readers work in financial services.

I do, however, have your back on the Chinese buffet-bashing. I used to live in NYC and now live in TX. Oh how far I've fallen on the Chinese food front.

By the way, when are you going to start a blog? I enjoy your wit even more than my own -- just don't go stealing any of my subscribers or I'll cut you.



Kevin Carly
4/1/2012 11:50:07 pm

GL, I have a full-fledged plan to start a blog called Kev's Manifestation of Zeno's Paradoxes. I find it difficult, however, getting started.

On the TX thing...I love Texas. Dallas, in particular. Though the last time I was there and I went to China Town, I got a hair in my egg-drop soup. I am scarred. I have friends in Austin and D-FW. They all want me to move there, but I'm waiting for Texas to secede from the Union.

Faithfully yours,


M in Cincinnati
4/2/2012 01:32:01 am

Greg, I manage the customer service center for FTB and will be the one to hunt you down! I know FTB was only your inspiration because we're such a prominent brand in banking and customer service that your readers could relate to and would know right away that it was an April Fools joke : ) . . . because it just couldn't be true! By the way, we achieved our highest monthly customer satisfaction score to date in March.

4/2/2012 01:43:39 am

Ha! My strategy worked, M in Cincinnati (if that is, in fact, your REAL name). I have always wanted to meet a real live person in a position of power at FTB, and knew that my blog and subsequent comment on a reader's comment would set the perfect trap.

So, now that I've got you, like, hey man, what's up?

Thanks for your fun-loving comment, and for not reporting me to the FDIC.



Aaron the Haggis
4/2/2012 05:10:06 pm

Great read, I particularly like the “Bob is the reason we missed our service level objective for the month and why our customers despise us”. I wonder how I get that implemented. Could you give any insight as to how they approached that with their HR department. Another idea I had to improve call duration was to have an auto transfer set up that would bounce calls to the next available agent after 5 minutes. This would have the effect of drastically reducing our duration and would add variety to the agents calls.

4/2/2012 10:45:31 pm

Glad you enjoyed the FSNB "Centerfold", Aaron. To answer your question, it's always best to go behind the back of HR when implementing questionable/controversial initiatives. They don't mind. It gives them more time to nap and review urine test results of new applicants.

Thanks for your comment!



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