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Opinions Sat, 28 Jan 2017

Customer service: How serious do banks take it?

By Charles Benoni Okine

A public servant runs two accounts with two separate banks in the country. She does that not because she is super rich but she just adhere to the simple principle that, “Do not put your all your eggs in one basket.”

On December 14, last year, she went to one of them to cash money and was met with a long queue in the banking hall. She was stunned because this was a bit too unusual, not because it never happens in that bank but this was just quite too much.

I sat for a while watching the queue move slowly. She then decided to count the number of tellers in the hall. They were six, yet only two were in use. One was occupied by a young beautiful lady who seldom smiled.

After serving each customer, she would do something none of us was privy to for about five minutes before coming back to call the next person.

Feeling frustrated, she left to the next bank and this time, to the Automated Teller Machine (ATM). It wasn’t working, and there were a few disappointed customers standing there. She went to verify and was told the usual; “The network is down.”

These are a few but among many other challenges customers of banks go through on a daily basis.

However, on many occasions, heads of customer service in many of the banks sit on air to recite things they have read about customer service but seldom put to practice.

It has become the norm for people with first and second degrees in marketing to assume they can be customer service professionals, but they tend to be good with the theory and not in practice.

So what is it?

Customer service is an important but broad concept in the banking industry, according to Chron.com. In essence, banks are service-based businesses, so most of their activities involve elements of service.

While they do sell banking and financial products, there is often little tangible product variation among their offerings.

Customer service managers generally deal directly with service issues, but several other common banking jobs involve service. These are; teller, personal bankers, loans and personal service.

(i) Teller - An often underappreciated element of a bank's service is the level of friendliness and helpfulness offered by frontline service employees. Tellers essentially serve as the "face" of the bank to regular customers.

They're the ones visitors typically interact with for routine checking and savings transactions. Thus, service-oriented, helpful people in these roles greatly affect a bank's customer service performance and reputation.

In many banks here in Ghana, some tellers think they are doing the customers a favour and their attitudes can just be awful. But this should not be the case. As some may put it, the tellers are one of the key boundary spanners for the bank and must always get it right and on point.

(ii) Personal bankers - I once asked a friend’s personal banker to tell me what his bank could offer better than competition. It was as if I had placed him in an examination hall to answer questions on physics. For customers with more involving banking needs, personal bankers usually come into the picture.

Bankers generally meet with customers interested in setting up new accounts or getting more information on banking products.

They also handle many of the issues or problems customers have, such as unexpected bank fees or transaction errors.

Banks do often have customer service managers that step in to deal with the most significant customer service concerns.

(iii) Loans - Many a time, banks unleash some loan officers on their clients and potential customers. Unfortunately, these people do not know what they are about.

They only know what they have been told and, therefore, any question outside what they have been told exposes them and that has a bad implication on the image of the bank.

The loan or finance side of banks has its own customer service situations and processes as well. Mortgage consultants inform customers about new loan and refinance options and help with applications.

During and after the loan approval process, members of a bank's loan division communicate with the customer about any paperwork requirements.

They also update them on their loan status. Loan officers and service employees also field loan payment and servicing questions from existing loan customers.

(iv) Self-service - Ironically, one area in which a bank’s customer service is assessed is in its provision of self-service banking tools. In this early 21st century, customers are more often concerned with banking efficiency than the personalised in-branch experience.

Online banking tools, including the ability to move money between accounts and to pay bills online, are examples. ATMs and mobile banking are additional options banks often provide to customers looking for self-service opportunities.

Unfortunately in many instances, apps introduced by the banks to enhance self-service do not work. Most of them malfunction and in some instances, customers lose money.

There also instances where these accounts are hacked and the banks lose millions but they never say, although they hurt. Customers always feel frustrated using these self-service banking tools and in the end, they get discouraged.

Conclusion

When it comes to customer service, the banks don’t have it. In practice, it’s more of a cliché than anything real. Customer service involves more than it is perceived.

Banks must ensure that those they appoint as customer service heads clearly understand what it entails to make the customers satisfied. He or she must be abreast of any part of the bank’s operations so that it can be imbibed in those below. In an era where competition in the sector is keen, the bank to win and win big is the one that has the best customer service.

It should not be the type that is loud on radio, it must be felt for the customers to testify. Through that, they will use word of mouth to market the bank to others.

Columnist: Charles Benoni Okine