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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How are you treated in a bank? What avenue do you have in pouring your frustration? How will you payback a poor service?

Let me share my experience in supposedly a world-class bank here locally. It is world-class no doubt, from the bank set up which is very different from any other local banks. Unlike other banks, where you have to take a number and wait (lucky if you get a seat) for your turn to stand on a high desk counter, this bank offers cubicles with officers serving you while your are comfortably seated.

This bank on that early afternoon was almost empty with at least six cubicles as counter service but only one was in operation. Outside of that, at least there was a foreign national guard proactively guiding on issuing queue numbers from a sophisticated number dispensing machine. Not wanting to disparage a foreign worker but seriously wonder what impression the bank plans to portray to its customers when it could not afford a customer service agent for a critical touch point.

In all earnest, the bank wants to provide ‘personalized service’ because the machine asks you to type your name before it issues your number slip. Finally you have a bank that wants to identify you by your name instead of numbers. Good start!

After waiting for 40 minutes, I lost my patients and asked the faithfully standing guard if it is always this slow. He was unsure but said that many of the officers were on sick leave and wonder why. Finally, after some noise, a lady miraculously came to my aid and got my transaction done within 10 minutes.

Why do a customer have to go through such an experience and have to make the ‘presence felt’ before someone acts? Forget about delighting a customer, who is accountable for customer satisfaction? Isn’t the front liners empowered to make a customer’s experience a pleasant event?  Do the supervisors take effort in knowing how customers felt for that day? And, do these supervisors take this opportunity to coach the front liners on improving basic customer service? 

Who is most responsible for ensuring all of these happens? What customer strategy is at play, or is there one? All I can see is a major breakdown in the entire customer management system of this bank from top to bottom. 

Though the bank may have invested in its infrastructure to create a world-class presence such as sophisticated number dispensing machine, comfortable waiting area complimented with news channels and newspapers, private cubicle counters, fresh and clean toilet for customer and not to forget well groomed officers, they have obviously overlooked on how their customers feel in real time. The nice-to-have stuff is great but what good is it when you don’t top this up with memorable customer service.

As a customer, I want to feel valued and nothing short. When I don’t get that, like most of us, I will want to avoid such place and look for others who value me. Not only I want to avoid in the future, depending on my personal trait, I will scream as loud as possible to anyone that I know to avoid that bank.

While it’s easier said, it is not that easy to move from one bank to another due to high switching cost or ‘stickiness’ deliberately created by a company to trap customer for as long as they can milk a customer. So customers are often left with little or no choice to continue sticking with a bank until say their mortgage is over or their fixed deposit expires.

I believe the main driver of customer choosing a bank is not the savings rate, after all the difference between one to another is negligible. It is how the bank value a customer and that reflected in how such bank treat them at every touch point matters most. In-fact research shows customers willing to pay more (or get less) for better customer service. 

So it is not fancy bank office or higher saving rate that makes customer stay longer, buy more of the service and tell their friends. Ultimately, the true measure of customer service excellence is how a customer feels when he or she walks out of the bank. 

When customers are not treated well, their payback to the bank is simple – leave and tell others, if not immediately, eventually!

Satya Narayanan