Results of a consumer survey on service indicate that banks can learn a few things from the investment and insurance businesses.
Forty-three percent of investment and insurance customers polled last year by Roper Starch Worldwide Inc. said they were satisfied with those companies service overall, against 35% of bank customers.
Roper, a New York firm, polled 1,500 people, 500 in each of the three sectors. It says investment and insurance companies outdid banks in several areas.
About 36% of the bank group said they would remain committed customers, compared with 40% of the investment and insurance customers polled.
Forty-three percent of insurance customers and 48% of investment customers rated those companies personnel professional and well trained, against only 38% of bank customers.
First Union Corp. and Bank of America Corp., both based in Charlotte, N.C., and Citigroup Inc. all had a satisfaction rating of below 25% in the survey.
Paul Lubin, chief executive of the consulting firm Barry Leeds & Associates, said he was not surprised by the larger banks low rating. The consolidation that engulfed the banking industry during the late 1990s, he said, is partly responsible for the public perception that employees of large banks lack training.
When banks merge they create large branch networks, which means that employees get less individualized attention, Mr. Lubin said. They are left to their own devices end up feeling alienated, and that translates to higher turnover and lower service levels, he said.
Customers then come in contact with people ill equipped to handle a complex array of products and services, Mr. Lubin said. When the same customers go to an investment or insurance firm, they work with certified professionals who usually specialize in one area.
But other factors may be contributing to banks failure to measure up. Not least is the bankers broad effort to offer technology-assisted banking.
I think the banking industry has done a tremendous job to make it possible for us not to deal with anyone at the branch or company directly, said Tom Casey, a partner in the human resource management division of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
And since most people prefer to conduct their banking by automated teller machines or online, they generally deal with employees only when they have problems, Mr. Casey said.
Insurance and investment firms, by contrast, have emphasized their personal service, said Biff Motley, who manages the American Bankers Associations customer satisfaction index.
This is especially true of the investment business in the wake of the added competition the recent stock market boom created, Mr. Motley said, though insurers also are known to tout their one-on-one service.
Mr. Lubin at Barry Leeds said these comparisons may be unfair, since people use different criteria when choosing a bank than when choosing an investment company or insurer.
But Mr. Casey says banks need to do better regardless of the criteria.
I think most banking organizations have to figure out how to get and keep the best people and be very creative in how they do so, he said.