DON’T MAKE PROMISES YOU CAN’T DELIVER

I'm a Natwest customer of long standing, around 30 years in fact, ever since I took out my first bank account. Together with their stable mate, RBS, they have launched to much fanfare of posters and advertising their "Customer Charter – 14 commitments to make them Britain's most helpful bank". I blogged about it here.  Yesterday in a comedy of errors I spent 25 minutes in a Natwest branch in London. So let's see whether my experience and those of my fellow customers matches up to their commitments:

  • We will extend our opening hours in our busiest branches: well this branch on the Strand was busy but their closing time was 4.30pm so no change there. In fact this caused one of the situations which impacted my experience – see the friendly service point below.
  • We will aim to serve the majority of our customers within 5 minutes in our branches. I love this commitment because I can hear the meeting in my head when marketing took the Charter to the retail operations guys – you can bet the result of this meeting was the insertion of "aim" and "majority" in this commitment. Well yesterday Natwest might have taken aim but I was waiting in line for 18 minutes to pay in a cheque.
  • We will provide you with friendly, helpful, service whenever you deal with us. The teller who deposited my cheque wasn't exactly brimming with the joys of summer but he wasn't that bad. However the man next to me got a shocking service. He turned up queued his 10 or so minutes and then presented the Natwest employee sitting on the other side of the glass with piles of cash. Her response, "Why are you here so late?" whilst rolling her eyes to heaven. I thought to myself why do you close at 4.30pm when every other shop on the Strand won't close until at least 6pm? This is a classic example of bank attitude: apparently the bank was doing the customer a favour by dealing with the cash. When will banks understand they work for us, especially true in the case of Natwest/RBS, rather than the other way round?
  • We will actively seek your thoughts and suggestions on how we can become more helpful. Having depositing my cheque I thought I would seek to understand the Customer Charter a little more by asking the lady at the desk about these commitments. Perhaps she would actively seek my thoughts. So I asked "What is this customer charter all about then?" Given these commitments we might have expected her to engage enthusiastically with me about the journey the bank were on to provide helpful banking. Her response "Here's a leaflet". 
Any member of the Natwest/RBS team reading this, especially those responsible for the Customer Charter initiative, is likely fuming. Their anger will come from a sense of injustice that "this is a journey" and that the advertising is as much to their employees helping to set expectations, as it is to their customers. They will  be upset that the internal communications they so lovingly created haven't been filtered down as they would have liked. They might be frustrated that the operational leadership "don't get it". But overall it won't really matter: the data will  be made to look like service is getting better, the campaign is out there, and the initiative done. The next step on careers will have been made and if the commitments don't really make a difference then most likely the key people responsible will have moved on.

Don't get me wrong, we need better banks. We desperately need retail banks to deliver on their core function which is to take deposits, lend to businesses and individuals, do this courteously, and make a fair margin. I make the point in this presentation that the case for innovation in banking at the moment is weak. Conceptually much of the Customer Charter is to be applauded. What is unforgivable is falling into the classic trap of promising before you can deliver. The customer experience reality is far from meeting these commitments; and until it is Natwest/RBS should shout a little less externally and focus internally a little more. They need to build trust and that is not done by making promises you can't deliver.

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Justin