For all the technology banks have to help them deliver personalized service, the overall customer experience remains a challenge, from what I can see.
Jeff Marsico, an executive vice president at the Kafafian Group, and Bob Meara, a senior analyst at Celent, work with banks in one way or another to help them improve, and I noticed both venting about their personal experiences as retail banking customers in recent blog posts.
In Marsico's case, a community bank where he had been a longtime customer was sold to a systemically important financial institution. He ran into a complication with a simple transaction not long after the conversion.
For years, Marsico has deposited a year-end bonus check from his job, which always gets cut as a paper check separately from his direct-deposited paychecks. "I don't know why, but that's the way it happens at my firm," he said.
Before his bank was acquired, there would be a two- or three-day hold on the funds until the check cleared. But when the branch teller printed off the receipt for his deposit this time, it said the funds would not be available until a full 13 days later. "My face went from smiles to frowns," he said.
Since he was planning to go on vacation a few days later, he wanted to have the money available, and the inconvenience of this extended hold annoyed him enough to complain. He was told by both the teller and later the branch manager that "it was just policy," to protect the bank from bounced checks. So either they didn't know how long it really took checks to clear or they were assuming his ignorance on the matter, Marsico said. "And that irritated me a little bit more," especially considering he never had to wait more than a few days before.
"What also irritated me was that this policy was baked into their teller system," as evidenced by the note on the receipt, Marsico said. "And apparently the branch manager doesn't have the authority to reduce this hold period."
The problem, as Marsico sees it, is that with big banks, such policies are set at corporate headquarters, far from the local branches. This strips employees of a sense of ownership and empowerment in being able to make a difference when issues arise.
"You really have to demonstrate common sense when you're dealing with the customer and you can't say, 'I know this makes no sense, but it's policy,'" Marsico said. "Or worse, rely on the ignorance of your customer to get by."
A bank that knew its customers better — and had some flexibility — could perhaps have made an exception to the 13-day hold on funds. "That's where I think the community banks could zig instead of zag," Marsico said.
In Meara's case, he needed a deed notarized and intended to get it done at his local bank branch. He tried to book an appointment on his smartphone, but did not see notary services among the options on the list.
The bank's new digital appointment booking tool is "really well done," he said. "Except, if you want to do something that's not on their drop-down list of topics, in which case you can't make an appointment."
So Meara had to pop in to the branch on a busy Saturday, sign his name on a piece of paper (old-school queue management, he noted) and wait to be served. It took 10 minutes for the names ahead of him to be crossed out so he could have his turn — not too bad.
But then he couldn't be served after all. "The real surprise was to have probably an otherwise well-trained bank employee tell me that they weren't able to notarize a deed, only other documents," Meara said. "I'm no notary public expert, but that, to me, made absolutely no sense."
The employee recommended he go to a nearby UPS Store instead, which Meara did. There he got his deed notarized, with no wait, for a couple of dollars.
"What I learned was, the next time I need something notarized I'm just going to go to the UPS Store, which is unfortunate for the bank, because any time I visit the bank that's an opportunity to talk to me about other needs I might have," he said.
Meara recently spoke with the chief technology officer at a credit union that just installed a digital queue management system. Instead of customers signing a paper notebook with the time they arrived, they sign in on a tablet computer and include the reason for their visit. "The irony is: he told me, 'One of the things we found is an awful lot of people come in for notary services. And we had no idea.'"
Meara said many banks scour social media for customer feedback, but overlook an easy way to improve their service by not collecting data when people come into the branch. "Pay attention to the little things," Meara said. "Customer expectations are only getting higher."