Board Game Where You Make.Up.Stories About A Dead Person Retail Banking – A New Way For Customer Service

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Retail Banking – A New Way For Customer Service

With the UK’s Independent Commission on Banking recently issuing its long-awaited report on the state of our current banking landscape, the opportunities it contains to improve retail banking customer service are seemingly ‘lost in the noise’ – something our government apparently wants to deflect. Attention by kicking it into the long grass.

But there are no headline issues arising from the final report by Sir John Vickers and colleagues, such as how do we deal with banks that are too big to fail and how do we stop the risk of junk investment banking poisoning retail accounts?

Retail UK banking, unlike investment banking, should be a simple business where the bank takes our savings, identifies them and lends them to others, or vice versa. But this simple process has turned into such an unreal beast that almost everyone you talk to has a story of a retail bank atrocity.

In a recent survey of 1,000 nationally representative retail bank customers, nearly 70% believe banks don’t care much about what they think, more than 75% rate the public image and reputation of the bank’s retail operations as moderate to terrible, and A tear-jerking 86% think that banks’ image and reputation will not improve or actually decline over the next six months.

Two effects, connected but not identical, appear to be at work. The first factor is the speed and spotlight on online banking that puts the slow and thoughtful ‘old way’ of doing things. Ask yourself which is preferable – accessing a bank account from the train, your own home or an office, or walking into the bank in the rain and joining a queue? Older consumers feel less used to the online world, but young consumers ‘voting with their feet’ add considerable impetus to this inevitable online movement.

Thirty years ago a very senior UK bank official commented in an unguarded moment that high street banking was desperate and irretrievably uneconomic – and what hasn’t happened in the intervening years makes that judgment less telling.

The cost of maintaining the local branch network has fallen on the banks. There might be something to be said for this if carrying this burden produced satisfied customers, but it simply fails to do so. Branch managers have been deprived of decision-making power over loans, thereby further reducing the reasons for bothering with branch visits. When was the last time you did that? First Direct responded to this economic reality with the ingenious strategy of having no branches. Yet how have other banks responded?

The second factor is the way retail bank brands are created, maintained and developed. Various studies show that marketing slogans, for example, have little recognition among the public and the only one that has real customer awareness is HSBC’s ‘The World’s Local Bank.’ This slogan was launched in March 2002, showing that it takes a lot of time and a lot of money to get any kind of traction and make an impact.

Customers now pay more attention to testimonials from other customers than promotional campaigns, enthusiastic customers and ‘brand ambassadors’ are the market makers of the future.

Retail UK banking requires a new business model. The old business model was bank-centric where the bank saw itself as a central asset and the customer could approach the bank and politely ask if its provider-defined services met the customer’s needs. Motivated by incentives, bank staff tried to convince customers that products such as payment protection insurance met genuine needs. So much for ‘customer service’.

There is a clear demand for a customer-centric business model, but few banks seem to be working effectively to meet this demand. Used properly, ‘new media’ can create real conversations with their customers and as the famous book ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto’ puts it, “marketing becomes a conversation”.

Instead of defining their services by what banks want to offer, they can be defined by what customers need. The ‘bank to customer’ pole is reversed and the customer becomes the market-maker of the future.

It all comes down to the bank’s own culture. In today’s globalized and commoditized world there is always ‘choice’ but retail banks have avoided this evolution due to customer inertia. The general perception is that switching your bank account is too much hassle – and if you do, the next bank you go to won’t be any better.

This has led to a culture of complacency among UK banks. They are too big and too powerful to care too much about what customers actually think. But this will change.

There are new competitors like Metro Bank, dedicated to a customer-centric model, that are changing the game and there is no doubt that the tipping point will come soon.

The bank that wins this battle will be the one that transforms its culture towards the agile, customer service-centric principles that are winning across sectors and industries around the world.

Of course, this transformation will not be easy for the big banks to achieve. At board level banks are often aware of what is happening and what is needed. But die-hard middle management echelons are convinced the old bank-centric model has enough life left to see out their careers. A major UK bank told us they already had a team working on customer conversations and our research was a day late and a dollar short. But a look at the detailed reports from their customers shows that their efforts may be costing but not working. Bank customers are eager – perhaps even desperate – to express their real needs, if banks are prepared to listen and respond.

Now that the Independent Commission on UK Banking has issued its final report, there is a window of opportunity in bank customer service for senior managers in retail banking who are savvy enough to see it. The question that needs to be answered is will it encourage banks to have meaningful conversations with the 86 percent of customers who feel that the bank’s reputation will soon fail to improve? Let’s hope so.

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