James Daley

By James Daley

Promising to put your customers first is all the rage in the world of banking these days. Sadly in some cases, this is more of a marketing ploy than a genuine priority for the business. But there are now a number of banks that appear to be genuinely committed to building a reputation for fairness and great customer service.

If you're the person put in charge of building a reputation for great service, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your first step needs to be to focus the efforts of your staff.

But while being friendly to your customers and saying sorry when you get things wrong is an important part of good customer service - it's infinitely less important than the IT that you have in place to support your service.

Good service = No service

Most customers want to have as little contact with their bank as possible - so for many people, good customer service is defined by having good enough systems that you never need to pick up the phone or go into a branch.

I've been a business customer of MetroBank for a little over 18 months now - and there's no way you can fault this bank's commitment to good customer service. On the phone, the staff always stop to ask me how I am - and I'm always sent on my way with a friendly "Have a great day". More importantly, they don't feel like they're reading from a script. It feels like I'm interacting with a human being and not a computer.

But Metrobank has yet to nail the bigger prize of delivering a smooth customer experience. Applying for the account, getting new signatories on it, sorting out problems with my bank card have proved laborious. In almost all cases, a trip into a branch is required - which is inconvenient and is no longer how I want to bank.

In a personal capacity, I've been up against poor systems at another bank over the past week. I've been trying to apply for a credit card with Lloyds - but at the end of the journey I'd keep getting error messages - before a decision had been dispatched. After making multiple attempts to try and get some help over the phone - and after being passed from pillar to post by the call handlers - I was eventually told that it would take 30 days for my aborted application to be cleared from the system, and so I'd have to go away and come back next month. Can I apply over the phone? Computer says no - this is an online only deal.

The staff were very pleasant - even sympathetic. But ultimately, they told me, there was nothing they could do.

Grumpy staff are better than outdated systems

Training your staff to be friendly is important - but it's not even a tenth as important as having the right systems in place to be able to respond to customers' needs, and as keeping the hassle of banking to a minimum. It's something for the clamour of new challenger banks to think about as they build their offering over the next few years. There's no point investing in training your staff to be friendly if they're beholden to a flawed computer system which stops them from having the flexibility to deal with customers as individuals.