RBS: We Were Wrong; the Customer Must Come First….But Will They Change?


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The Royal Bank of Scotland’s (RBS) CEO Ross McEwan admitted recently that in the banking crisis especially, they were not putting the customer first in their business practices. With this admission and his commitment to change he effectively ends his Naiveté…at least as far as customer experience is concerned. But I wonder if this is just eloquent rhetoric. Will the bank really change their behavior?

He explained that his focus since last October has been and will continue to be that the customer is at the center of everything they do. The article, printed in the Opinion and Editorial section of the Guardian, went on to describe his next steps that include more customer-focused operations from the top down. His full quote was:

“It is about establishing one guiding principle that goes from the very top down to the smallest branch. Our employees who deal with customers every day understand their needs and do the best for them – this customer-focused DNA needs to run throughout the bank. We need to remember – and then never forget – that the customer is why we are in business. We need to change our behaviour at every level to reflect this simple truth. To move from stability to renewal, we need to first address and then clean up every aspect of how we treat customers.”  

This statement and focus on improving the customer experience has me wondering if I should approach McEwan about a position here with us at Beyond Philosophy once he gets the bank sorted. That is, if they really do this.

RBS is No Longer Naive

RBS was one of many institutions that were bailed out by British taxpayers in the banking bailout a few years ago. McEwan, who has only been the CEO since October, admitted that five years ago, they were not focused on the needs of the customer. In fact, he says that customers were literally at the end of the queue. In his words, “The bank valued least the people it should have valued most: its customers.” With this statement, McEwan effectively ended the bank’s Naiveté.

When I refer to Naiveté, I am referring to our customer-centricity model for organizations today. In our Naïve to Natural model, we talk about the different types of organizations there are as it pertains to their orientation on customer experience. There are four categories that depict their level of focus on the customer, or customer centricity. They include: Naïve, Transactional, Enlightened, and Natural. Naïve is the least customer-focused organization while Natural is the most.

Most organizations are what we call at Beyond Philosophy, Transactional. This means that they are inwardly focused and do not consider the needs of the customers. As an illustration of this concept, you can imagine them as a clerk at the counter in a shop with his back turned on the customers waiting there.

By McEwan’s admission, they were that clerk and their customers were left admiring the wrong side of the RBS experience. But his focus in the Op-Ed piece shows that the bank is making an effort to turn around and serve the customers that make the shop possible in the first place. Time will show us if McEwan is able to make the full journey to Natural but with a focus as defined as he claims. Personally, I don’t feel optimistic that he can achieve it.

Putting Customers First Begins with Listening and ends in 7 Ss

Every organization’s customer experience could benefit from the type of analysis that McEwan has clearly done on his organization. It starts with listening. The best advice I ever got was that I have been given is to remember that you have two ears and one mouth and you should use them in that ratio! McEwan must have been told the same thing.

For his part, McEwan listened to his staff, the public opinion and his customers. He admits that he learned a lot from this exercise. Most organizations that we work with do, too. When you listen, you learn a lot…and not all of it makes you happy. But painful or not, it helps you make changes. Effective listening helps you hear what you need to change to get better answers the next time you ask.

Once you hear what you need to chance, putting customers first requires a focus on what we call the Seven Ss. In Michael Lowenstein’s post, “Do you – and Does Your Organization Have a Customer Centric Experience Innovation Framework,” He talks about the Seven Ss, which include: Strategy, Structure, Systems, Staff, Style, Skills, and finally Shared Values. Each of these Ss play a part in whether you are going to make real changes in your customer experience that put the customer first or if you are just making speeches and then returning to business as usual.

RBS has a self-admitted long journey back into the hearts and minds of customers and prospective customers. However I am not sure if he understands how far. Many people have been badly affected by the banks antics. I wrote about this in my blog ‘When Household names lie and cheat’.

The Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins has it about right I believe when he said:

“Trust is a very easy thing to lose, and a very hard thing to win back. In my view it will takes several years – probably five to ten – to rebuild trust in Barclays.”

I agree. Great RBS says it’s doing this, but I for one will be looking at what they do, not what they say.

Do you think RBS has what it takes to make it to Natural or is this just a pretty speech?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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