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Businesses should look to provide outstanding customer experiences at all times, but if there is one group which should be particularly cared for it is the vulnerable in society.
In our February article “Creating the Customer Experience” we wrote about the way in which post-recessionary consumer expectations are far different from those which went before. Partly our comments were driven by a February FSB survey which revealed that more than three quarters of respondents thought that big business put profits before ethical standards. Six months on, has business culture changed to provide experiences which are closer to consumer expectations?
Sadly not, if one report is to be believed. Businesses should look to provide outstanding customer experiences at all times, but if there is one group which should be particularly cared for it is the vulnerable in society. Unfortunately, the Financial Ombudsman August newsletter commented that when it comes to complaints in respect of vulnerable customers they often find “situations have escalated (or deteriorated) because the business involved has rigidly applied rules and procedures – or hasn’t realised the extent of their customer’s vulnerability.”
In other words, the much derided ‘computer says no’ culture is still alive and well in financial services institutions. The Financial Ombudsman’s report includes several case studies which illustrate some common examples of cases which could have been better handled. Words such as fair and reasonable are scattered throughout the report which serves to highlight the way in which setting the computer aside and looking to reach a common sense agreement can make a considerable difference in reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement.
Of course, as the ombudsman’s report says, there are also numerous examples of cases in which financial services organisations have acted in a more appropriate manner. In fact, a colleague experienced good customer care at first hand recently when an elderly relative was stopped from making an inappropriate payment, thanks to the vigilance and care of bank staff. But unfortunately, good customer service rarely makes headlines. Instead, time and time again it is the example of poor customer care which hits the news and this only serves to reinforce public perception of the financial sector.
Being realistic, we’re never going to be able to go back to the time in which every customer was known in detail to the bank manager and their staff and every transaction could be scrutinised for probity. There are simply too many customers and too many transactions nowadays for this to happen. But that doesn’t mean financial services organisations should simply shrug their shoulders and leave customers to manage their own affairs the best way they can. Indeed, by combining the individual knowledge and experience of branch staff with computers which are programmed to identify unusual patterns of behaviour, financial firms should be able to deliver a strong and robust and caring service to customers.
We’re already partway there. Credit card companies have systems which regularly flag up unusual transactions, thus preventing a considerable amount of fraud before it even happens. Customer facing employees who have been trained in customer awareness are already able to identify and spot potential unusual patterns of behaviour. And the more in which organisations empower their people to be alert, to question and to take time over transactions or queries, the more they will be able to provide real help to customers.
But there are many customers who use financial services firms at a distance, who never cross the threshold and for them, better IT security and automatic identification of potential fraudulent transactions may be the answer. Perhaps one day instead of being an occasion for ridicule and customer dissatisfaction ‘computer says no’ will equate to fraud prevention and customer security. But there will always be a place for the human touch and no matter what the rules, financial services will only be fully redeemed in the eyes of customers when organisations can truly say that people come first.