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.

If you enjoyed this post then why not consider subscribing to the blog – it's free and easy – click here

Justin

HOT AIR OR REAL DELIVERY? THE NATWEST/RBS CUSTOMER CHARTER

This week Natwest and Royal Bank of Scotland rolled out their Customer Charter and lots of marketing in support. Full page ads in papers up and down the country. According to these adverts they are now making 14 commitments to help them become "Britain's most helpful bank". If you haven't seen the adverts (and before you click on the links in this blog) guess what these commitments are?

In the main it is the typical shopping list of customer friendly platitudes – we will be helpful, we will help you make the right choices, we are a responsible lender, we will resolve customer complaints fairly etc. Much of it is complete table-stakes – we will keep you safe online, we will provide a 24/7 telephone banking service, for example. Some of it is complete marketing spin such as "we intend" to have 600 branches open on Saturday by end of 2010 – for perspective Natwest/RBS have over 2,200 branches; and that 9 out 10 customers will rate our service as "helpful" (whatever that means).

Without being too cynical there are one or two interesting new ideas such as the community commitments which include staying open if they have "the last branch in town" (although this might create a perverse incentive for them to close down struggling branches sooner rather than later) and 25,000 financial education lessons (which again for perspective is only 0.0026 per child given there are 9.5m school children in the UK). More interesting is what has been left out.

Given that RBS/Natwest collapsed and was forcibly nationalised with taxpayers money by the UK Government in 2008 then wouldn't a commitment to financial stability and prudence have been appropriate? Given that the business failed because the money that was deposited by normal retail customers was used to build a balance sheet of around £1trn that funded risky investment banking wouldn't a commitment to managing risk more tightly been right?

And given the massive resources of this nationalised bank are the commitments to financial education really big enough? However, as I have argued on this blog before, the focus on banks at the moment should be on delivering a good, reliable service well rather than marketing and innovation (see Just How Special and Different are Financial Services Brands), in the end that is how trust will be re-established. Therefore many of the commitments are well made if they can be delivered.

So I decided to visit a few Natwest branches and talk to staff about the Charter and what it means to them. Of the three central London branches I visited none had any literature about the Charter even though all the adverts say that you can pick up a leaflet in branch. Chatting with staff I was greeted with the following comments:

"Yeah they told us about this last week, it's how they will improve the service"

"It's about serving people in 5 minutes"

and

"Dunno about that"

Searching the Twitter-verse this morning revealed an interesting series of #fail tweets from frustrated Natwest customers which might indicate that Natwest have a significant way to go on delivering their commitments.

This doesn't bode well and perhaps indicates that the timings of the marketing calendar trumped the roll out internally. This is a classic financial services marketing mistake.

Financial brands are built through experience and people. An employee that completely understands the experience they are supposed to deliver, and is supported by management and aligned incentives, is how these commitments will reach you and me. This is the really hard work of re-orienting and aligning people – this is where the focus should be rather than working with the ad agency. Without this the millions of pounds being spent on advertising this charter (and remember it is our money!) is mis-spent and will be more marketing spin that will make the lack of trust worse.

I wish Natwest/RBS luck with their commitments if they are one of the very few financial services brands and businesses that realise that the way they will win the loyalty, respect, trust and share of wallet of their customers is through creating employee advocates and excellence in actually delivering on their commitments rather than by advertising and marketing the hot air of what they intend to deliver in the future.

What do you think? Do you think this is a good initiative by Natwest and RBS? Do you trust them more given the 14 commitments? Are you a Natwest or RBS employee – what's your view of this campaign and the commitments? Any view – please leave a comment below.

If you enjoyed this post then why not consider subscribing to the blog – it's free and easy – click here

Justin

Mail me: justin@basini.com

My website and blog: http://www.basini.com/

Follow me: www.twitter.com/justinbasini