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"
"Dunno about that"
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.
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