Banking customer service. The old oxymoron

What is it about advanced capitalism that reproduces primitive Soviet-style customer service experiences?

Mrs. K and I went shopping this morning and found a wallet on the floor.  It belonged to…well let’s just call her “Mrs. Smith” for the sake of the story.  Mrs. Smith’s purse was stuffed with pretty much every kind of plastic card you can imagine except for anything with a personal address or phone number on it.

But we thought that’s not a problem.  Mrs. Smith is a Barclays Bank customer and we can just phone her telephone banking hotline and then Barclays can pass our phone number to Mrs. Smith and she can come and collect her purse.  Simple; after all, what bank wouldn’t want to help a valued customer stressing out about her lost payment cards and personal data.

Or so we thought.

After the IVR labyrinth, we got a “human”.  Let’s not name names, but imagine that he’s called Edwin.

“Hello Edwin, we’d like to advise you that we’ve found a purse belonging to one of your valued customers.”

“Yes madam…”

“Yes.  It doesn’t have any of her personal contact details, so we phoned you.”

“Just drop the card into a local Barclay’s branch.”

“Great idea, but it’s a whole large purse full of lots of personal things and we know that she’ll be worried about having lost it.  Please can you contact your customer to tell them the purse has been found and pass on our contact details.”

“One moment please … I’m sorry madam, we don’t do that.”

“But what about your valued customer wasting her whole Sunday trying to find her purse?  Then spending Monday cancelling all her cards.  When you could just phone her now.”

“I’m sorry madam.  It’s company policy.  I suggest you hand it in at your local police station.

Causes of call centre customer service failure

How does a call centre end up being so utterly rubbish?  Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Employee micro-management expunging any sense of personal initiative or responsibility.
  2. Compliance culture ditto.
  3. Management of outsourced call-centres through strictly detailed service level agreements.  If management by target worked, the shops would be full of great products from North Korea.  They aren’t and it doesn’t.
  4. Badly scoped outsourcing arrangements and strict silos between inbound and outbound teams.
  5. Outsourced call-centres are often run as projects.  The essence of good project management is to deliver exactly what’s expected. The essence of good service management is to deliver above expectations.  These are two opposite management “values”.

Over Sunday lunch, we imagined Mrs. Smith cancelling the rest of her day in a futile search for her purse.  While Edwin clocked up another exemplary day of customer service by handling our call in less than 60 seconds.

We’ve left the text of this blog post in Mrs. Smith’s purse so that she can discuss the meaning of customer service with her bank.

About Simon Kirby

Digital strategist, CX advisor and agile Product Owner. My core expertise is aligning the political, strategic and human factors that determine the success of digital, CX and innovation projects. Doing that helps organisations deliver better experiences, happier customers, distinctive propositions and improved commercial bottom-line

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