Curium Solutions – Simplified Change Management, Birmingham, West Midlands

Computer says ‘no’!

By Robbie Holden

11 Oct 2018

Computer says ‘no’! Senior consultant Robbie Holden looks at how banks could better manage customer frustrations when technical issues mean they cannot access their online or telephone bank accounts.

It seems as though every day brings another bank apologising for ‘technical issues’ that have prevented customers from accessing their online or telephone bank accounts. In just one week, customers from TSB, Barclays, HSBC, NatWest and RBS were all locked out for a period of time.

According to Which?, around 3,000 bank branches have closed in the past for years; that’s about 60 per month. With branches closing, customers are more reliant than ever on digital platforms to meet their banking needs. When they don’t work, the impact is wide reaching.

Now, this isn’t another ‘bank bashing’ article. Having worked in the retail banking sector for nine years, I know how focused banks are on doing a good job for their customers. Plus, technical issues can happen in any sector.

However, as the FCA and Bank of England have stated, “The speed and effectiveness of communications with the people most affected, including customers, is an important part of any firm’s overall response to an operational disruption,”

What I want to focus on is when things do go wrong, what should you consider when communicating with customers.

Be visible and address the issue early

As a leader, it is vital that you take accountability for what has happened and proactively let customers know that there is an issue. Here is a great example of getting this right.

Following the British Airways data breach in September, Monzo Bank contacted all its impacted customers and ordered them new cards as a precaution in little over two hours. I wonder how many customers would be recommending Monzo next time their friends complain about TSB, Barclays, HSBC etc?!

Provide regular and balanced updates

There is no point being widely optimistic or terribly pessimistic with the communications. Instead, acknowledge the issue, keep to the facts and advise when customers can expect either a fix (if it is certain!) or, at the very least, the next update.

Back in April, when a planned migration of customers went wrong, former TSB chief executive Paul Pester, in his own words, “resurfaced after 48 hours” (see point 1). He advised customers that the bank is “tuning the platform” and it would be available in a few hours.

The next day, he tweeted that everything was now working and thanked customers for their patience. Unfortunately, several weeks later, customers were still unable to access their accounts. His optimistic message did not reflect customer reality. Overall, this IT meltdown cost TSB around £176.4m and, ultimately, Pester’s job.

Where possible, give the customers options including non-digital solutions

Reading the reactions on Twitter to these IT issues, the most frustrating thing for customers is the lack of options. Questions around how else they can resolve their problems too often receive a blanket response of: ‘We are working through the issues and will update soon’.

I appreciate in some cases, there won’t be any options but, where possible, offer customers an alternative. Providing, or reminding customers of, a phone number they can call to resolve urgent or complex issues can mitigate a high number of customer concerns, so long as this is resourced correctly with opening hours to meet their typical expectations.

Ensuring the people who handle these calls are well briefed about what they can do to help the customer, rather than being a mouthpiece to articulate why they cannot help is, of course, essential. This may mean extending established opening hours for an inbound call service, but this is surely preferable to tarnishing customer loyalty.

Things like customer complaints and IT issues are always likely to happen at some point. How organisations respond can either enhance or destroy customer loyalty.

How will you respond next time you are faced with issues impacting your customers?

Prior to joining Curium, Robbie spent nine years running change projects at Barclays Bank Plc.

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