Speedy Service: Don’t Bank on it

This week the Frog finds herself at the sharp end of what happens when a business does not have a ‘customer first’ culture.

Last Friday I experienced my first ever “I’m going to write a blog about this” moment.

Firstly, a little background:  I work right in the middle of a business estate where, funnily enough, there are a high volume of businesses.  One of these is the satellite branch of a well-known high street bank.  Because it serves a higher than average number of business clients, this particular branch is well known for its exceptional peaks and troughs at certain points throughout the day.  Over the years I’ve discovered that unless I want to spend my lunch hour queuing and negotiating a car parking space in a heaving car park the size of a small paddling pool, a visit to the bank is to be avoided.

Unfortunately last week, a visit became unavoidable.  I therefore arrived at 11:35 – which usually means getting there before the lunchtime rush starts to peak.  However, I arrived to join a queue of twelve people.  As you can imagine, being a satellite branch, the reception area is rather compact (think telephone box) and not at all bijou.   My astonishment at the size of the queue turned to gut-wrenching disappointment when I spotted only two cashiers working at the counter.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem… except that this is a business park bank serving business people.  The queue was comprised of builders paying in bundles of checks, hairdressers banking takings and young entrepreneurs hauling money bags, attempting to exchange 100 million dollars for ½ pence pieces.  The queue, which looked like it led to an audition for a Village People tribute band (minus the Indian Chief), was unnervingly silent.

For five minutes there was little positive movement, although more people had joined the queue.  People started quietly counting how many of us there were.  Amidst the whispered numbers, I wondered whether we’d established sufficient camaraderie to suggest a session of bank bingo.  There were now fifteen of us.  All of a sudden, a 3rd cashier appeared as though from nowhere; sprinted to the counter, pulled up the “not in service” blind and started serving. The queue perked up, shoulders were pulled back and sighs of relief were plentiful as smiles emerged.

However, the relief was short lived.  As a customer left the counter and another approached, one of the original cashiers (who shall now be known as “Mrs Grumpy Pants”) tetchily declared “I’m closing”.  She yanked down her blind and stomped off with her Charles & Diana commemorative mug in hand.  As this particular branch has the office directly behind the cashier desks, the entire queue watched Mrs Grumpy Knickers as she leisurely strolled to a door at the back of the office and re-emerged a little while later with a hot drink and a stack of jammy dodgers.  We then watched as she sashayed to a desk, parked herself on a swivel chair and started reading ‘Take a Break’.  People in the queue started to kick up a fuss… in the traditional British way of course – sighs got louder and the tutting became audible.

My own reaction intrigued me.  Part of me wanted to squeeze through the tiny cashier draw under the bullet-proof glass, blaze through the back office and drag Mrs Grumpy Pants – Jammy Dodger crumbs and all – back to the counter.  However, the other part of me appreciated she was on her break… and probably an overdue one at that.  Although, why she felt it appropriate to do so in full view of a queue of fifteen people (including a seeing-eye dog and a chap with a very dodgy toupee) I’m still at a loss to understand.

I started to reflect on my experiences at the branch.  Walk in at 14:45 and you’ll have a veritable swarm (what is the collective term for bankers by the way?) of staff greeting you on arrival, guiding you to the counter, offering you a pedicure etc; while another horde mill around reception, tidying the pens and realigning the paying in slips using spirit levels.  Walk in at peak times and the swarm has dispersed, leaving a sliver of a skeleton crew to serve and placate the masses.

This ongoing saga of ineptitude is particularly ironic when you consider that the telephony-based division of this bank can only do what they do because they employ strategies to avoid these very scenarios. Telephony-based businesses have to excel at demand forecasting and real-time management to ensure their survival.  If they don’t know how many customers they’re expecting to ring in from minute to minute, then how do they know whether they’ll have enough handlers in seats to take them?  And if they don’t quickly identify a massive unexpected surge in calls, they’ll be forced into ineffectual reactive responses rather than proactive management of their delivery… which brings us back nicely to my bank.

So last week, after silently declaring “I’m going to write a blog about this” to my comrades-in-queue, I started penning an email to my bank.

I’ve suggested they consider the following:

  • Utilising the pronounced pattern of customer demand they observe each day and consider what changes they need to make to move with it – for the benefit of both their customers and themselves.
  • Introducing staggered starting times to ensure they have availability when they need it (and thereby removing the abundance of availability when they don’t).
  • Lunch and break “bands” rather than defined times; meaning they could flexibly meet demands without adversely impacting their staff.

I haven’t received a reply yet, but I’ll keep you updated.  

In the meanwhile, if you know any building societies that are willing to sign up customers who’ve been kicked out by their bank, please let me know… it’s good to be prepared!


For help with developing a customer service culture in your business, please contact us at www.bright4impact.com


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