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Graham David

For a Better Customer Experience, Change the Process to Suit the Customer.

Last week I decided that I wanted to take some cash from my Building Society account. It was more than the machines would allow in a single day but not so huge that it was likely to break the bank in Monte Carlo anytime soon. Not wanting to turn up and discover any issues I phoned up and after the obligatory 20 minutes wait listening to some music and an occasional recording assuring me that my business was very much appreciated, I got an actual human on the phone.

I came straight to the point and told her that I wanted to take a certain amount of money out of the local branch. I was just giving them a quick call to let them know so there were no surprises when I arrived.

The agent’s response was, “Alright, I’ll see if we can do that for you.”

Not a response I expected. I tried to offer some clarity.

“Oh I’m sorry, I don’t think I was clear. I wasn’t asking you if I could do this, I was letting you know. It’s a courtesy call if you like. I’m calling to let you know that I’ll be there in the next hour or two and I’m going to be taking some money out.”

“Yes”, she repeated, “I’m just seeing if that’s possible.”

Well, it turned out that as far as she was aware it wasn’t possible. In fact for the amount of money that I wanted to take out, I was supposed to give 24 hours’ notice in order to be allowed to take my money out of the branch.

Now I repeat this wasn’t such an outlandish sum of money that there was any reason to believe that this would not be possible.

I said, “Why can’t I take the money out in the next hour.” “It’s just the system,” she replied.

“Yes”, I countered, “but the system is made by other people at your Building Society. Change the system because I’d like to take this amount of MY money out.”

She thought for a moment and said, “You’ve got two accounts with us. What you could do is to move half the money into one account and then you could take half out of each account and the balance out of the machine.”

“I’m curious.” I said. “What is the reason for this ‘being the system’?”

The agent put me on hold yet again to check, and then offered this. “It’s to make sure we don’t run out of money.”

” Alright”, I said. “So, you will let me take the exact same amount of money, but out of two accounts rather than one. It’s still the same amount of money coming out of the branch, isn’t it?”

“Yes”, she said, “But it doesn’t matter. They won’t mind if you do that.”

I stopped at this point and said, “Really, you’re telling me that your system means I can take the same amount of money but from two accounts rather than one, and that’s fine because that’s what your system states?”

“Oh yes,” she said, “Absolutely.”

This sounded ridiculous to me as I’m sure it does to you reading it now. I know. Yes, this is a real Building Society. They spend a lot of money on cool looking adverts where nothing, apparently, is too much
trouble for them.

After another ten or fifteen minutes to try to arrange to take my money out of my account, I told her that I wasn’t happy with the response and I wanted to speak to the manager.

“Of course,” she said, “I can trigger our complaints system.”

“Complain about what?” I said, “There is nothing to complain about. I think it’s ridiculous but that’s your issue not mine. All I really want is for someone with authority to agree to my request.”

“Well,” she said, “In order to get a senior manager to speak to you, part of our system means I have to call you back within two hours.”

I got off the phone. So far it had been 40 minutes and I’d been exposed to a number of systems. The system which says how much money you can take out. The fact you can step outside of that system and still take the same amount of money out in a different way. The system that meant you’d have to raise complaints. Another system that meant if you wanted to speak to a manager, you had to go on hold.

I like to think I can adapt, improvise, overcome … so … I used the Building Society website to move the amount of money I wanted into my personal Bank – First Direct since you ask.

I phoned First Direct and got straight to a human. I said to her exactly the same thing as I said to the agent at the Building

Society, “Hi, I’m just calling to let you know I will be along to take out this amount of money. How do we sort that out please?”

“I don’t see a problem in that at all,” said the agent.

Within a few minutes she had established which branch I wanted and that the money was all ready to go. She then sorted which branch I wanted to collect from, and the required security code.

This felt too easy after my time with the Building Society. “Do you want me to leave it an hour or two to make sure you’ve got the money?”

She laughed genuinely, “We’re a bank,” she said. “We’re not going to run out of money.”

Brilliant. I decided to pop straight out into the branch and glanced at the clock – seven minutes. It took First Direct seven minutes to arrange this compared to the forty minutes that the Building Society had taken so far initiating systems.

Well, the story is still not over because I then drove into town, parked, walked to the HSBC which is where you go to visit a bank for First Direct, joined the queue, got my money, got back home. Done and dusted.

I sat later having a coffee and just contemplating this and I realised that the two hours mark had come and gone. This was two hours that the Building Society said they needed for a senior manager to call me back.

I gave them another half hour but still nothing…

So often we need in our organisations to have systems and processes – particularly very large businesses like this Building Society, of course, are dealing with tens or hundreds of thousands of customers and a system is absolutely essential. But the number of systems in place in this particular situation clearly show that not only were they badly managing the process and the customer but the systems, in fact, would directly affect delivering what the customer wanted.

Surely, if the customer knows that they are in “a customer service process” then things are not going well? Examples of these are all too common these days. The moment you say you’re not happy about something, somebody offers to raise a complaint ticket. The moment you say you need to speak to somebody more senior who can make a decision, you have to go into a further queue or agree a callback. The moment you finish the call your phone pings and asks for feedback on how they did.

All of these times what we’re doing is reminding our customer and clients that they’re in the “process” and whilst we may use processes to keep everything moving, surely this degree of process, in fact, does the opposite. I would argue that what it’s doing is stopping us welcoming our customers and clients as we might more normally and more “humanly”. We’re constantly defaulting to the system and to the “process”. The reality is that if the system or the process causes our customers problems and stresses, then it has to change – not our customers behaviour. It really is that simple. We need to improve and we need to change what we do. We can’t keep saying to our clients and customers, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. it’s a system and the process.”