Companies’ #2 Problem Should Be #1

Traveling to Europe or other foreign lands serves as a benchmark for just how well American businesses do in the area of customer service.

Flying on some foreign airlines show a distinct contrast in what most Americans expect in the way of service.

The airline either disregards the fliers’ needs or makes the journey a pleasurable experience far surpassing any American airline. American based airlines can barely keep themselves out of bankruptcy. This is not the best environment for creating a customer centric environment.

The Airline industry is loosing ground daily in the area of customer service.

On the other side of the coin, European service standards lag behind American companies as a whole. In my opinion, hotels and other such service intensive businesses as a whole in Europe serve you with skill, but with little concern about your needs as one of their customers.

So American businesses provide one of the best jobs in the world in meeting the demanding service requirements of Americans.

But getting back to the subject at hand in America. Let’s shift our attention from airlines to banks.

They are popping up at every corner in a last stand against the encroachment of virtual banking. When they should look to their customers and their service needs, they revert to what was once perceived as the gold standard in customer service.

What was that? Convenience offered by geographic proximity to their customers. Hence the emphasis on bricks and mortar.

In one blog, a respected financial services marketer was bemoaning the lack of services in the Financial “Services” Industry. And one commenter to this blog provided clues as to why banks are showing so little progress in serving the needs of their customers. My response exposes what I believe represents the single largest barrier to creating a corporate environment where customer service can thrive.

Commenter response in the blog discussing poor bank service (edited for length)

“Having worked at two major US banks, let me share some thoughts.

First, all banks like to keep their people very busy. Most bank employees have more work than time in the day. Other challenges include shifting budget priorities, changes in business climate, urgent compliance and regulatory issues, merger and acquisition activity, management rotations, new products, new customers, and on and on. All these issues create the tendency for bank employees to become very internally focused. And you are just another vendor. They have bigger problems to solve than whatever you are asking.

My advice is to make things personal. Form a strong relationship with your business partners in Wachovia. Set up regular communication sessions. Buy a lunch. Help your business partner solve their problems. When you make meaningful personal connections, you'll enjoy repeat business and be able to work through problems together.”

Here was my response

“This suggestion may work. But ...

Shouldn't it go the other way around? Banks exist because of and for their customers. Who is serving whom?

The bank should take this customer to lunch and court him so HIS problems are solved!!! Who cares what the bank's problems are when they don't concern his problems?
When a bank's problems are more important than the customer's problem, then that bank should close its doors.

Customers will flee these types of organizations when an alternative comes up. And that alternative will happen sooner rather than later.

Nobody will mourn at the funeral when these types of firms disappear or go under.

My advice to this customer …

Search out a local bank that has not succumbed to the merger mania. I bank with a local bank here in Texas and have both a business and personal account with them. After 6 years, I still go out of my way to travel to their branch for services passing by at least 10 others that are closer to my location.”

What keeps companies from solving customer problems? In a nutshell, it has to do with priorities. The company that wants to serve it’s customers above all has learned that the bank’s most important problems are the customers’ problems. Otherwise, the bank begins to serve itself rather than its customers.

What other barriers do you see inhibit companies from becoming or retaining their customer centricity?

Posted on February 26, 2008 and filed under Customer Service.