I met yesterday with the inimitable Vernon Hill, founder of Metro Bank, and with Metro’s Chairman, Anthony Thomson. It is interesting to hear Hill’s view of why Metro is able to dominate in respect to the ‘customer service’ space in the UK branch market.
Hill postulates that despite many banks rhetoric around being customer centered and improving customer service in the branch, the reality is that there is serious organizational, infrastructural and philosophical barriers to really producing better customer service. Until these issues are resolved, real improvements in customer experience through pretty much any channel is just wishful thinking.
The key barriers to real improvement in customer service are as follows:
1. Poor metrics
Most channels are measured solely on financial performance these days, so no one in the branch is actually paid or incentivized to work on great ‘moments of truth’ in the branch. Thus, it gets relegated to a nice to have, but not significant to my personal performance.
2. Data and system silos
Legacy IT systems internally within the bank create data silos where it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get a consolidated view of the customer that leads to strong recommendations on products. Essentially, there are no tools available within the branch to actually generate improvements in the overall product portfolio – cross-sell and up-sell opportunities are hit and miss and there is no channel cross-over. For example, if a customer has a problem with his credit card and walks into a branch, does the bank officer serving him know that there is a pre-existing issue and does he have a bunch of possible solutions to the customer’s problem presented on his screen? Very unlikely… Metro started from scratch with no legacy IT infrastructure so has solved this issue simply up front with great infrastructure. They’ve in fact, plugged into a Temenos solution with a pay as you go scalability option here, which is very smart operationally.
3. Poor Training
Staff in-branch these days have to be all things to all people, but mostly they are trained to handle transactional activity. There are specialists in the branch who are ‘financial planners’ or relationship managers, but the focus mostly is on efficiency as a cost driver because of factor 1 – metrics. Metro tackles this by a different hiring culture and through ‘Metrocizing’ every staff member. I went through the account opening process at Metro and there is an upside culturally here – that is there is a concerted effort at each step of the process to ensure you are happy. From the moment you walk in, to the moment you leave with your debit card in hand. While other banks might aspire to this sort of process, the problem is that they approach it from a ‘process’ perspective and not generally a culture. The problem with process is that it doesn’t create moments of brilliance because the priority is box ticking, not thinking out of the box.
4. You’re lucky to be our customer
The long-held culture within the larger banks, even today is – come to the bank, jump through our hoops and “if you’re lucky, we’ll make you our customer”. How many times have you received a dear John letter from the bank when you’ve tried to apply for a personal loan, credit card, or similar lending facility. I remember the ridiculous situation of entering Emirates Bank in the UAE where I held a small business account which was doing around US$200-300k a month in business, and asking for an overdraft facility for US$30k, only to be told that I need to provide security. Ok, I said, what do you need…
“You need to provide $30,000 cash as security for the overdraft facility…”, the Emirates bank officer told me.
Yeah, right…We have to start with an understanding that today the bank is getting luckier and luckier if we are happy to be their customer. In the UK, one of the favorite quotes of bankers is that the average consumer is “more likely to get a divorce than move banks”. This produces horrendous complacency. The reality is, customers don’t close down accounts. They just open a new account at Metro and use their old account less and less. This is not a great strategy for customer retention. The fact that banks see ‘credit’ and lending products, combined with low cost operations as the core profitability of a customer relationship doesn’t help with this either.
5. Tell us how we’re doing
The key to rebuilding trust in the banking sector is showing customers you are willing to listen to their feedback and incorporate this into improvements in the way the bank works. The problem is that most banks aren’t even listening to customers, let alone encouraging feedback, let alone working on mechanisms to crowdsource real improvements in the way they work. To illustrate, most banks today don’t even bother to respond to customers who voice their dissatisfaction on a medium like Twitter or Facebook. They rarely ask you after a visit to a branch how they did and what they could do better. It is as if they don’t want to know because of the risk that it might require action.
To illustrate this, I want to share a story from my father visiting a branch yesterday for ANZ bank in Melbourne Australia. If you’ve been watching this space you’ve probably seen the Ad featuring “Barbara” the typical branch manager and ANZ’s branding around providing better service for customers. If you haven’t here’s one of the recent Ads.
So this brings me to my father’s story. Here it is in his own words…
I was in ANZ Collins Street this morning 10 minutes wait with 10 in line and 50 bank staff in sight but only one serving. I ran out of patience and called out loudly – is Barbara here and if so can she help?
Not a word from the staff but 20 seconds later three more tellers were at their stations, there was no clapping but great thank you’s from the 9 others in line – Dad 2.0
If you are going to put the service stake in the ground as ANZ has, then like Metro you better be prepared to actually change the way you are organized to make sure you can deliver. Otherwise, you’ll be lucky to have me as your customer!
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