10 steps for ensuring excellent customer service

Waleed Barhaji, Head of Distribution and Unsecured Assets, Noor Bank. (Supplied)

Today, a common complaint among customers of banks worldwide is poor customer service.

While it is true that not all banks are guilty of neglecting customers - and some do go the extra mile to forge better relationships – the fact remains that customers today demand a much higher standard of service from their banks and anything short of expectations results in the bank losing customers.

A report by Ethos Consultancy in 2012 indicated a gap in the quality of customer service within the banking sector in the UAE. ‘Overall, the research does seem to suggest that many of the UAE’s banks are still not focusing enough attention on customer service,’ the company said in its benchmarking report. The following year, in its 2013 report, Ethos Consultancy suggests that while particular banks are starting to diligently invest in customer service, most still channelise their budgets into other avenues.

A survey by YouGov and personal-finance website Cashy some months ago reiterated the above findings, and interestingly noted that one-fifth of all banking clients in the UAE are planning to leave their existing banks due to ‘poor customer care’ – a clear indication on how crucial it is for banks in the UAE to step up their service delivery and adapt to the growing needs of customers. The writing on the wall is clear - banks need to take necessary steps to ensure high quality customer service, if they are to retain a client’s business.

Here are some immediate steps that banks in the UAE could take to step up their service levels:

Ensure that front desk staff are better trained and more proactive. Often at branches onsite employees do not possess adequate knowledge of banking procedures. Ask a staff member a question, and the individual often needs to refer to the branch manager, making customers endure long waiting lines.

Be more attentive, particularly in the beginning of a new relationship. There are very few banks, regardless of size or stature, which make it a practice to periodically reach out to customers within the first 90 days. This is the time when the relationship is most vulnerable. The best practice is for banks to first call to thank the customer after two days of the start of a relationship with the bank. Two weeks later, banks must reach out again to new customers to ensure that the relationship has been fully activated. When banks are more attentive to customers, such attention pays great dividends.

Charges should be more transparent. Customers often argue that banks overcharge them for services or are unaware of certain fees until it is too late due to lack of transparency. Tailor products only to those who need them. Automatically charging customers for services they do not need upon the opening of an account is a charge that most banks are guilty of. Not all customers need all of a bank’s services and the extra billing creates a feeling of resentment towards the bank.

Clear written customer procedures for routine banking services. Not all banks tend to have clear procedures. Customers often have to travel up to a branch to resolve an issue as they don’t understand what steps are needed or what documents are essential to access a specific Digital devices should be easier to use and more convenient. According to a survey in 2012 conducted by Intelligent Environments, a financial software provider, 11% of all bank customers polled said that the devices needed to access accounts online (such as mini PIN generators or card readers) were too inconvenient to use. These devices are still in use today and are often time-consuming and a hassle to manage. In integrating ‘convenience’ mechanisms banks might do well to factor in customer feedback.

Member loyalty should always be considered when resolving customer issues. When addressing issues related to loyal customers, it is vital to prioritise their loyalty and expedite procedures to resolve them. Banks that don’t do this often lose their best customers.

Contacting a customer helpline should be simplified. Whenever a customer calls a bank to ask for information on his/her account or make a general enquiry, banks often take them through a rigorous security questionnaire on the phone, which can accumulate a lot of waiting time and prove highly inconvenient, increasing customer ire in the process.

Make greater use of online tools. With more and more customers using online banking, banks should improve their apps and digital interface for the convenience of customers. According to a ‘Mobile Financial Services Tracking Study’ from AlixPartners, a global business advisory firm, the number of consumers switching primary banks jumped from 7.1% in the first half of 2013 to 10% in America. The primary reason provided by migrating customers, especially younger ones, was the need for technology and innovation-led online services.

Invest more in machinery which increases convenience. While it might take a chunk out of the budget, the latest ATMs, which provide customers with the ability to deposit cheques, are far more convenient for most customers. It saves them a trip to the bank, cuts the hassle of long queues and endless conversation with the bank’s staff and is a vital 21st century convenience mechanism that cannot be ignored.

 

The author is Head of Distribution Channels and Unsecured Assets at Noor Bank

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