Money talks, but banks don’t?

Craig Busst - City NumbersAn article on the BBC recently highlighted that two new banks don’t allow for customers to contact them by phone. Durham based Atom, and Fidor, a German bank, are trying to revolutionise the customer and bank relationship by providing communication channels that don’t involve the human voice. Atom is arguing the future is mobile and app based when it comes to talking to your bank (even though it does have a call centre, but one that only takes technical queries). Meanwhile, Fidor believes strongly in the power of social media when speaking to customers, and aims to put the fun back into banking.

Now, I’m all in favour of businesses using the latest technology and innovative techniques to enhance the customer relationship. But when it comes to something as important as money, there’s no way that it’s acceptable to not have a phone service in place for customers to dial, particularly if these are banks that don’t have a bricks and mortar presence on the high street. And what is ‘fun’ about banking?!

Your average punter is fiercely protective of their money and when they need to air a grievance, or need some help getting their finances in order, they often want the reassurance of a human voice at the other end of the line to manage the process. Finance related inquiries can be long-winded, complex and technical with all sort of personal information flying around, and sometimes the phone is the only practical way to have this kind of conversation.

Calling is still a necessity

A recent survey carried out by NICE Systems – which looked at consumer satisfaction with customer service channels – found that if given a choice, 88% would choose to connect with a customer service representative over the phone. I’m not saying don’t have social media and online comms lines, I’m just saying don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

“alienating a potentially lucrative market just seems like poor business sense”

Here’s a scenario for you to consider. Say you use your credit or debit card abroad and suddenly it gets blocked by the bank as a fraud precaution. What happens if you don’t have an Internet connection and the only way you can communicate depends on the Internet? When you consider phone coverage, be it landline or mobile is considerably more comprehensive than Internet accessibility, then only being able to connect with your bank via online chat applications or social media channels, becomes a pretty flawed premise. And you don’t even have to be abroad for this type of thing to happen, some parts of the country still have trouble getting 2G coverage, so what happens there when a telephone is the only way to contact your bank?

Not accessible to the elderly

Not having a phone number in place can also eliminate a whole demographic of individuals as customers. Fair enough if these banks are trying to appeal to a more youthful demographic, but what about elderly people who are only willing to deal with banks via tried and trusted methods? Apart from anything else, alienating a potentially lucrative market just seems like poor business sense.

Are premium rates the problem?

One of my theories about what has caused these new banks to do away with phone numbers, is the usual gripes consumers have about  the use of premium rate numbers by banks and the amount of time customers can be left waiting on the line for an operative to assist them. Many bank call centres have these numbers in place as a way to fund the call centre, but the average customer resents footing the bill, particularly when they may not be at fault for an issue on their account.

Even when premium rate charges have been removed, you can bet your bottom dollar its impact on the customer elsewhere. For instance, current accounts could have higher charges and credit cards higher interest rates.  The mad thing is, social media, apps and online chat functionality also needs to be monitored by similarly qualified professionals, so the bank is unlikely to be saving much by pushing people to communicate only via these channels.

The phone is the key to great customer service

Social media, mobile apps and online banking are brilliant tools for improving the banking experience for customers and making their lives so much easier. But the phone is an absolute must for maintaining the customer relationship. Customer service can be tough at the best of times and there is no end to the public’s frustrations with banks, but by not offering a staple component of the customer relations mix, it’s doing everyone a disservice.

My bank will be pleased to know that until these young pretenders are willing to talk to me on my terms, I won’t be switching my account any time soon.

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