Retail banks pride themselves on offering their customers more ways than ever before of transacting with them. With words like 'seamless', they set expectations that where hand offs between teams and channels are necessary, customer information will be passed,
understood and actionable by each. And that where processes have to be fulfilled in stages, the channel of customer choice will have access to the case and can deal with it as completely and competently as the others.
But, as channel shift has accelerated, the seams are being well and truly exposed.
I have never aspired to be a banking mystery shopper but was so baffled by what happened to me last week that I feel compelled to share the experience, details of which have been anonymised to protect the innocent.
Do you remember when savings accounts used to be simple? When products would be introduced and on the whole did what they said on the tin?
You didn't have to watch the rates, terms and conditions like a hawk to ensure that you had not been transferred to an account you didn't ask for or want.
You didn't periodically have to respond to notifications telling you that you could 'renew' your account online, often on somewhat less favourable terms.
And you didn't have to navigate web pages to search for savings account names which seem designed to trip up even the most diligent customer. Assemble the words Savings, Monthly, Annual, Saver, Account in various permultations and you'll see what I mean.
A more attractive rate had been introduced only for a certain kind of current account so I decided to open one, set up a standing order to fund it, move money from an old savings account (whose rate had long reverted to the lowest in the range) to a further
savings account and shut it.
Nothing out of the ordinary, you might think.
Reassured by a web page that the new account could be opened in branch, on the phone or online, I sallied forth to the nearest branch.
No, I was told. You cannot open a new savings account here. We only offer a simple counter service. Go online and do it there.
I pointed out that I was keen to see the branch remain open in future and had deliberately chosen to use it to the open the account. The cashier snorted.
A bank branch where you cannot open an account.
I ignored the advice and drove to the nearest town where I know the branch was huge. Surely there I would find joy.
In the banking hall, various staff members walked about, ignoring my silent please for service. There was no one at the service desk. Queue busters were too busy to notice. Eventually a bank manager happened to appear looking for a couple of customers
to meet. They had not showed. He walked off, then turned on his heel and asked what I wanted. I told him that I wanted to open a savings account. He offered to go an find somebody and disappeared. I didn't see him again.
A few minutes later a service desk person appeared and asked whether I was being seen to. I told her that I was not. She looked a little pained and asked what I wanted. I told that I wanted to open a savings account. Two minutes later she had checked me
out and asked me whether I had an appointment. I told her that I did not. She looked a little more pained and asked me rather more pointedly that I wanted to open (yet) another savings account? I said yes, I did in fact want to open another savings account.
Her nearest colleague was called. The diary was consulted. I was told that there was nobody available for the rest of that day to see me and that I should go online instead.
At that point, I withheld the fact that I had attempted to do just that in that very branch just three minutes before, as two shiny i-Pads were perched attractively for my use. With some relief I had found the right page and located the Apply Now button.
The Apply Now button returned the news that applications were not enabled on that machine. I wondered why they had put it there. The other one wasn't working.
So I went home and called the phone bank and told the robot that I wanted to open a new savings account. The adviser must have seen me coming as he told me that, although I could open a new savings account on the phone, and there was in fact a special savings
team on a different phone line that could put me through to, he really did not recommend it as they were unusually busy and so could be rather slow to come free and take my call. So it would be better to go online and apply there instead. Was I signed up
for internet banking?
A phone bank that won't put you through to the savings team to open a new savings account.
I decided to go online and try that method instead. All went well until I clicked the Apply Now button which threw out of the session altogether and, once I had rebooted, showed me... nothing. No new savings account appeared to have been opened.
So I tried again, clicked Apply Now and, hey presto, it returned the message that I was not entitled to open that kind of account.
Snookered. A branch that can't or won't open a new account. A phone bank that all but refused to put me through to the people whose job it was to open a new account. And an internet banking site which delivered the <coup de grace> and told be in no uncertain
terms to go away.
So I rang the phone bank who told me gaily that yes, they could see that I had just opened an account of just that kind not ten minutes before, could I not see it? That would be why it had barred me from applying for another one.
So I rebooted again and, well I never, there it was. A shiny new savings account with a new account number.
Thank you I said. Now would you kindly transfer the funds from the old account to the third savings account and leave a nil balance on the old account. Yes, they said, and did. Then I said, Now, would you kindly close the old account.
And then the fun started.
I see that your Correspondence address is different from your Statement address. Really, I said, that is odd as I wrote to you a few months ago and explained that we had moved house and had received a helpful letter from you confirming that the bank's and
bank subsidiaries' records had been updated with our new address.
I was told that the closing statement had to be sent to the current address and in no circumstances could be released to an incorrect addres.
Attempts were made to rectify the glitch. Machines were rebooted. Other machines were tried. Supervisors were called in, all to no avail. They sounded worried.
After some forty five minutes' wrestling with the issue, I was told that the only way to resolve the problem was to make a Complaint, that they would do this for me and that it would be passed to a manager with access to 'other systems'.
Texts started hitting my inbox. 24 hour, 48 hour deadlines were set. A manager called me several times and left messages until, finally, we spoke. He had fixed the problem, he said, by changing the record. Exactly how will remain a mystery. When I asked
whether the underlying system error had been pinpointed I was told taht the Correspondence address had been updated. Not quite the same thing.
Money was offered as compensation. I told the manager that I wan't bothered by the money but he was insistent and in it went anyway.
Then I set up a standing order for the new account which, thank God, worked.
Oh, and a cheque appeared a day or two without warning for £3.48 from the bank. No explanation.
What can I take from this chastening experience?
Unease at a product strategy which appears to depend on customer inertia and some tricksy names to bolster its margin.
Deeper unease that my personal data is not as reliably maintained or managed as I had believed.
Regret that a once proud branch network has lost its memory, its people and its future.
Bafflement at a phone bank which promotes impatience in its agents.
And fear for an online banking services which is carrying the weight of the retail bank on it back.
Integrated? I don't think so.
Customer experience? Can I leave you to make up your miinds on that one.
Omnichannel? The promise is very far indeed from the reality.