‘Let me be the customer, please’

AT LEAST four six people were queuing – but the bank still had at least as many young staff standing around trying to exude self-importance while the two ‘tills’ remaining at the major city centre premises were open.

The bank – part of one of the UK’s biggest high street chains – had reduced the number of tills from four to two in the preceding weeks, meaning that any customers wanting to deal with people, rather than ATMs, were likely to have to wait longer.

I had gone in to close the last of several accounts I had had with the bank – and the deployment of staff and ‘resources’ convinced me that I was right to do so.

My frustration had been growing steadily over the previous 18 months – as what should have been simple and straightforward tasks became increasingly slow and bureaucratic, the deceleration largely the result of greater dependency on ‘technology’.

Someone, somewhere, decided that – as electronic dispensers could keep bank notes ‘secure’ – the need for clerks to be protected in cubicles of reinforced glass had gone. That’s all very well, except that customers wanting to change notes for coins ended up enduring transactions that could easily last several minutes, rather than a few seconds.

The process was slowed further as computers had to record each opening of the remaining cash drawers – and spew out paper records to accompany each. That the cash drawers then did not have sufficient coins to break a £10 note on one occasion and one young staff member had to rush round trying to find colleagues with the keys or passwords to open other drawers slowed the process even more.

Anyone wanting to withdraw cash in amounts other than multiples of £10 has to wait to deal with a person – as did customers wanting more than the machines’ £250 per person per day limit.

Once, I simply wanted details of the international sorting codes for one account. I was told by the young person at the main inquiry desk that I would have to wait to see someone.

A couple of weeks later I needed a new cheque book. The person on duty then said the same thing. I wrote down my account number on a sheet of paper – together with the words ‘please send new cheque book’. Nothing was ever received.

Many years ago, a friend who had got a job with this same bank between leaving school and going to university told me that the practice was to recruit lots of young people because the pyramid of promotion meant that very few would get anywhere near the top – and the approach let more senior managers pick and choose whom they wanted to see make progress.

I can’t help but wonder whether the youngsters wearing the polyester uniforms and fixed grins as they show off their clipboards, tablet computers and wireless headsets realise that they and their potential careers are seen as being so disposable.

… they and their potential careers are seen as being … disposable

In one major city of northern England, this bank occupies sizeable premises – and most of the ground floor has been allocated to computer terminals, most of which seem to be largely unused. Elsewhere in the city, smaller branches – including one opposite the city’s university, where young customers used to be enrolled for life – have been closed.

Admittedly, more and more of us may be managing our money – or the lack of it – online or on our smartphones or other electronic devices, but when we do go into a branch, hoping that the staff there are best deployed to meet our needs and best trained to answer relatively simple questions should not be unrealistic.

The young man who dealt with me when I first closed an account asked me why. I told him. His expression said: ‘not another’. This time, the young woman assumed that – as the account had not been used, it was not needed. She was taken aback when I crossed that out on a printed form and put ‘poor service’. She did not appear to appreciate that such presumption was a factor contributing to my verdict.

Getting customers to do everything for ourselves, be it use ATMs all the time or self-service checkouts at the supermarket, may reduce some direct costs for business, but it also has a drain on the economy, because fewer people are employed.

This bank has included me in its surveys – but I can’t remember ever being asked whether I would rather deal with a human teller or an automated one. I prefer people – especially when they don’t try to become too friendly or involve me in inane conversations.

My plea to managers – and those in charge of marketing – is ‘let me be the customer’; you provide the staff and the service and we’ll get on fine. If they lose sight of those fundamentals, they will lose sight of me too … as this bank has now done.

Written: January 2015

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As Perceived Reporter
AsPerceived reporters produce original material or follow-up news stories as they develop.