Santander and Barclays Bank disclose the value of the customer experience

It occurs to me that practical experience can be and often is the best guide to showing the value of theoretical constructs. And practical experience can also act as great tool for making sense of and distinguishing between theoretical constructs like service, customer service, and customer experience.


I take care of my personal banking needs through Santander.  And I find myself to be a happy customer.  Why?  Because it is easy to get my banking jobs done.  Specifically, it is easy for me to get these banking jobs done online.  It is easy/quick for me to log in, see my accounts, view my transactions, move money around accounts, set-up payments, make payments……  Which is why I cannot remember the last time that I rang Santander’s Customer Services team.  And it is also why I rarely visit/use the Santander branch network.

By getting the online banking customer experience right Santander has assured itself of my continuing business AND in that very process/act  almost cut out the demand that I make on the Santander ‘Customer Services team’ – whether that team is in the call-centres or in the branch network. Put differently, architecting and delivering the right customer experience has allowed Santander to make our relationship sticker and improve the profitability of this relationship.

Barclays Bank

I do my business banking through Barclays.  When I set-up this bank account some 9 months ago,  I opted for an account that allows and encourages me to do almost all of my business banking online.  Why?  Because of the online banking experience I am accustomed to with Santander.  How did things turn out?  I got an unpleasant surprise.  The Barclays online banking experience occurred as fiddly and even tedious compared to my Santander experience.

With Santander I pull out my debit card which I tend to have with me wherever I am and enter the card number into the log-in screen. The next screen comes up with a personal phrase that I have chosen so that I know that I am dealing with the genuine Santander site.  And seeing that is the case I enter two PINs that I have chosen and so can remember easily.  Which means it takes me about 30 seconds to be into my account doing my banking.

To do online banking with Barclays – over the PC – I have to go and find a lever arch file, the debit card, the PinSentry card reader.  That is just the start.  To get into my account I have to: find and type in the account number that is sitting in the lever arch file; enter four digits of the number on the debit card; insert debit card into PinSentry reader; type in a PIN into PinSentry; push the right button (three to choose from); read the security code issued by PinSentry and type that into the website log-in screen.  Guess what tended to happen? Not remember the numbers, making mistakes by entering the wrong numbers, and getting locked out of my account.

As a result of several failures, call then bad experiences, I noticed that I was reluctant to use the online banking service.  It just occurred as too much hassle and prone to going wrong.  So what did I end up doing instead?  I ended up ringing up the Customer Services team. I rang them up when I was trying to make sense of the process including which PIN to type into PinSentry as I had been given several PINs – one for telephone banking, one for online banking, one for the debit card and it was not obvious to me which was which.  I rang them up when I could not get into my account. I rang them up when I had tried to log in successfully several times and got my account blocked.

By not paying attention to the customer experience Barclays ended up creating work for me, making online banking show up as an unpleasant, difficult, tedious process.  Drove up their costs because instead of serving myself effortlessly, like I do with Santander, I ended up calling their Customer Services team. And in the process made me ask myself if I should close down the Barclays account and open one up with Santander.

What exactly did Barclays not pay attention to?  First, they did not pay attention to the joining experience from my perspective.  I got several letters, at different times, from different parts of Barclays when I joined up.  Each of which supplied me with numbers and it was not clear to me when/how those numbers should be used.  I remember thinking why all these PINs?  Second, Barclays did not pay attention to the online banking experience itself.  The job of addressing security risks gets in the way of job of making it easy/quick for customers to do online banking.

Why have I ended up staying with Barclays?  Because their mobile banking app is great.  It provides me with an online banking experience that works just right.  It is easy to download and set-up.  And once it is set-up it takes me no time at all to be into my banking account doing what I need to do; all it takes is for me to enter a five digit code that I have chosen and can easily remember!

What is the learning here?

There is no fixed relationship between Customer Service and Customer Experience.  I draw your attention to the assumption that working on customer service (and the folks that work in the call-centres) is an essential part of improving the customer experience.  Not necessarily. By getting the online customer experience right Santander has made Customer Services (the call-centres) and the branch network disappear from my horizon.

By creating value for me Santander creates value for itself.  In getting the online customer experience right Santander creates value for me – saving me time, effort and money. And at the very same time  and through the very same act, Santander creates value for itself. How? By reducing its cost base thus enhancing its profitability. And by creating a sticker relationship – increasing the level of voluntary lock-in.

By not thinking through the joining process Barclays made the already cumbersome online banking process even harder.  By allowing the job of online security swamp my need to easily/quickly access my account Barclays made it hard for me to access the core service that I had hired Barclays to provide.  By making it harder Barclays forced me to use the more costly Customer Services (call-centre) channel that I did not want to use.  So a poorly designed customer experience drove up costs for me (time and effort) and costs for Barclays (unnecessary calls coming into the call centres).

The Barclays mobile banking app has through necessity forced Barclays to get rid of the complexity.  And in so doing Barclays have come with a banking experience that is just right.  So right that both my wife and I turn to the mobile banking touchpoint to do our banking with Barclays.  And my phone calls to the Barclays customer services team have stopped.

It occurs to me that the smart way of reducing the costs associated with the Customer Service function is to look outside of the Customer Services team.  Where?  At each and every touchpoint associated with the customer becoming aware of, learning about, buying and using the core service.  Why?  It is the failure of these touchpoints to meet the needs/expectations of customers that drive customers to call the Customer Services teams.

Bill Price makes a great point when he says the best service is no service.  Which makes me wonder if the prize, in cost terms, of getting the customer experience right is that the cost of Customer Service is zero because nobody is needed in the call-centres to take calls from customers – there are no calls because all the primary touchpoints work just right, deliver the right customer experience.  What do you think?

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

9 thoughts on “Santander and Barclays Bank disclose the value of the customer experience”

  1. I couldn’t agree more Maz, you are preaching to the converted.

    I have a feeling that the root of all this complexity and costs is lack of trust on the part of the bank. They made you go through all of those hoops because they didn’t trust you not to be a fraudster and look what it did for them.

    You have to see the funny side. It is just a pity for their customers. Maybe they should go to Santander



    1. Hello James
      I am wondering is the source the lack of their trust in me – their customer – or that they simply see life through their window. Which is my way of asking the question “Did it even occur to Barclays to look at life through my window. If that puzzles or intrigues you then check out the following post:

      As for the funny side. In life I see both the funny side and the tragic side. And in the end we all up as food for worms. So I am clear that I can let go of all significance to self, myself!



  2. Excellent examples Maz! This is exactly how it works..

    One thing bothers me a bit though when you say:

    “There is no fixed relationship between Customer Service and Customer Experience. I draw your attention to the assumption that working on customer service (and the folks that work in the call-centres) is an essential part of improving the customer experience. Not necessarily. By getting the online customer experience right Santander has made Customer Services (the call-centres) and the branch network disappear from my horizon.”

    We should really let go of the “Customer service is a department”-mindset. Service is the application of competences for the benefit of another.. And that’s exactly what Santander did when designing the on-line service/experience..

    I know most organizations still organize their Customer interactions along the lines of channels (call / internet / stores etc), and that’s fine, as long as they recognize they need someone in charge of Customer Service with a responsibility (and accountability) for Customer Service delivery in all channels. Or someone who knits them all together by aligning goals and resources.

    Curious to know what you think works best, based on your experience.



    1. Hello Wim

      First, welcome and thanks for initiating a conversation between us. Quite clearly companies do have functions/teams/depts called Customer Services. And in my experience too many people when they speak ‘customer service’ are pointing at the Customer Services team/dept/function. As you rightly point out there is a distinction ‘service’. And ‘service’ can be rendered in the marketing phase to inform customers as to what is available. Service can be rendered in the sales phase to aid/assist customers in choosing the right ‘product’ for their specific needs. Service can be rendered in the payment phase to help customers pay in a way that works for them and using methods of payment that work for them. Service can be rendered in the delivery phase by letting customers know when the product will arrive and even setting it up… And so forth. In this sense ‘service’ is a particular orientation towards the customers, call it a ‘way of life’, some would call it ‘culture’ and others ‘philosophy’.

      So acting from a ‘context of service’ enables me to feel/care for customers (and employees) and thus generate insight into the lives of customers. And why they are my customers. With this insight in hand and oeprating from a ‘context of service’ I can design the requisite customer experience – from the customer’s context. This customer experience as a holism is made up of parts, the customer’s experience at specific points of his relationship with the company and mediated through particular touchpoints with the company.

      Now let’s deal with the no fixed relationship issue. My point is this: companies create work for customers by not taking customer needs into account in the design of the product, the marketing that accompanies, misselling, failed deliveries, product is difficult to set up and use etc. And rather than dealing with these primary causes, companies focus on improving customer service. By that they refer to the Customer Services team. Which brings me to my central point: get the primary touchpoints right and you can stop fiddling with the Customer Services function including finding all kinds of ways to take costs out of this function. Put differently, by operating from a ‘context of service’ and designing/orchestrating the right customer experience across the primary touchpoints (marketing, sales, delivery, product, finance, website..) you don’t need the Customer Services team.

      I hope that makes sense.



  3. Hi Maz,

    I’m not so much a “service is a mindset” kind of guy, since it’s mostly only used to comfort management that people should do their jobs better and it doesn’t really help shift attention from the “departmental” mindset either..

    And I totally agree with the “best service is no service” approach, as you may (not?) have read in my post “because it is time you take Customer Service seriously”:

    Thx for the kind response. Enjoying the conversation too.



    1. Hello Wim

      My personal take is “no view of life accurately captures nor exhausts life”. Having said that I do say that if you approach service with the orientation “service is a mindset” then you will fail! Service is a way of life – of living. It does not require mindset. It is the way that you show up.

      When I was put in the position of leader and responsible for the functioning of a business enterprise, the lives of the people in it, the lives of the customer I showed up differently. I arrived at work before anyone else did. I put myself, all of myself, into the mission (turn the dealership around, save jobs, do right by customers), I did whatever needed to be done, I stayed later than everyone else. When I went home I grappled with what I needed to do differently, better, less of, more of. No it is not a mindset thing. It is the way that one IS in life. And there in only one way to accurately judge that: look at what one does and does not do.

      As for your post, I thank you for pointing me towards it. I enjoyed reading it, it is well written, it is informative. And so I have liked it. Keep writing!

      All the best


  4. Hi Maz,
    What’s ironic here is that Santander is frequently voted one of the worst banks for customer service. Maybe they have made a conscious decision to make their experience so good that it does not put pressure on their customer service teams as they know that is where they are weak.



    1. Hello Adrian

      Fascinating isn’t it. I have been with Abbey since at least the early 90s and I can see I have been treated well. And I get that some folks who were customers of acquired companies suffered in the merger integration process.

      As for your reasoning, that is one assumption that you and I can make. Another, equally plausible, is that it just happened that way because they were not in a position to make a more secure (complicated) system work. And thus entirely by accident they got it right! I have been in business too long to assume that good reasoning is the basis of good outcomes. Or vice versa.



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