Banking in the real world

Originally published on Total Payments.

Recently I undertook an experiment with a major UK bank. I decided to investigate, with my wife’s assistance, how simple it would be to obtain a small buffer overdraft facility on her current account. As an existing customer with a perfect banking history and set up for online self-serve it should be easy – right? Wrong!

Eventually we found the information page on the website that outlined the process and yes allegedly it’s easy to apply from within the online banking website, so the customer’s identity is authenticated and there’s no need to re-key lots of data. Unfortunately the page was clearly wrong because there was no option to apply for an overdraft online. Finding this hard to believe I phoned the helpline listed on the website. I explained the problem and received the response “you want to apply for an overdraft over the phone”. If I wanted to apply over the phone I wouldn’t be stating I wanted to apply online nor pointing out that the website was clearly flawed. I was then transfered to another help desk who could only offer an apology by way of assistance. So no online application process.

Lesson 1 – Allow your customers to engage with you using the channel of their choice.

As the bank had clearly failed phase one, we moved onto the next attempt to engage; a visit to the local branch. Something as simple as a low value overdraft could presumably be arranged very quickly with a real time credit check? Ringing the bell on the customer service desk failed to elicit any response. Asking a cashier resulted in being told they were too busy to discuss an overdraft. However they could make an appointment to call my wife at a specific time a few days later. 

Lesson 2 – If you are going to have local branches, ensure they have the appropriate resources to engage with your customers. 

So agreeing to discuss an overdraft on the phone was the next attempt at communicating with the bank. Unfortunately the agreed time came and went with no call. So my wife went back into the local branch to point out the failure to contact and was told that the person who was supposed to call her had to take her husband to hospital because he had stuck a screwdriver through his hand! As excuses go, that’s an unusual one, although didn’t explain why someone else couldn’t have called. Unfortunately they were still too busy to discuss an overdraft (they’d clearly had a frenetic few days that prevented the staff helping customers!); my wife was asked to return later that day.

Lesson 3 – Do what you say you will (yes I know it’s obvious but clearly not to some people). 

My wife mentioned her dissatisfaction on Twitter and it did get picked up by a bank representative. Unfortunately their response was a link to the online complaints page. No attempt at taking ownership.

Lesson 4 – If you’re going to attempt to be a social business your representatives must be empowered to take ownership and resolve a customer’s problems. 

The final visit to the branch resulted in the overdraft being arranged in about five minutes. So despite everything that had gone before it was actually a simple process. This experiment has shown the total disconnect between how a major bank operates and how a customer wants to engage. As Brett King said “Banking is no longer somewhere you go, but something you do” and banks that don’t understand this are going to die. The opportunity is there for consumer centric banking and who is going to grasp it?

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