We routinely open accounts at banks to assess the experience in an effort to improve our own performance. We recently opened two online accounts (one at a national bank and one at an online bank). Both account openings were fast (under 10 minutes), and the experience was pleasant. We then opened an account in a branch at the same national bank where we opened the online account. That in-branch account opening experience is why we believe that banks are failing in branch service satisfaction and that if banks want to maintain that delivery channel, we have to do a much better job than this branch did. In this article we detail what happened and some ideas to fix the problem.
We arrived at the bank at 9:00 am and were the first customers in the door. We were greeted by three relationship managers, who assured us that a VP designated to open the account would be with us shortly. Unfortunately, it was 9:20 am before we started the account opening process because several operating systems had to be launched on the VP’s computer. The VP was knowledgeable, friendly, asked clear and relevant questions but the bank’s software system was so clunky and convoluted that by 10:05 am, when our account was almost available, the bank’s system crashed and the VP indicated that it would be another 20 minutes before we could fund the account.
The above was not surprising as we had similar experiences at other community and national banks. Here is where the story takes a turn for the worse – on the way out the polite branch manager told us that we would receive a survey later that day asking about our experience. He also stated that any rating of 9 or less would be considered a "red flag" to the bank's management.
This experience of being asked for the highest possible rating or else bear some negative consequence has become increasingly frequent in banking. This is not the first time this has happened to us. It highlights the weaponization of the collection and use of customer feedback and growing distrust between service providers and their management. It is yet another cautionary tale of the unintended consequences of making “good service" so important that service providers ask customers to lie about it. The industry has made the question, "how happy are you with our service" toxic.
If a customer is warned that someone will be directly hurt by a less than perfect review, the customer is presented with choices that only serve to skew feedback results. Unhappy customers who either do not care about the consequences for the service provider or feel compelled by their terrible experience will likely proceed with the negative (but hopefully truthful) review. Customers, like us, who have a relatively good, if flawed experience, face an ethical dilemma. Either they give the highest rating, knowing that anything less is viewed as a red flag, or they have to be dishonest. What most do is opt out of the reviewing process altogether – that is what we did. This robs the service provider of even the most basic constructive feedback, leaving much of the written feedback from unhappy customers. In quantitative survey terms, the result is that both the negative and the positive survey results are skewed towards the poles. In eliminating a bell curve, management sees only extremes, neither of which is particularly useful.
Surveys have always been an important tool for companies to receive feedback. In the days before Yelp and other peer to peer ratings and reviews sites, companies could more easily hide poor service from other customers. But good management teams should want to know how customers feel about their service, and not just from the ones who are either unhappy enough (typically) or happy enough (more rare but treasured!) to provide it directly to the company. With Yelp and myriad other rating sites, including social media, consumers can share their experiences directly with each other. It becomes incumbent upon management to monitor those sites for that feedback and to reply to those consumers directly in the court of public opinion. Rarely are unpleasant experiences shared only privately these days between management and a disgruntled customer.
We investigated the Yelp reviews of the bank branch we visited. The overall satisfaction scores were below 3 stars. Not ideal for any business and unfortunately fairly common for national bank branch sentiment. After reading all 51 reviews, we recognized a few patterns:
- Those who were unhappy, were unhappy because they had arrived at the bank specifically for teller services and there were too few tellers and/or the ones available were not friendly.
- Even those who reviewed the bank poorly (for teller reasons) noted that all the other RMs, managers and specialists at the bank were friendly but did not help with customer service.
- No one from the bank had responded to a single Yelp negative comment; neither to address the customer's complaints nor to apologize to the customer for the poor experience.
Again, these are in-line with all national bank branch reviews submitted to Yelp (below) which indicates a larger problem if our industry truly believes in the omnichannel approach to banking and that the branch will remain the central delivery and educational outlet.
What the feedback told us was that the staffing was wrong in this branch. What this bank needed were more productive tellers and, perhaps, fewer “senior” greeters. An unpleasant truth for those who were scurrying about in less busy, but more senior roles.
The bank’s survey that we received looked like this:
“Rate your overall satisfaction with your visit to the financial center" on a scale of 1-10.
- Willingness to help (1-10)
- Understanding of your needs (1-10)
- Knowledge of products and services (1-10)
- Making good use of your time (1-10)
Recall that we were told by the branch manager that anything less than a 9 would cause him, and the branch, problems. The VP deserved a 10 for the first 3 attributes above. But he did not make good use of our time. Had he simply said, "opening an account like this takes over an hour, is this still a good time for you?" before we began, we could have decided to return later in the day.
Instead, he said "this shouldn't take too long" at the start of our meeting. That's highly subjective. Setting our expectations on timing would have allowed us to judge the process favorably as long as he stayed within that time frame. That could make it a 10/10 experience. Instead, the process felt interminable. And the crashing of the computer and the ensuing need to return to the bank later did not strengthen our opinion of the people or the process at the bank.
In banking, and in many other service-based businesses, there seems to be an “US vs. THEM” mentality between those at the local level (here, a branch of a large national bank) and those in upper management setting goals and controlling compensation. Something is broken in the system when upper management decides there will be a survey to gauge customer satisfaction and middle management views it as an attempt to catch them doing something wrong. This is how we end up with branch managers, who should be actually concerned with a positive experience for the customer, ignoring local Yelp feedback and telling their actual customers, in effect, if you don't give us a 10, we get in trouble. This bank created branch managers with more concern for his own well-being than for his customers. This misalignment of interests occurs if upper management imposes a survey on the branch customers without asking the bank manager to provide input to the survey. Or when upper management designates an arbitrary number from the quantitative feedback (i.e. a 9 or above) as more important than the qualitative feedback they receive from customers either via the survey itself or by reading peer to peer reviews (Yelp).
There is a fundamental flaw in the bank’s service if customers are asked by the service provider to rate a less-than-perfect experience as a perfect one. In the end, the happiness number is subjective, but customers should not feel that a review of a 9 or higher is extorted by a branch manager afraid to know or respond to the truth about the customer experience. Of course, the branch manager or at least the culture is not to blame. The policies were set by upper management and have the perverse effect of making the branch experience painful.
Submitted by Chris Nichols on September 13, 2018