The ALS #IceBucketChallenge and More on Why TD is Awesome

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I was originally going to write a post about recent trade promotions that I saw at various retailers, but that will have to wait for a future post because I wanted to comment on something incredible that I’m sure everyone has noticed by now – the ALS #IceBucketChallenge that has gone viral. But more specifically and in light of my previous post, TD’s participation in this phenomenal cause:

The reasons for which this video struck a chord with me are twofold.

First and foremost, it highlights the successful launch of a creative social media campaign for a cause that previously received very little attention. While critics have blasted the campaign as narcissistic and disingenuous in actually showing philanthropic concern, it is difficult to argue with the results – the ALS Association has raised over $15.6 million within the past couple of weeks, which is nine times what it usually raises within the same time frame. What I find particularly intriguing is how the campaign essentially built a new fundraising model that at first glance would seem counter-intuitive and ineffective. That is, this idea that nominated individuals either donate or avoid doing so by taking the ice bucket challenge when normally, donations are made to encourage individuals to engage in some activity (running, skipping rope, shaving their heads, etc). Yet the model has worked well beyond what anyone could have imagined most likely because individuals have in fact taken the challenge and donated anyway, and also simply because the viral nature of the campaign has generated so much buzz among celebrities and peers alike.

Secondly, the video once again highlights why TD is such an inspirational organization. We know that high profile celebrities, athletes, and politicians have all participated in the cause in some way or another, but who would have thought that you could rally an entire 100-plus-year-old corporate organization with the CEO at its helm to participate in the cause? It’s obvious in the video that there is an extensive number of people involved in filming, and to see such senior executives move such a large team to action, taking time from their busy schedules to dump ice water on their heads on a hot afternoon on Bay Street, is truly impressive. To get the CEO and 50+ volunteers to respond to a viral campaign on such short notice is not something every organization can, or would even be willing, to do. But that’s what makes TD what it is. It knows how to adapt to the light-speed pace of such viral campaigns and it truly understands how brand building works in today’s world.

And of course, the variety of #IceBucketChallenge videos I’ve seen over the past few days have successfully inspired me to make my donation. Although I’m not sure if I could actually handle dumping ice water all over myself…

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How TD Makes Your Day Better

I love TD. I am a loyal TD customer. Ever since I opened my first TD bank account over a decade ago, I have been an avid enthusiast of the TD organization and the TD brand. So when I saw the bank’s most recent fan appreciation initiative, hashtagged #TDThanksYou, I was certainly not surprised by how quickly it went viral.

While most viewers can appreciate the feel-good story, what some might not realize is that this is the level of customer service that TD delivers each and every day at each and every touch point with its customers. To illustrate, let me recount to you a personal example.

A couple of months ago, I needed to transfer some funds from my RBC account over to my TD account. (Yes, I can see the irony here as someone who happens to have an account with both TD as well as its closest competitor, but it will actually further validate the point of my story.) Without going into too much detail, the amount was large enough that it required me to complete the transaction in person via a teller, so I visited the nearest RBC branch at Square One.

When I arrived on that regular weekday afternoon, the branch was relatively empty – there were only about two to three tellers on staff and only a couple of customers ahead of me in line. Perfect, I thought, as I could deal with this quickly and move on with my other errands. As I waited my turn, a staff member (who was not a teller) asked me what I needed. I figured she wanted to help me sooner instead of having me waiting for the next teller, so I told her I needed to transfer some money. She said “oh ok, then just wait over there by that counter and the lady there will help you”, directing me to the “Business Services” window separate from the rest of the tellers.

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So I went over to the specified counter and saw that no one was present. After a couple of minutes, another lady showed up from outside the booth as if she had just came in to work and asked what I needed. I explained to her my situation and she told me to wait and went into the back office. After about another five to ten minutes, she came back and asked me to insert my card and enter my PIN (pretty standard routine). It did not work. The lady suggested that the machine might be broken and told me that I need to line up where the tellers are and they would be able to help me. Starting to get annoyed at this point, I explained to her that I was directed to this particular booth while already in line for the tellers. Luckily, there was no one else in line so I was able to speak to a teller right away, but I was annoyed by the fact that I had to be directed and then redirected in a circle and if there in fact was a longer line, I certainly would have pushed to regain my rightful spot. Nonetheless, I proceeded back to the teller area.

I was greeted by a relatively older gentleman who had just spent at least the last 20 minutes dealing with the customer ahead of me earlier. I explained to him what I needed and fortunately enough, he obliged. He asked me some standard questions for security purposes as well details on my account, entering information for a whole two to three minutes into the computer for each answer I gave. Finally towards the end of our interaction, he asked for my TD account number into which I wanted to make the transfer/deposit. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring a void cheque, so I was forced to call TD customer service on the spot to remind me what my account number was, which took about another five minutes. Thankfully, TD was relatively quick and got me the information I needed. The RBC teller processed the remainder of my info and finally presented me with the page I needed to sign. But, he warned, RBC could not be held liable if the account number I gave them was wrong, so it would be entirely my responsibility to make sure I got it right. This had me slightly worried but I signed the page anyway knowing that I had done this many times before and frankly, given that I was growing pretty impatient at this point. I grabbed my customer copy and promptly left. The entire visit must have taken around 30-45 minutes.

But of course, my errands were far from done. Funny enough, I had to visit a TD branch the very same day to make a separate, unrelated deposit. So my next visit was at the Square One TD branch directly across the street from the RBC branch I had just exited. In short, my visit to TD was significantly different from the one I just had.

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As usual, there was a longer lineup at the TD branch but it generally moves pretty quickly, which it did. This time, I was greeted by a younger gentleman with a jovial “Hi there, how are you?” followed by a genuine “How can I make your day better?”. I told him what I needed and inserted my card into the reader.

He asked me the standard questions and I replied. As he entered my information into the system, he casually started a conversation with me about my day and what I had been up to. We briefly chatted about school and my vacation plans after graduation, all while he was processing the transaction. Realizing my interest in travelling, he asked me if I would be interested in the latest TD Aeroplan Card promotion, explaining that the travel points accumulated on my current Travel Visa Card could be easily converted into Aeroplan points. My only concern was that the conversion would occur at an unfavourable rate, but he was fairly confident that such would not be the case. After a couple of minutes explaining to me all the fine print, I agreed to sign up as it appeared I had nothing to lose and plenty to gain. And here’s the best part. Just as I picked up the pen, he stopped me and said “wait, actually I don’t think you’ll get your points’ worth from the conversion, let me check with my manager”. And so he did, and the story gets better. His manager, a relatively young, energetic and highly approachable lady, greeted me and confirmed her colleague’s suspicion that I was better off not signing up for the promotion (the original deposit for which I came in was already complete at this point, so the Aeroplan deal was just a bonus). She then asked me directly if I was satisfied with his level of service and to put my answer in writing, which I promptly did with a definite “yes!”. They both wished me a wonderful day and I was on my merry way. The entire visit including the lineup took about 20 minutes.

In analyzing my two vastly different experiences, I think it becomes obvious why TD is so highly credited for its impeccable customer service. When I visited the RBC branch, the staff were unorganized and painfully slow with technology. They did not smile once during the entire exchange and they made no effort to help me with any additional concerns, particularly regarding my account number. Overall, the atmosphere was very uninviting and much of my time as a customer was wasted.

Meanwhile, my visit to TD produced a very different result. The staff members are all young, lively, competent individuals who are capable of helping customers efficiently and effectively, all the while maintaining a pleasant social conversation. What truly impressed me, however, was how my exchange with the TD teller ended. He could have easily convinced me to sign up for a promotion that was actually less beneficial to me, but instead he presented the promotion without being pushy, corrected his own mistake, and made sure I left the branch feeling good about our exchange. And this is precisely what TD front line staff (or all staff for that matter) do way better than anyone else – they go the extra mile for their customers.

This is a perfect example of the generally accepted principle that brand building starts on the inside. This idea of “Comfortable Banking” for which TD has come to be known is evident in all areas of its business, not just its marketing. Every customer service representative, whether in person or on the phone, greets you with “How can I make your day better?”. Every financial advisor provides you with options in a genuinely helpful way. Every employee with whom you interact is proactive in making sure that you receive excellent customer service.

The contrast between the TD brand and those of its competitors is quite stark, as TD lives and breathes its values throughout the organization. To be fair, I do think some of the other financial institutions have made significant strides with their business and marketing strategies – in particular Scotiabank’s proposition that “You’re Richer Than You Think” and Tangerine’s commitment to helping customers save money in manner that is 100% transparent. However, it would be hard not to recognize the powerfully permeating effect of TD’s commitment to customer service and, ultimately, its brand.

A Weekend on the Magnificent Mile

As embarrassing as it sounds, before last weekend the only association I made with Chicago was Michael Jordan. Yet funny enough, I didn’t even get a chance to see his iconic statue outside the United Center – because there were many other things to enjoy in this wonderful city.

Infrastructure

After a 9-hour drive from Toronto, the first thing that I noticed as we pulled into the Windy City was the cleanliness of the streets. No garbage lying around and minimal litter, but instead elegant lamp posts, mini garden patches and relatively smooth tiling on the sidewalks. The subway system, though less clean, is a step up from that of Toronto in that it is more extensive yet not overly complicated.

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City Attractions

In the midst of all the tall buildings and shopping venues along Michigan Avenue is Millennium Park, a central hangout that features live events every Friday and attracts tourists to its renowned work of art, The Bean. Admittedly, I couldn’t resist taking several clichéd selfies in this gigantic monstrosity for a mirror.

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As the weather held up, we also visited the Buckingham Fountain at Grant Park and took a nice long stroll along Navy Pier, both beautiful attractions in their own right.

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Shopping

If you want convenient access to the biggest fashion brands, then take a walk down the Magnificent Mile. Most brand name stores have multiple floors and you can easily spend hours browsing through the variety of selection available in a single store. Surprisingly, after spending hours in Nordstrom Rack and the flagship Nike store, I came out with nothing – but only because I was able to remind myself I didn’t really need anything. Had I stayed in the city for longer than three days, I’m sure this would be a different story.

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Food

Delicious is an understatement to describe how good the food was. A review of all the amazing restaurants at which we dined can easily be a blog post on its own. From the appetizing delicacies at The Purple Pig to the double cheeseburger (which turned out to be a triple cheeseburger) at Au Cheval to my first taste of deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s to our take-home souvenirs from Garrett Popcorn, there was not a single meal that was not worth the wait. It’s not uncommon to have to wait over two hours in line for a seat and that’s with reservations, but it speaks to the high quality of the food. From a business and marketing perspective, each of these restaurants simply focuses on doing one or two things really well and that’s it. Their investment into perfecting the taste of their dishes rather than pursuing aggressive expansion has earned them a unique aura of scarcity, effectively increasing customer demand, especially from first-timers like myself. As a result, the very feeling of exclusivity and word-of-mouth that spreads is all the marketing they need.

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Other Attractions

Some of our other adventures included an early visit to the John G. Shedd Aquarium and drinks at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the 360° Chicago building (formerly the John Hancock building), where a great view of the city can be seen.

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I was also personally fascinated by the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s flagship location, which features the iconic Golden Arches as part of the building’s architecture and an upstairs McDonald’s Museum detailing the evolution of the fast food chain throughout the decades.

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Oh and this place that I only saw from outside given that it is out of my league.

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But that’s ok because next time I will make it a point to visit His Airness (that is to say, his granite replica).