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Sir Stuart Rose,
Chairman of Marks & Spencer plc

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How banks get customers wrong

My last article, “The Prankster’s Arms” persuaded a number of people to share their delightful stories of suboptimal banking experiences with me. Some of them, like this one below, are truly horrifying.

It serves to illustrate how out of touch banks can be when it comes to understanding customer’s motivations.

If you are sitting comfortably, then I shall let my friend tell her story….

“Three months ago I moved house and as a consequence needed to organise a change of address for all of my family’s bank accounts as well as for my business. I picked up the forms from my branch and nagged my brood into completing theirs. Of course, I was so obsessed with chasing everyone else that I forgot to sign my own form! As a result I was the one who needed to go through the loop again.

I decided that the quickest way to fix things would be to pop into my branch as they said that they could update my records there and then.

On arrival I realised that I would have to join the queue for counter service. Whilst awaiting my turn I was asked three times if I was there to pay in and each time I politely and patiently reiterated the reason for my presence.

At the counter the clerk took my forms and updated his screen. I walked out satisfied with having invested twenty minutes of my life for a job well done.

Or so I thought.

Within a couple of weeks I’d received redirected bank mail sent to my former address.

Take Two.

I went back into the branch. Another twenty minutes in the queue. More importuning from the staff seeking to find out if I was just paying in before reaching the nirvana of counter service.  This clerk apologised for the previous one’s error and set about re-entering the data and putting things right.

Finally, I thought, task completed, I could get back to the important real world occupations of running a business and looking after my family.

But I was wrong.

I received a message on Facebook from a lady I didn’t know telling me that her elderly mother had been receiving letters from my bank, addressed to me at her home. She asked if I could please correct the situation as her frail parent was becoming highly agitated. Puzzling. Why were my bank sending my stuff to these strangers?

I asked her for her Mother’s address which she sent straight back to me. It made no sense. Then the penny dropped. It was as if my old address and new address had been shunted into each other on a railway line, merged and made into something completely new and spectacularly wrong.

Not only had I wasted my time on visiting the branch TWICE, the bank had randomly sent my confidential information to a third party. So much for keeping my money and my identity safe!

I was furious.

I got onto the call centre to give them a piece of my mind. I had to wait 44 minutes before I spoke to someone who said she could fix this. She listened patiently to my foaming rant, apologised for the bank’s repeated errors and updated my records. She asked me to hold for one minute and on coming back instantly and without further explanation offered me compensation of £150 plus a £14 refund for my mobile call costs. Which I gladly accepted and this was paid straight into my account.”

All this happened two months ago. I asked my friend how she now feels about her relationship with the bank.

Whilst the offer of instant compensation diffused her frustration and anger on the phone it did nothing to mitigate her emotions with regards to her misdirected mail.

When shopping on line and creating an account with a vendor’s web site you are invariably asked to validate your email address through a “send and return procedure” before you can transact anything meaningful through that account. A  snail mail safety procedure, having changed you address, might perhaps involve the bank sending a confirmation letter which you would need to acknowledge before they dispatched anything sensitive to you.

When I was an Engineering Director in a manufacturing business we had a “Quality, Function, Deployment” routine where we would brainstorm anything that might possibly  go wrong with our processes and products, coming up with the wildest and wackiest of ideas and then considering how to ensure that nothing untoward could ever occur. This isn’t rocket science. The fundamental principles of continuous improvement have been in use since they were created by W. Edwards Deming and adopted by the Japanese motor industry in the late 1940’s. They shouldn’t come as a surprise, even to the banking industry.

The NPS Literature talks about “Closed Loop Feedback” where having captured an issue the organisation ensures that corrective action is taken to eliminate it.

Perhaps in this instance, if the bank were to take this issue as seriously as their customer did, they should have implemented a corrective process and then reported back to the customer as to what they did and how effective it had been in eliminating such errors.

Their customer might then have become convinced that their bank was a professional, caring organisation committed to the principles of “Right First Time”.

In the absence of this my friend has told this salutary tale to her considerable personal network.  Interestingly, no one has ever said to her, “My bank would never do that, I have complete faith in them.”

Were the bank right to cough up hard cash for their error? Absolutely, but in the real world that should have been just the first step in the path towards recapturing their customer’s goodwill.

Brand advocacy needs two way trust and that in turn has communication as its cornerstone.

But this bank haven’t bothered. As far as they are concerned the matter was closed as soon as they paid out generous compensation. But they have so missed the point.

This is a shallow, tokenistic and patronising approach to customer experience.

Shame on them.

So tell me, how many of your customers would defend your bank when told a similar story?