Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Customer Service and the private sector - reasons to be annoyed

I am a civil servant and, therefore, apparently not the best person to talk about customer service. And yet I find myself almost perpetually puzzled by the inability of banks and utility companies to do even simple things well.

I need to change my address and, as my bank suggests, I use my internet banking to do so. This doesn't work, as I apparently have a complicated address, or the moon is in the wrong phase, or my tie is the wrong colour, or whatever. So I go to the nearest branch to do it, and am asked if I have an appointment. To change my address... so that they don't send sensitive financial documents to an address where I don't live...

So I wait... and wait... and eventually get seen. Now I must admit to one exception to my sense of niceness - Abbey - who seem to take great delight in pushing all the buttons that make you want to channel the persona of Genghis Khan (a man who probably had a more direct approach to poor customer service). And yes, my address details can be changed, which is good. I need to fill in a form (oh, alright, if you insist...) but if I have sufficient proof of identity, all will be well.

Next, I want to open some new accounts. My new found friend thinks that he can do this, although given that he types verrrrrry slowly, this could take some time... and does. He gets there eventually, opens the second account and then realises that he has never done what I want him to do next. Reinforcements are called, who promptly get distracted in the ten feet between their office and the desk where my life force is draining away. By the time three of them have gathered, I'm on the phone to my boss, explaining why a simple task which should have taken twenty minutes is in danger of entering its third hour. Luckily, he's pretty relaxed - he evidently banks with the same organisation...

However, we get there eventually. Next, I ask about an eSaver account. Just as he explains why this will be difficult, I get an e-mail from their account management people, telling me that the online account application that I had cancelled by telephone three hours earlier, having been told that it would take another week, has been approved and the account opened. On the plus side, I save at least half an hour of my life. On the negative side, the bank clearly don't follow instructions.

You know, I really must do something about switching banks...


Tristan said...

Ah, here you have the problem of the most regulated and protected sector of the economy...

I have a few ideas why service is so poor in banks.
A large part is probably their size (which is due to the regulation of banking - instituted at the behest of bankers to preserve their position). As the size of an organisation grows so does the bureaucracy and distance from the consumer which puts hurdles in the way of providing a good service.
Just as you personally try to provide a good service, so do individuals in banks. Unfortunately the system dehumanises and removes personal contact.

Add in the oligopoly which runs most of the banking system, you have little competition between banks, except on the margin. For some reason customer service doesn't fall that far in the area of competition - perhaps that's cultural, I note customer service in the UK is often very poor.

Jennie said...

I very much recommend smile.

Liberal Polemic said...

My wife and I were having this discussion a few weeks ago. At one point, she asked what seemed at first a rather innocent question, but which turned out to be really quite shocking.

How often are you willing to pay more for better service?

There are two caveats before you answer:
1) This is quality of service not product - we all pay more for better quality products
2) You cannot count instances where you are paying more for an overall better experience (e.g. a swanky restaurant; a 5* hotel).

To my shock I realised that I never pay more just for better service. If that is a common phenomenon then it probably explains your problem: if nobody cares enough to pay for it, it won't happen.

(Here Tristan could come back in and say that this is exactly his point. If there was real competition then niche banks and utilities would open to meet the needs of the service-oriented customer, but because new entrants are excluded one is left with big providers that cater for the "average citizen".)

Jennie said...

Yeah, I've noticed that tipping doesn't come easily to most Brits... ;)

Outsource Call Center said...

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