What you can learn from my Santander experience


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I urgently needed to move money from one Santander account to another Santander account

Last week I needed to withdraw some money from my mortgage account and move it into my current account. It should have been an easy process as I have done it many times. Yet, I met a problem: I had forgotten my e-banking login details as I had not logged into my mortgage account for a couple of years. As this was something I needed to do urgently – on that day – I rang Santander Customer Services.

Santander Customer Services didn’t provide the service

I got through to Customer Services pretty quickly and came face to face with the IVR. Thankfully it was easy to grasp. I selected the right option and pretty soon I was through to a female customer services agent who dived into the security check: date of birth, postcode, mortgage account no, monthly payments…… Once she had verified all that she needed to verify she asked me how she could help me. I told her that she could help me by transferring money from my Santander mortgage account to my Santander current account. I expected that she would say “No problem.” She didn’t: she told me that I had to send in a letter requesting this transfer.

“How is it that I can and have made these transfers through e-banking and yet you cannot do this for me over the telephone?” That was my question. She told me that it was company policy. She did not explain why it was company policy; I could have told her that company policy was stupid but didn’t after all she is simply an insignificant little cog in a huge machine who simply follows orders.

“Can you please put me through to someone who can help me recover my e-banking login ID so that I can make this transfer through e-banking?” There was a pause along with a flat, emotionless, “Yes”. I took that to mean yes I will do that but it is really not my job to help your figure this out. Instead of being transferred to the right team she told me that I had to ring the e-commerce team and gave me their phone number.

IVR is the most hated customer touchpoint and I get to experience why that is

Well I rang the ‘e-commerce’ team no and was faced with the IVR. I listened to this once, listened to it twice and then I listened to it a third time. There were several options but not one that was relevant to my needs. I tried to get out of the IVR and get through to human being and found that I could not: the same useless options ended up being relayed again and again! Frustrated, I hung up.

Eventually I solve my service need through e-banking

I really needed to move that money so I dived into my banking file meticulously and eventually found my login ID. It took me about 30 seconds to log in and then another 2 minutes to complete the transfer. Thank the heavens for e-banking! No wonder e-banking is so popular in the UK: it allows us to bypass the indifference and incompetence of the big UK banks. Maybe I am being harsh. The system has probably been deliberately designed this way so as to influence customers (like me) to self-serve through e-banking.

What you can learn from my experience

Companies don’t care about customers they care about competitors. The British banks act as an oligopoly doing business exactly the same way: each delivers lousy customer service as it is not necessary to do better. Customers know this and continue to stick with the bank they now bank with; I will continue banking with Santander. The banks will only change their behaviour when a viable competitor enters who has no investment in the existing way of doing business. If you look closely at other industries you will find that many of the companies embracing ‘customer experience’ are doing so because of the competition in their industry / marketplace.

If you want to improve the customer experience then start with company policies. Company policies are like the rules of chess: change the rules and you change the game. If you take a good hard look at your company policies you are likely to find that they are not customer friendly: they are one of the biggest obstacles to designing and delivering attractive customer experiences.

Your customer facing staff should explain company policies in the right way. If you are going to have policies that cause ‘pain’ for your customers than you have to train your staff to explain these policies in a way that makes sense to your customers. What is the direct/indirect benefit to the customer of this policy? This is something that you have to think through and explain to the customer.

IVRs can be a blessing or a curse. Well designed IVRs are a blessing because your customers does not have to wait a long time to get to a human being. And using human beings to route ‘calls’ is not the best way to use human beings. However, too many IVRs are poorly designed from a customer viewpoint. If you are putting in an IVR make sure that it is thoroughly tested before it is implemented to take account of all the scenarios. What mechanism do you have in place to figure out which IVRs are badly designed?

People have higher standards of people than technology. Technology is either easy to use or it is not. Technology works or it does not work. Technology is not personal – it does not leave us feeling invalidated and offended. We do not expect technology to ‘own and solve our problem’. When it comes to people it is the opposite. We recognise that people are human and they make mistakes: we can and do forgive mistakes. We do not tend to forgive people who are indifferent to us and our ‘pain’. If people do not treat us the way that we expect people to treat us then we get upset. And then we look for another supplier.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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