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Lynn Hawthorne wonders whatever happened to customer service in a time of financial crisis.....

Whether or not it can be claimed to be a genuine protest, the amount of people who converged on the Bank of England the other day must surely signify how deeply fed up the public is with the whole recent banking fiasco.

Teflon-coated members of the banking hierarchy can, seemingly, emerge from the financial mire with a fabulous pension featuring the sort of amount that Joe Public can only dream of as a lottery win, while we lesser mortals worry about how we’re going to pay the next bill.

So, with mammoth job losses, pay deals on hold and property repossessions at an all-time high, you’d think that banks would want to keep hold of the customers they’d got. Wouldn’t you? Well, not if the customer service at HSBC over the last couple of days is anything to go by.

Halfway through an interesting transaction at the farmers’ market in Lichfield, I realised that I was short of cash, so I popped into the branch across the square. The cash point machine flickered, stalled and promptly died, leaving me with a blank screen, no card and no cash. I

 called for assistance and, after a considerable wait, a youth appeared with my card. “Your card must have caused the machine to close down,” he explained. “Would you like to use the next machine?” I did so and my card worked perfectly. He didn’t appreciate me pointing that out. He then informed me that my account had been debited with the amount I’d originally asked for, but would be credited.

He didn’t appreciate me criticising further that a flickering screen is a danger to photo-sensitives and epileptics, as seizures can be caused. I told him that screens should be checked daily by staff, staff who could be doing something useful instead of standing about doing nothing, hiding behind this ridiculous charade of meet-and-greet nonsense, explaining to customers how to use machines that they didn’t want in the first place. Anyway, I digress.

Today, I went into my own branch to check that my account was back to normal. At the counter I was directed towards a machine. The machine, which again accepted my card, did not tell me what I wanted to know. The floor of the bank was empty until I spotted and accosted a youth for assistance. (Does nobody over 35 work in banks?) He asked me to take a seat.

From the shadows, three assistants (or whatever their title is these days) emerged simultaneously clutching mugs of tea and I was assigned to an antipodean youth. He showed me his screen, which showed an internal transaction of debit and credit. He seemed puzzled when I asked how I was supposed to know this had taken place and merely sighed and told me exactly the same thing again. I am not daft, just concerned about my paltry account.

He didn’t seem fussed either when I told him how, so unimpressed with the service was I when my card got consumed that I nearly became an ex-customer. He just looked blankly at me and waited for me to leave. As I left, I noticed that the floor was, again, empty along with the counter. It was as if the Marie Celeste had sailed into my hometown.

In the scheme of things, this may all seem a small niggle, but it’s symptomatic of the apathy to which customers are subjected today. Shops, banks, businesses, whatever the institution, surely now, during a period of economic uncertainty, is the time to hang onto your customers and build up such a good reputation for customer service that you gain new ones. Or are banks trying to make it such an uncomfortable experience that we all switch over to internet banking, thus saving hackers the trouble by us all posting our details for everyone to see?

So, a message to everyone involved in ‘customer facing’ (who came up with that one?) activities: stop being disinterested and gloomy and start being cheerful, helpful and positive and maybe, just maybe, customers will flood back and trust in you once more.



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