Customers expect ubiquitous service

14th Mar 2016

The number of customers communicating with banks through online channels is on the rise, according to data from the Institute of Customer Service’s latest UK Customer Satisfaction Index, and reactive organisations are reaping the rewards. 

Despite satisfaction levels falling across the sector, some banks are getting it right. With a score of 85.7 (out of 100), first direct tops the sector index, followed by Nationwide, which scored 83.7. Both are also listed among the top 10 UK organisations across all sectors. Scoring 81.5 and 81.3 respectively, TSB and Yorkshire Bank came in at third and fourth place, and also feature in the UKCSI’s overall top 50.

First direct’s chief executive Tracy Garrad recognises that customers now look to communicate their concerns through a range of channels. “We set out with a very clear mission that was different from other banks,” she says. “Then, you generally interacted with your bank through a high street branch which opened late, closed early and wasn’t open at the weekend.” Nowadays, banking options are very different, and first direct has had to adapt to the changes in customer needs and expectations, as Garrad explains.

“Customers are increasingly looking for ubiquity,” she says. “Chris Skinner, the banking pundit, calls it ‘Martini banking’ – which takes place any place, any time, anywhere. Now, unlike when we started, nine out of 10 interactions with customers are not through the telephone.”

Instead, customers are increasingly taking to social media to contact customer-facing organisations – a move that first direct has taken in its stride. “We were one of the first banks to use text messaging alerts about overdrafts – and the first to use social media as a support tool,” says Garrad. “We have Facebook pages and groups, and Twitter handles, and we use them to listen – it’s good to know what customers and non-customers are saying. But we also use it as a response channel.”

But it’s not simply about adopting a ‘digital first’ approach. Garrad knows that integration is key – something that the Institute of Customer Service makes clear in its Service goes social report. 

“When you have a number of systems that talk to one another, integrating them all seamlessly can be tricky,” she explains. “But this is what customers expect and the more they experience it outside of financial services, the more they expect it to be the norm.”

This might explain why Garrad sees ‘non-banks’ as first direct’s greatest competition in the future. “The growth of mobile payments and other payment platforms almost remove the need for a bank account – so that’s where I’m looking, as opposed to traditional banks,” she explains.

In January, the bank ranked third overall in the Institute’s UKCSI. Along with the scores of Nationwide, TBC and Yorkshire Bank, it’s evidence that integrated, multi-channel service is a winning formula with customers.

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