Charles Howden

March 8, 2007

Twenty Questions

Filed under: Customer Service — Charles @ 11:12 pm

Delivering a uniform level of excellent customer service across a country wide network of branches or stores can be challenging for sure. At a strategic level, the best you can hope for is to educate and empower your branch managers, communicate with newsletters, memos, regular meetings, guide with Mission, Vision and Values statements, reward the achievers, train the less gifted, and then, just hope for the best.

I’m not sure what happened in the Diss (Norfolk) branch of the Nationwide Building Society the other day. My fiancé Deborah and I needed to set up a joint building society account and since Deborah is already a customer of the Nationwide, we thought we’d take advantage of a spare fifteen minutes to drop into out local branch and do the necessary paperwork.

It was my first visit to a Nationwide branch and I was surprised to find it busy. Maybe not busy, maybe just a lot of customers standing in a long queue waiting to be served. It took a while. When it was our turn, it was necessary for Deborah to prove her identity. “Do you have your account card?” Fair request, Deborah did not. For a weekend away, Deborah had not brought it with her. “Let me show you my driving licence card” which you will know, has a photograph, a name and address, and a signature. “Not acceptable, I need to see the paper part of your licence”. I still haven’t worked out what additional information (apart form traffic convictions) the paper section carries. Deborah proffered any number of other cards, none was acceptable to the assistant. The queue was getting longer. “Let me ask you some security questions… Date of birth?” Correct “last time you used the card was?” close, “yes it was mid January, no that is not the correct amount” we could have tried to work out how much the transaction was for. So many square yards of carpet, at so much per square yard, plus VAT. We were there, plus or minus fifty quid. “Do you have the £10 for a theatre ticket two weeks ago at the whatnot theatre?” “Yes, I can see that”. We thought we were making progress. “How many Nationwide accounts do you have?” Deborah has several.

Consider your own banking arrangements and consider how many accounts you may have with your main bank. How many accounts do you have? You may have a current account, a savings account; would you include a building society account, a Visa credit card account, a PEP saving account? Deborah did not. “You have failed to answer all our security questions to my satisfaction so I cannot complete your transaction today” or words to that effect, she certainly looked full of satisfaction. Rather than argue the toss, the queue was getting longer (not that any member of staff would have noticed) we left the branch and went home for lunch.

In the afternoon, Deborah called her own Nationwide branch to ask what the standard procedure was for proving identity. “There is no standard procedure, it’s down to the discretion of the local manager. As far as we are concerned your driving licence would be fine.”

So later in the week, I was standing in the Nationwide branch outside Aldgate East tube station, where the local manger effortlessly and politely helped me conclude my transaction. A process which took less than five minutes. Thanks Natalie, fantastic service! I appreciate it.

Now I am sure that beating up your (six) account-holding customers with random twenty questions is not regarded as best practice at the Nationwide. I am pleased for them that this is not the procedure at all of their branches…

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