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.

Santander

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?

Customer Experience: 6 lessons from personal experience

The Post Office: the personal touch makes a huge difference

My son is an eager eBay trader and had a large bunch of parcels to post.  Being an empathic human being (most of us are) I decided to help him out.  I took eleven parcels and headed to the local post office – which just happens to reside in the back of the local grocery store.  Truth be told I don’t particularly like going to this local post office because the grocery store is rather dull, the people behind the counter don’t greet anyone coming into the store and I have to navigate around people and shelves to get to the post office counter and inevitably there is queue.  This time I timed it perfectly and there was no queue.

The woman behind the counter greeted me with a smile and we struck up a conversation – a plain old-fashioned conversation.  I shared that I was helping out my son who loves business – buying, selling, dealing with customers, earning a fair reward for his risk taking and hard work.  She went on to tell me that she knew my son, that he’s  such a gentlemen, that he helps out at the local charity shop, that he is likely to be a millionaire.  What really touched me was “You should be proud of him!” Our conversation took around fifteen minutes – it takes that long to ship eleven parcels.  By the time I left the place we were both smiling and each of us wished the other well – genuinely.  I am still smiling inside and out and I can clearly picture that woman in my mind and she has a place in my heart.

Lesson 1:  never underestimate the power of the human touch to deliver a great customer experience and build goodwill between your customers and your organisation

McDonald’s: there is more to good design than making stuff look pretty

My ten year old daughter turned 11 this week and where did she want to go for her evening meal?  McDonald’s.  So that is where we headed and when we got there (around 7pm) it was almost empty.  Whilst my daughter was ordering for the family I was busy taking in the look and feel of the ‘restaurant’.  I got the green, healthy thing by looking at the furniture and the menus.  I also noticed that the seating area was smaller as a young childrens play area had been put into one end of the store.  Whilst I got that the place was in tune with ‘green, healthy, children, family’ mantra I could not help but notice that it felt cold.

With the food trays in our hands we headed to the seating area where the five of us could sit together – two on either side (on the wooden benches) and one to the side on a round stool.  Getting seated was harder than you might imagine.  I had to navigate around the round stool and slide onto the bench on one side of the table.  It was not easy, I struggled – there was not enough room between the bench and the table!  Then we found that we could not place our food trays on the table.  Once I got past my frustration I realised that McDonald’s had reduced the width and the length of the tables. And reduced the distance between the tables and the wooden benches on either side.  I did not enjoy the eating experience and was delighted when we left.

Lesson 2: there is a lot more to human-centred design than looks – you also have to make it easy for your customers to easily (and comfortably) do what they came to do

Radissan SAS: deliver the core services that your customer expects

Whilst I was doing some consulting work in Ireland I stayed at a Radissan SAS.  The hotel was ideally placed for work – only twenty minutes walk from the client’s offices.  The bedroom was clean and spacious. The hotel had free wi-fi, room service was prompt and the hotel staff were friendly and helpful whenever I approached them for some request.  So why am I writing about them?  What are the some of the key moments on the customer journey?  Let me suggest a few: arrival and check in; getting a good nights sleep; breakfast and dinner; and checking-out. I noticed that each time I came to check in (it was in the late evening) there was no-one at the check-in desk and no instructions on how to get hold of someone.  On several occasions there was no-one to ‘great me and seat me’ for breakfast and dinner.  Yet, what ‘upset’ me the most was not being able to get a good nights sleep.  Why?  Because I found that the pillows did not work for me.  I could not help thinking why the Radissan does not offer the option of different types of pillow.

Lesson 3: customers hire you to provide services, figure out what these services are (it is not that hard, really) and get them right including building in flexibility so that you can treat different customers differently.

Santander: be human and helpful

I rang up Santander to request a new chequebook and pretty quickly got through to a friendly chap.  He was patient and friendly with me whilst I walked about the house finding all the stuff I needed to get through the security details.  When I mentioned that I was not in a hurry but I might be driving up his AHT we told me to relax and take my time.  And we talked about call-centres – he works in one and I help improve the way call-centres work to improve the customer experience.  Once he had ordered the chequebook I was ready to say thank you and hang up.  My friend on the other end was not finished.  He had noticed that I had failed the IVR security check and so he asked me if I wanted him to send me over new security details that would allow me to navigate the IVR.  He went further and told me how I could work the IVR in case of certain scenarios – information that I found useful.  Most of all I really appreciated that he was helping me rather than selling stuff to me.

Lesson 4: put yourself in your customer’s shoes and provide information, advice and tools that help your customer – do this without being asked, sense the need/opportunity and resond appropriately.

PC World: don’t assume, check

I order the wrong PC fan from Amazon and did not have time to send it back and wait for a new one.  The issue was not the fan but the connector.  So I headed to the nearest PC World superstore and started to look for a converter – something that would allow me to convert a three pin into a four pin.  I found something that looked like it might work.  Wanting to make sure that it did work I headed to the service/repair desk and asked for help.  The chap on the other side of the desk was cheerful and helpful.  He categorically assured me that it would work so I opened the bag an tried fitting the converter onto the fan – it did not work.

The chap behind the desk got into action. He left his counter and went looking for other converters.  He found one and told me that it should work – I opened the bag tested it out and it did not fit.  The friendly chap recognised his mistake, took his time and found another converter.  He was categorical: this will work – no doubt about it.  I tested it out: it should have worked but it did not work the designs were compatible but bits of stuff got in the way and so the converter would not fit onto the fan cable.  The friendly chap was not put off – he went to work and found another converted.  This time he opened up the bag and tested it out with my fan.  It worked!  I thanked him – truly grateful for his help – and left the store.  Next time I needed something I headed to that exact store and looked for that friendly chap.

Lesson 5: don’t assume, check – build a prototype, try it out, check what does and does not work, refine until it does work; and remember what should work in theory does not necessarily work in practice.

Lesson 6: if you want to cultivate gratitude and generate repeat business then focus on being totally committed to helping your customer get his needs met.

How to shape customer behaviour and create delight at no extra cost

Anna: the difference between despair and delight

My heart sank when I saw the queue in the bank and I mentally calculated that I could expect to be waiting some 10 – 20 minutes before I got served.  Is it worth waiting that long simply deposit £200 into my bank account because I do not like to carry cash around in my wallet?  Just as the two parts of me (The Rider, The Elephant) were tussling over that question something caught my attention.  One of the three cashiers (Anna) left her seat behind the glass cage, opened the secure door and became a part of us – the customers.

She went up the first person that was waiting and asked her if she was waiting to deposit cash into her bank account.  The old lady mumbled and said she wanted to wait in line.  Then Anna went to the next person – an old man – and asked the same question.  He told her that he was waiting to withdraw cash from his account.  Anna told him that if he had his cashcard then he could withdraw it from the ATM and she would show him how.  The old man made some excuse.  Then Anna went on the next person and the next and after some eight refusal she faced me.  When Anna was facing me I took her up on her offer to show me how to quickly deposit the £200 into my account.

Anna told me that the they (I assume the cashiers) had noticed that customers do not like waiting.  She also told me that most customers turn up and simply want to pay money into their accounts or withdraw money from their accounts.  So they had decided that the best way of reducing the waiting time and educating customers was simply to ‘hold the customer’s hand’ and guide them through the task of depositing or withdrawing money.  She showed me which ATM to use.  Then she turned the work over to me yet standing beside me she guided me through the five simple steps.  In less than two minutes I had completed my task and was simply delighted: delighted with Anna, delighted with Santander, delighted with the self-service technology; and delighted with myself for ‘being open to the new’ and ‘learning a useful shortcut’ that will make my life easier in the future. I thanked Anna and left the Santander branch.  On the way back I pondered some questions and came up with some thoughts that I want to share with you.

Thoughts on customers, customer facing staff and the customer experience

Telling is not the difference that makes a difference. I can remember at least four instances when a Santander cashier has deposited my money into my bank account and then proceeded to tell me that I would do that myself by using the ATM.  Nonetheless, I did not change my behaviour.  In fact I have lost count on the number of time I have been given advice and not acted on it.  Telling is our default mode when we want to remodel human behaviour and it is spectacularly ineffective.  Telling speaks to the Rider (the neocortex) and yet you need to ‘speak’ to the Elephant (limbic brain) to shape behaviour.

Knowing is not the difference that makes a difference.  This is a corollary of the previous point.  The simple fact is that The Rider knew that I could use the ATM to deposit cash into my account.  Yet, the Elephant discounted this knowing.  Why?  Because the Elephant is risk averse. I had not changed my behaviour because my Elephant had taken an emotional position: risky might lose my money; probably will not know what to do and will make a mess of it in public and so lose face; and it is not likely to work so I am going to have to take time to figure out how to make it work and/or go the cashiers to sort out the mess.

If you want to remodel customer behaviour then build a ‘scaffold’Lev Vgotsky who studied cognitive development pointed out that effective learning and development depends on the right scaffold – one that the learner can use to climb higher safely one step at a time.   Think about construction work: the scaffold is a structure that enables the workers to build the building more effectively whilst feeling safe.  One form of  ‘scaffold’ is a ‘more knowledgable other’ (MKO) – someone who has mastered the domain and can act as empathetic guide and coach.  This is why Anna was so effective in changing my behaviour.  She led the way by literally walking to the ATM and then she led the way by guiding me through the process – one step at a time.  If you want customers to use self-service technology then you have to do what Anna did: train them to use it in a safe supportive environment.  And here is a key point: behaviour (doing, the experience) shapes learning much more than learning shapes behaviour.

Design self-service to create value for your customers.  Part of the delight of my customer experience was actually experiencing how easy it was to use the ATM to deposit cash into my account.  That is to say that the designers had cracked the usability of it: it was intuitive and it addressed the kind of concerns that may come up like I deposit £200 and the ATM thinks it is £160. Furthermore, the process consisted of only five steps and could be completed in less than two minutes thus saving me time which many customer value as we never seem to have enough of it as so much occurs as being spent on drudgery.  Simple tasks are great candidates for self-service provided you save the customer time and/or effort and the customers is embedded in the right context.

Treat different customers differently.  Anna offered to help some eight people all of whom refused before she made the same offer to me which I took up enthusiastically.  The interesting thing to note is that all of these customers were older than me.  They struck me as being the kind of people that trust people more than technology and the kind of people who prefer the human touch to hi-tech.  These people are never likely to be the early adopters so the right thing to do is to find the early adopters – the younger people, the busy professionals, the young mums with children – and remodel their behaviour.  Put more simply,  scatter the seeds where they are most likely to grow with the least effort.  Then wait for the followers to adopt this practice by social osmosis.

Being precedes doing so focus on the being.  There is something special in Anna’s being – it is the first thing that I noticed last time we interacted and this time.    Of the three cashiers she was the youngest.  Of the three cashiers she was the only one that smiled and looked happy.  When she came into the customer den – to where we were standing – she was totally calm.  Her whole being exuded the air of caring, helpfulness and competence.  She was not pushy: she was not in a rush to get any of the customers to do anything in particular.  Her totally being was an invitation: “I can make your life easier if you will allow me to do that, will you allow me to do that?”  It was her being( the way she was being) that got my trust and why I took up her invitation to use the ATM.  What am I saying?  You can’t fake caring it is simply who you are or who you are not: if you genuinely care for your customers it comes through and the Elephant (subconscious) picks it up and if you do not care the Elephant picks that up as well.  My advice: hire more people like Anna and create an environment that supports and nourishes their natural being.

Your customer facing staff have valuable insights into your customers.  The Santander cashiers spend their professional lives observing, talking with and serving customers.  So is it any surprise that the Santander cashiers know that that the most frequent service that they are asked to deliver is either to bank cash or withdraw cash for customers.  Is it any surprise that they also know that customers hate waiting?  What else do your customer facing staff know about your customers and your business that if you tapped into would make a difference to your customers and your business results?  Have you created an environment that calls forth these insights from your staff?

If you want your customer staff to improve the customer experience then create clearings for insight to be acted upon.  Have you ever played paintball?  What is it like to move around in a densely wooded area?  Difficult, tedious, painful and slow right?  Well in many organisations it is the same experience for customer facing staff to do the right thing by your customers.  So if you want them to do more of the right things then you have to create ‘clearings’. What is possible in a clearing?  A lot because the space is not cluttered, it is empty.  I am clear that the Santander management at my local branch had enabled the cashiers to act on their insights by creating a clearing: permission to step out of the glass cage and help customers by walking them to the ATM and showing them how easily they can help themselves.

Treat different employees differently.  The employees that are most ingrained in the existing way of doing things are the ones that are most likely to stick with the existing way of doing things.  It is the younger employees those that have not been assimilated into your existing culture that are the most promising candidates for trying out new ways of doing things.  I could not help but notice three things: Anna was the youngest of the three cashiers; she had only been with Santander for a relatively short amount of time; and she is not English.  So it makes perfect sense that the other two cashiers stayed within their glass cage where they are comfortable and Anna walked out of it.  Yet, if all three had stepped out of the glass cage then there would have been no cashiers to serve the older customers who expect cashiers to sit behind glass cages and do stuff for them.

Improving the customer experience and delighting customers need not cost any more.  What extra costs did Santander occur by allowing Anna to leave her glass cage and help me to serve myself?  None at all. The customer experience was improved by simply redeploying the existing resources in a more imaginative / more valuable way.    Incidentally, if you spend much time in a call centre you will find that the bulk of the incoming demand for attention from customers is ‘failure demand’: the call centre is being asked to rectify ‘defects’ introduced into the customer experience by marketing, sales, logistics, finance…… So by improving the customer experience you can take out as much as 80% of the cost of your call centre operations.  How many millions is that in savings?    And in the process your create customer delight simply because your organisation gets it right first time.  To paraphrase Philip Crosby ‘quality customer experience is free’.

7 lessons in service design

Category practice and company policies matter yet they are not enough

More than once I have advocated that companies must change category practices and company policies so that these take into account the needs/wants of customers.  Put differently, each category practice and company policies should be listed and then examined in terms of impact on the customer.  Does this practice / policy create benefits or costs for the customer?  How can we increase the benefit and reduce costs?  By ‘costs’ I mean costs in terms of effort, convenience, price, cost of ownership etc.  However that is not enough: you have to purposefully design processes that support these practices and policies by delivering the right customer experience

Right policy, poor process, customer experience

Is it possible to put in place a policy that is designed to protect your customers and yet have a process that ends up irritating your customers?  Yes, it is common – allow me to share my story with you.

Recently I wrote about how hard it was for me to move money from one account to another.  If you read that post then you will know that by thumbing through my file I was able to find my e-banking ID and thus transfer a large sum of money (around £50k) from a savings account to my current account.  Once this money ended up in my current account I needed to move it to its end destination: my sister’s account.  So I logged into my e-banking account and attempted the transfer.  I was not expecting any problem yet I met one.  The system would not let me: I simply got a message on the screen telling me that I had exceeded the withdrawal limit.  No other information was provided e.g. what the withdrawal limit is or who exactly to call and which number to call.

So I called Customer Services number and ended up talking to a customer services agent.  He took me through all the usual security checks.  When I told him of my issue he started asking me all kinds of questions – questions that only someone who is the account holder and has access to the bank statements can answer.  Once he was confident that I was the person who I was claiming, he told me that he could not help me.  He was powerless: he had to get  hold of the specialist team and get them to authorise the transfer.  So he took the details of my sister’s account and verified those with me, patiently, to make sure that he had the correct details.  Then he got on the line to the specialist team.  After waiting some 10+ minutes he told me that he could not help me because this specialist team had clocked off at 9pm and were not available.  He apologised and told me that he had entered all my details into the system and asked me to ring in the next day. On hanging up I noticed that I had been on the phone for 30+ minutes.

The next day I rang Customer Services and went through exactly the same drill.  I had to replay almost word for word the conversation that I had the previous day – this CSA claimed that the previous CSA had not left any record of the previous conversation.  Finally, he hit the phone to speak to the specialist team.  After about 5 – 10 minutes he came back and told me that the specialist team had declined to do the transfer and that  should go to the local branch.  When I asked why he simply told me that the specialist team had told him that it looked suspicious.  I was not at all happy yet the rational part of me understood that the bank was indirectly acting in my interest.  Looking at my watch I noticed that I had been on the phone for 20+ minutes.

Then I headed to the local branch and made my request for the fourth time. The cashier was polite and helpful.  She took copies of various personal documents and told me that it was going to take some time. In total I had spent another 30+minutes in the branch.  And when I left I resolved to move to another bank which I fully intend to do.

So whilst I totally get that Santander’s policy of being prudent and preventing fraud is commendable I cannot help but think and feel that their process is a poor one. I’d go further and say that Santander does not have a process for the kind of scenario that I faced:  I cannot believe that any sane person would have designed the process to be this wasteful.

7 lessons in service design

Communicate the need for / benefits of the policy to the customer.  At no time did anyone at Santander explain why I was not able to withdraw money via e-banking or via telephone.  No-one told me that they were doing this to ensure that a fraud was not taking place.  Or that this policy was necessary to comply with money laundering legislation.   If Santander had done this then I would have been more understanding: most of us are reasonable human beings and allow organisations leeway when we know they are acting in our interest or having to comply with the law.

Take ownership of the customer problem.  No-one at Santander took ownership of my problem: the e-banking folks did not; the Customer Service folks did not; the ‘specialist team’ did not – they did not even speak to me.  The cashier had to take ownership of my problem because I was there right in front of her and the rest of the Santander system had ‘let me down’.    All the way through the process I felt that I was ‘battling my way through Santander’ to get something done that mattered to me and Santander were simply indifferent to my plight.

Take the opportunity to educate the customer.  When I headed to the local branch I assumed that I would need several identity papers, bank statements etc.  No-one at Santander took the time to tell me what exactly I would need.  Nor did anyone educate me for the next time e.g. “Next time you decide to move a large sum of money then it is best to do …….. and avoid ………”

Strive to solve the problem where it starts.  At the e-banking stage (when my transfer was declined) Santander could have provided me with a chat facility and directed to the specialist team.  Or Santander could have simply told me to go the branch.  Either of these approached would have cut out wasted time and effort on the phone to Customer Services who simply are not in a position to help.

Put the right people in touch with the customer.  What value did the Customer Services agents add?  None.  When it comes to complex processes that require specialists these agents are simply non-value added relays.  Furthermore they are likely to make mistakes.   The implication is that once you have identified that the case is complex then the call should be routed directly to the specialist team to take care of.  First line, second line and third line thinking is deeply flawed especially as customers are taking care of the easy stuff themselves via self-service and so the demand that falls on contact centres tends to be the more complex stuff which requires specialists.

Design your process to minimise cycle-time.  If you want to compete on the customer experience then you should design your processes to minimise the customer’s cycle time – from need to resolution.  A focus on cycle time will force you to deal with activities and hand-offs that eat the customer’s time.

In complex organisation x-functional co-ordination is required.  When you let various teams within the organisation do their stuff then they will do what is in their best interests.  The result is that the end to end process is likely to be wasteful for the organisation and for the customer.  Furthermore, the waste will typically end up downstream usually in Customer Services or the retail branches.  The only way to get around this issue is to look at processes from end to end (customer perspective) and that means cross functional co-ordination.  If no-one else is playing that role then the Customer Experience team should take on that role.

And finally

CRM systems constituting the ‘organisational memory’ sound excellent.  In practice they are pretty much useless as organisational memory. Why?  Because of the way the real world works. What do I mean?

First, the CSA’s have only so much time to handle and wrap up calls.  That means they end up inputting the bare minimum into the systems.  And usually that bare minimum is not that useful.  If you don’t believe me then go and work in call centres for a little while and see with your own eyes how things work.  Second, the more complex the call the more useless the CRM system is.  Why?  Because it simply takes too long for a CSA to read through the history.  In that situation it is much quicker for both parties if the customer spells out the situation.  So that is another bit of the ‘sales story’ around CRM systems that does not hold up in the real world.

What you can learn from my Santander experience

I urgently needed to move money from one Santander account to another Santander account

Last week I needed to withdraw some money from my mortgage account and move it into my current account.  It should have been an easy process as I have done it many times.  Yet, I met a problem: I had forgotten my e-banking login details as I had not logged into my mortgage account for a couple of years.  As this was something I needed to do urgently – on that day – I rang Santander Customer Services.

Santander Customer Services didn’t provide the service

I got through to Customer Services pretty quickly and came face to face with the IVR.  Thankfully it was easy to grasp.  I selected the right option and pretty soon I was through to a female customer services agent who dived into the security check: date of birth, postcode, mortgage account no, monthly payments…… Once she had verified all that she needed to verify she asked me how she could help me.  I told her that she could help me by transferring money from my Santander mortgage account to my Santander current account.   I expected that she would say “No problem.”  She didn’t: she told me that I had to send in a letter requesting this transfer.

“How is it that I can and have made these transfers through e-banking and yet you cannot do this for me over the telephone?”  That was my question.  She told me that it was company policy.  She did not explain why it was company policy; I could have told her that company policy was stupid but didn’t after all she is simply an insignificant little cog in a huge machine who simply follows orders.

“Can you please put me through to someone who can help me recover my e-banking login ID so that I can make this transfer through e-banking?”  There was a pause along with a flat, emotionless, “Yes”.  I took that to mean yes I will do that but it is really not my job to help your figure this out.  Instead of being transferred to the right team she told me that I had to ring the e-commerce team and gave me their phone number.

IVR is the most hated customer touchpoint and I get to experience why that is

Well I rang the ‘e-commerce’ team no and was faced with the IVR.  I listened to this once, listened to it twice and then I listened to it a third time.  There were several options but not one that was relevant to my needs.  I tried to get out of the IVR and get through to human being and found that I could not: the same useless options ended up being relayed again and again!  Frustrated, I hung up.

Eventually I solve my service need through e-banking

I really needed to move that money so I dived into my banking file meticulously and eventually found my login ID.  It took me about 30 seconds to log in and then another 2 minutes to complete the transfer.  Thank the heavens for e-banking!  No wonder e-banking is so popular in the UK: it allows us to bypass the indifference and incompetence of the big UK banks.  Maybe I am being harsh.  The system has probably been deliberately designed this way so as to influence customers (like me) to self-serve through e-banking.

What you can learn from my experience

Companies don’t care about customers they care about competitors. The British banks act as an oligopoly doing business exactly the same way: each  delivers lousy customer service as it is not necessary to do better.  Customers know this and continue to stick with the bank they now bank with; I will continue banking with Santander.  The banks will only change their behaviour when a viable competitor enters who has no investment in the existing way of doing business.  If you look closely at other industries you will find that many of the companies embracing ‘customer experience’ are doing so because of the competition in their industry / marketplace.

If you want to improve the customer experience then start with company policies.   Company policies are like the rules of chess: change the rules and you change the game.  If you take a good hard look at your company policies you are likely to find that they are not customer friendly:  they are one of the biggest obstacles to designing and delivering attractive customer experiences.

Your customer facing staff should explain company policies in the right way.  If you are going to have policies that cause ‘pain’ for your customers than you have to train your staff to explain these policies in a way that makes sense to your customers.  What is the direct/indirect benefit to the customer of this policy?  This is something that you have to think through and explain to the customer.

IVRs can be a blessing or a curse.  Well designed IVRs are a blessing because your customers does not have to wait a long time to get to a human being.  And using human beings to route ‘calls’ is not the best way to use human beings.  However, too many IVRs are poorly designed from a customer viewpoint.  If you are putting in an IVR make sure that it is thoroughly tested before it is implemented to take account of all the scenarios. What mechanism do you have in place to figure out which IVRs are badly designed?

People have higher standards of people than technology.  Technology is either easy to use or it is not.  Technology works or it does not work.  Technology is not personal – it does not leave us feeling invalidated and offended.  We do not expect technology to ‘own and solve our problem’.  When it comes to people it is the opposite.  We recognise that people are human and they make mistakes:  we can and do forgive mistakes.  We do not tend to forgive people who are indifferent to us and our ‘pain’.  If people do not treat us the way that we expect people to treat us then we get upset.  And then we look for another supplier.

Santander – the worst bank in the UK, really?

Santander has been getting a lot of flack in the press recently.  In fact the Guardian newspaper wrote the following article: “Is Santander Britain’s worst bank?” The article points out that Santander has the highest rate of complaints (per thousand customers) and that this situation has been going on since about 2007.  Yet, the same article points out that Santander has gained over 1 million customers last year and it has a number of products that are considered to be best-buy products.

At about the same time, I received the following document from Santander.

I started banking with Abbey (one of the banks purchased by Santander) over 20 years ago and on the whole things have worked out pretty well.  Yet, at best, I have had what I would describe as a distant, transactional, relationship with Abbey and then Santander.  After all, despite the advertising, one bank is simply like any other.  They are all concerned with making the most money they can from me and it is up to me to look after myself.

Then this document arrived in the post and frankly I could not believe my eyes.  Santander is being helpful.  It is telling me that I can cut down the amount of interest I pay on my mortgage if I take a number of reasonable actions.  Actions they know that I can take – clearly Santander has done its homework.

With this document I find myself facing  cognitive dissonance: trying to reconcile the view that Santander is supposedly the UK’s worst bank and at the same time it is writing to me to provide advice that will help me and ‘cost’ Santander.

Whilst I have yet to make sense of it, I do know that my attitude towards Santander has changed.  I actually feel gratitude.  Is this the start of an emotional bond?

What is the lesson?

I believe that the fundamental lesson for banks (and all other organisations) that want to create loyalty is to be helpful proactively. Use the information and expertise that you have to create value for your customers.  Most will remember and reciprocate by staying with you longer, recommending you and buying more from you in the longer term.