Banks: That Don’t Impress Me Much…

The news that RBS and its subsidiary NatWest was opening 34 branches (out of approximately 2,300) across the UK on the Early May Bank Holiday has made me strangely angry, and with your consent I’d feel much better for a short(-ish) rant.

If there’s one thing that annoys me more than poor Customer Service, it’s the claims of (usually) very large organisations to be “focusing on the Customer” and making (usually) tiny improvements to their Customer Experience. A quick scan of RBS Group’s 2014 Annual Report and Accounts (entitled “Earning Our Customers’ Trust”) reveals that its Net Promoter Scores are dreadful – with the honourable exception of NatWest personal banking (England & Wales).  Looking further into Customer Satisfaction regarding our banks, a recent Which? survey showed average satisfaction at a mere 62% – with NatWest at 60% and RBS at 53%.  The best performer was First Direct, at 83%.

My beef is that an industry that has had hundreds of years to perfect the art of Customer Service (RBS was founded in 1727) generally sets itself such low standards: commenting on its bank holiday opening trial, Jane Howard, managing director of branch and private banking for RBS and NatWest, stated that “Many of our customers have busy lives, but are off work on a bank holiday.”  Amazing!  It isn’t that long since these same banks were telling us how lucky we were that they were going to open some branches on Saturdays, for the same reasons. In recent years, most banks’ Customer Service initiatives have either involved reversing previously discriminatory policies – such as preferential deals for new Customers only – or using technology in such imaginative ways as texting customers who are about to become overdrawn.

It has been largely left to newer entrants such as First Direct or Metro Bank to show Customers what Service is really about; the latter opening all its branches on the bank holiday as usual (they are open seven days a week), where Customers can discover its Family- and Dog-Friendly policies, for example. These banks, and others such as Virgin Money, have set out to break the mould and build banks that are truly Customer-focused.  In doing so, they don’t have to change what Metro Bank calls “stupid bank rules” because they don’t create them in the first place.

It may be a big ask for 300 year old monoliths (especially ones that have all but destroyed their own and their industry’s reputation) to become truly Customer-Focused. Just as the old saying “It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” gave way to “If it ain’t broke, break it!”, so the old retail banking mould needs to be completely broken – more power to the collective elbows of the Firsts and the Metros and the Virgins – and the new mould needs to be built around the Customer.

Read more about building great Customer Experiences here

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