Customer service according to your bank

I’ve had two reasons on two seperate days to actually step foot inside a bank branch. This is most unusual, being an electronic payment kind of girl. The customer service I received has been rattling around in my brain as a blog post and refuses to let me get any sleep until I unleash it. I don’t think it’s going to sway your opinion about banks in general, but from a customer service point of view it is kind of interesting to put it under a microscope and analyse it.

Branch 1: The cheque and the change of PIN number

One of our dearest clients is a elderly couple with a passion for videography, who called us in the very early days of our business. Apart from staff members of our business clients, this is the only residential customer we’ve decided to keep. But as is there way, they pay by cheque, hence the reason for the first visit to Branch 1. Fortunately I also remembered that I had a new PIN number floating around in my handbag (just the little shiny window bit cut out) that matched a replacement card the bank had sent me. Don’t get me started on why my previous PIN number hadn’t been transferred to my new card, but anyway.

After filling out the paperwork for an express deposit of said cheque, I found I had to line up for a teller anyway to do the PIN change .. which meant they came out of the teller’s area and over to the reception counter. Now, this post will be peppered with some inside knowlege, having once lived the life of a bank teller and IT staffer. The ‘excuse’ for this inefficiency is that magnetic stripe writers, the ones that can encode a new PIN number, are expensive. One per branch will do. Now, either some banks are getting a better deal than others, or some banks see more mag stripe writers as an investment in good customer service, because some banks do have this at ALL teller stations (or even in their ATMS, but we’ll get to that next). Here endeth lesson number one.

I happened to mention to the teller that another bank has mag stripe writers in the ATMs, so you can change your number there, which is a good idea. Convenience rocks, people, especially with branches having such short hours and always having a queue a mile long. “Ooh, we wouldn’t want to do that, that’s a big security risk. Anyone could steal your mail, get your new card and PIN then and change it.” was the reply.

Now, I was in one of those ‘smile and nod moves and just get out of the branch as fast as I could because I have other things to do with my day’ so I smiled and nodded and left.  But I just couldn’t let it go. Apart from some glaring big holes in her argument .. she told me I was wrong!  But I’m the customer!!

I know it’s the teller’s job to pitch that their bank is the best and everybody else sucks. But that one small comment was like a pin prick bursting my balloon. When a customer tells you something is a good idea, especially when they mention your competitor is doing it, sure it’s natural to get defensive. I’m telling you though, an approach like “that’s an interesting idea” or ” do you think that’s beneficial to you?” would have left the smile on my face, even though I know the chances of this conversation turning into a bank-wide initiative are pretty much nil. And this is lesson two .. don’t tell the customer you are wrong and lesson three … look for opportunities to improve your business all the time.

So let me point out two of the big glaring holes:

1. The bank posts out my new card. The bank posts out my new PIN number. If someone steals my mail (both envelopes) then they have my new card and it’s PIN number. Regardless of where they are allowed to change it. They don’t need to change it to use it an access my funds. And how did they get this (apart from the obvious lack of security on my mail box (which by the way is a key locked Post Office Box))? Because the bank posted them. Ergo, the reason this thief now has access to my funds is because of how the bank manages this card issuing process, by postal mail. Lesson four … look along the chain of your process for any part which may contribute to the problem, not just the end result.  

2. During our conversation, the bank teller allowed me to change my PIN number but did not ask me to provide any identification. In fact, the process didn’t even ask me to enter the original PIN. This second part is due to the fact that the PIN could have been innocently forgotten. Perhaps if I’d confessed I’d forgotten it, she would have asked me for ID? I did see the irony that this exchange didn’t help her argument. Here I was, in a branch to change my PIN number and I could have been anybody. Like a mail thief. Lesson five .. if security is your thing (like a bank), make sure your processes reflect that (like using ID checks).

The last lesson from this visit came as I walked out the door, when another customer collared the teller before she’d had a chance to escape back behind the secure locked area. He wanted to roll over a term deposit, and she had to explain that she couldn’t do that for him and the person he needed to see was busy. As a teller, once you step out of your safely locked zone, you are just another staff member to the waiting public. Standing at a reception desk telling someone you can’t help them is also poor form and doesn’t really give the best impression.  Which is why tellers should have mag stripe writers.  

After that enlightening visit, I turned the ignition in my car & realised I hadn’t made a cash withdrawal. I got out and walked around to the side of the building to use the ATM, which was out of action. It was 09:40am, the branch had been open since 09:30 and I’m guessing the staff had been onboard since 08:30 at the latest. Plenty of time for them to sort out the ATM, unless it ran out of cash within the last 10 minutes. I gave up on this one, giving them the benefit of the doubt that it was a computer glitch or ATM hardware failure, not just a simple ‘run out of cash’.

Branch 2: The ATM, teller boxes and staffing levels

And so I thought that was the end of my adventures in branchland for months to come .. until the next day I tried to make that cash withdrawal I’d forgotten about. This time, I had my 2.5yr old. Right, quick in and out of the car at the ATM on my way past (if any in and out of the car with a toddler is quick). Only this ATM wasn’t working either, at a different branch. Into the branch we venture, to the delight of my daughter who heads straight for the pile of toys. This is actually a good move by the bank, as it’s in plain view when you’re waiting in line or being served by a teller and happy children make for happy caregivers.

It’s 10:35AM. There are 5 or 6 teller boxes and only ONE teller serving. Their ATM is down and there are 4 people in front of me. Did I mention I had my toddler with me?  And the one customer currently being attended to does not know the different between a direct debit and a recurring payment, which is being exlained to her, for the third time. Right now I’m wondering how much eye rolling and sighing and watch looking will be required to get some more staff out here, or if I have to find the branch manager myself. Hello, it’s morning tea time, your ATM is down and you have one staff member serving?

But soon – a miracle! A lady I could only assume was the head teller (sitting in the back of the teller’s area doing more important stuff than serving customers), notices our growing discontent, disappears and reappears with another teller, who opens. Happy days!

When my turn comes, I casually mention .. did you know your ATM is down? “Yes, it’s just being filled up with cash now.”  Lightbulb moment. So bear with my now why this revelation made it all crystal clear and took the steam out for me. Unfortunately it’s all to do with insider knowledge.

Like most other companies, banks have to justify the existance of staff members and don’t always get the amount of people they actually need during peak times. If you think of the ebb and flow of customers through a bank, most of the time 6 tellers would be overkill.  The reality is that most branches don’t have the budget to fill the number of teller boxes they actually have. This actuallly gives them room to bring on more casuals and temps over periods like Christmas, but doesn’t help the public the rest of the year. But hey, this is generally the case in any retail store.

The next issue is wrapped around what tellers actually do. It seems that more and more functions are being handled by this team, especially when you walk into a branch that has nobody at the reception des any more. This means that customers are staying longer at a teller box, when we used to move them over to a ‘retail banker’ to clear the way for actual deposit & withdrawal transactions. Oh and that head teller – yeah, you would not believe the volume of work she actually has to manage on a daily basis before even adding any issues or stuffups by other people that she needs to sort out. She’s needed as the boss and she can’t do that if she’s on the frontline serving customers.

So, here’s how the situation actually read: I’m guessing the branch actually had 3 or 4 tellers, plus the head teller. One (or two) filling the ATM. One serving. One at a tea break. And perhaps one off locating paperwork or getting foreign currency or performing some other task. And I’m wondering if Teller 2 was in fact yanked off her tea break to come and help, bless her.

Now I realise that none of the above excuses helped my wait time or my mood initially. But here’s the thing. While the banks announce mega-profits and don’t cut interest rates with the RBA, there are tireless, dedicated workers in branches doing the best job with what they have to work with. I’ve been one of them and so had my mother, my mother-in-law and many family friends. Just remember that those workers are not the ones pocketing $24 billion a quarter. Should the banks invest more in better customer service? Hell yes. And no, that does not mean staff training videos and roadshows, it means resources and more staff. But that costs money. And if we spend money we don’t have as much profit and our shareholders aren’t happy. 

The glaringly obvious hole in that last argument though is “but right now your customers aren’t happy.”  It’s a pity that the shareholders take priorty, isn’t it?

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One thought on “Customer service according to your bank

  1. Wow, Sonia. This is quite a tour de force! I hope you feel better for getting it down in print. I find that very helpful. As this is the polar opposite of the good-service story I posted today, I’ll add a link to you, so readers can see the massive contrast. Best regards, P. 🙂

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