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Six Blue Circles

Image by qthomasbower via Flickr

In the eighties I worked for a large bank. An announcement was made that customer calls were to be ‘centralised’ in the newly built call centres.

Local managers weren’t happy and didn’t accept the idea; sales opportunities would be lost as their branch staff would no longer speak to customers who phoned in. Branch staff ‘knew’ their customers and relationships would surely be broken.

The reply was compelling. Call centre staff would have more time and first-class training so no opportunities would be missed. They wouldn’t have to worry about administration and could spend their time providing an excellent service. The customer would still have a knowledgeable and friendly voice at the other end of the phone.

The plan worked for a while. Then pressures mounted and calls had to be completed in three minutes. Occasionally, when things went wrong, messages were played to save customers the trouble of waiting and speaking to an advisor.

I rang a bank the other day. They have a good reputation for customer service and have won awards. Their web-site was down. A female voice welcomed me. She informed me that my call was important. However, most queries are dealt with on the bank’s web-site and I should give it a go. I was held in a queue. The music played but with regular interruptions, imploring me to visit the bank’s web-site to save me waiting.

I wonder about the long-term impact of a customer service strategy that encourages customers to stop calling. Perhaps in the future some companies will only want to speak to the customer to try and save their account from going elsewhere, when notice of closure has been given.

We are moving further and further away from what our nineteen eighties bank manager would accept. Time will tell who is right. Interestingly, the new banks that are being set up in the wake of the financial crisis have a customer service model that highlights the traditional branch approach.