Friday, 29 January 2016

Banks. Listen!

You really should listen to your customers. Your customers will tell you everything you need to know about how to make your company more profitable. What do they like about your organisation and the products you offer? Why do they keep on coming back to you? What stops them choosing another bank rather than yours?

Even people who aren’t your customers can offer you fantastic information on what you should do to attract them. Why don’t they come to your bank. Is it the location? Is it your charges? Is it your miserable staff? Is it you?

You don’t have to do ask these questions yourself if you’re not sure how to go about it. That’s what market research companies do for a living. I’m sure you can find one that will help you ask the right questions or you could just do it yourself. Stand at the entrance to your bank and ask customers as they leave how their experience was today. Ask them frankly why they came to your bank rather than anyone else’s. Ask how friendly your staff were. Ask them what you could do to make them happier in future. It’s not rocket science.

A few days ago we did a hugely unscientific survey on Facebook, asking people to comment on what they thought about their bank. In fact what I asked was for people to describe their bank using only one word. Yes, of course that’s a very crude measure because as we all know the quality of an organisation can’t be judged by just one word. Service is much more complicated than that. Service is multi-factoral. The service might be fast but unfriendly. It might be friendly but unhelpful. It might be helpful but not relevant to your needs. Service is complicated and using one word to summarise an entire company is therefore a bit silly.

But sometimes silly can be good.

This survey was also unscientific because the people commenting were Facebook users and they are a very strange group who are certainly not representative of the general population. Another reason it’s not a reliable survey is that the people who commented are likely either to be particularly happy or particularly unhappy with their bank. People who have no real feelings are much less likely to comment. In other words the people who commented in this silly survey were extremists.

But anyway, what were the results? What did people think?

This is how it worked. I went through the thousand comments we received (yes a thousand) and divided them into three categories: good or positive words, bad or negative words or those that were neutral or ambiguous.

The bad news for banks is that only a third of people, 34% to be exact, were prepared to say something good about their bank. They used words like “excellent”, “innovative”, “best”, “awesome” and “convenient” but I quickly noticed something I thought was curious. For the larger banks my impression was that people were often commenting on innovations the bank offered such as their technology but with the smaller banks they seemed to be commenting on the quality of service. I suspect that’s most people experience. The smaller banks tend to be friendlier, the larger ones more advanced technologically.

As predicted, a small proportion, just one in ten, were in the neutral camp. These were the people with either no strong opinion (“Ok” and “fair”) or who had mixed feelings (“Super technology, appalling service”).

The bad news is that more than half of all the people, 55% of them, could only find bad things to say about their bank. Some of the comments were reasonably expressed such as “inconvenient”, “Queues!”, “crowded”, “terrible” and “expensive” but others were more impassioned. They said things like “nightmare”, “thieves!”, “idiots” and “cheats” and those were just the polite comments that Mmegi could print.

Yet again I stress that these “findings” are not scientifically based. They are not necessarily a true reflection of how people feel about their bank. Having repeated that, here’s something important.

I think they ARE true.

I think this is how people really DO feel about their banks. I suspect this because I ask people this all the time. Many times when I meet people I ask them who they bank with and what they feel about the quality of service they get and those proportions our survey found are roughly what I hear from people. About a third are happy, a handful are neutral and about half are really, really pissed off.

I also think that the observation that bigger banks survive because of good technology and the smaller one do so because of better service is probably correct as well. The challenge to both big and small banks is to try and create an organisation that has both: fantastic, innovative, useful technology but with staff in the branches and the call centers that appear to enjoy dealing with customers.

Unfortunately, the pessimist in me suspects that what we’d get is big bank service and small bank technology. Why can’t it be different? Which bank is going to have the courage to invest in becoming truly better? Which bank has the backbone to dare to be different, to be the bank that stands out from the crowd of other banks, to be the bank that will be eccentric but wildly successful.

Finally, there’s some slightly good news. We asked exactly the same question this time last year and performed the same analysis. How do banks in 2016 compare with 2015?

The good scores haven’t changed. What changed was that a noticeable proportion of people seem to have moved from bad to neutral comments. To put it simply, the banks don’t seem to be getting better, they’re just getting a little bit less bad.

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