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ARE YOU BEING SERVED?

How can you get better service from your bank? As STUART WEMYSS explains, there are ways to achieve customer satisfaction with your lender.

Here’s my big task – writing an article about the service banks provide without swearing or being too derogatory. As a person who works in the finance industry, I very rarely come across people who are very happy with the service their bank provides. Customer satisfaction levels generally range from totally unhappy to ‘barely satisfied’. It’s a common and ongoing problem for both the banks and their customers. So how can you get better service? I’ll discuss what customer relationship platforms lenders offer and how to work with them to get the best results.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM

I think the biggest problem that all lenders struggle with is consistency of service. We can send a client to a lender and they might receive outstanding service. The following week we send another client to the same lender and they might experience appalling service.

In my opinion, the banks have never really had a strong customer service culture. It seems that each staff area of responsibility is so finely defined that as soon as a customer has an issue outside of that responsibility, staff take the attitude that ‘it’s not their problem’.  Put another way, staff don’t always take ownership for the problem. Therefore, what you will find is that an issue might sit on someone’s desk for too long, or your problem is just passed around the bank from department to department. This is probably why Westpac launched its “ask once” policy (which you may have seen advertised). Westpac’s policy is that if you walk into a branch and ask someone a question, then they are charged with the responsibility of finding out the answer for you.

Another issue is training. Staff members just don’t seem to have a strong understanding of their own products and procedures.  Maybe the staff have been adequately trained, but they just don’t care – I’m not sure.

Another major source of problems is that lenders are often too inwardly focused. That is, when they think about how to process or assess a loan, they think about what will be easiest for them.  They fail to think about how their actions or procedures will affect their customer’s experience. A good example is where a credit manager might request additional supporting documentation from a client. This documentation probably only provides the lender with a tiny bit of extra comfort. That is, it really doesn’t affect the overall assessment. However, requesting the extra documentation might frustrate the new customer and give them an impression that the lender is pedantic and difficult to deal with. They might even regret choosing to deal with the lender in the first place. Overall, the lender has done itself more harm than good.

By far, the biggest issue is human resources. Just like any industry, you get good and bad people. Some people have a very strong customer service mentality which is not necessarily taught; it’s part of their personality.

THE DIFFERENCE WITH SENIOR MANAGEMENT

The most amazing thing is that if you speak with senior management or CEOs within all banks, they have a very strong drive to improve the overall customer service they deliver. They have a desire to deliver the very best service. They are extremely customer service focused. I’m always impressed by their attitude.

This leads me to assume that there is a significant disconnection between management’s mantra and the customer service attitude of the staff. Something is missing. However, you can use this knowledge to your advantage. More about this later.

WHAT’S ON OFFER?

I’ll discuss the service platforms that the top five lenders offer. I have focused on the top five because these lenders have the more advanced platforms. In addition, the top five lenders in Australia hold 80 to 90 per cent of the mortgage market share. I’ll also focus on the service platforms offered to customers with a reasonable amount of lending (say, more than $300,000), since property investors would generally fall into this category.

NATIONAL AUSTRALIA BANK (NAB)

The NAB offers a personal banking network. NAB has probably been committed to this service platform for longer than any other lender. All customers that have a mortgage will be assigned to a personal banker. Customers who earn in excess of $80,000 per year and have more than $200,000 of borrowings are assigned to senior personal bankers. The personal banker is your main contact with the bank. If you need to interact with your bank, then they should be your first point of call. They can assist with day-to-day banking needs, additional lending, referrals to a financial planner, etc.

This service platform works with varying degrees of success. There are two common complaints from customers. They either complain that their personal banker changes every six months and that it’s too hard to establish a relationship, or they complain that their personal banker is too slow and never gets back to them. However, if customers are able to find a good and stable personal banker, they are generally very satisfied.

COMMONWEALTH BANK OF AUSTRALIA (CBA)

CBA has two different relationship platforms. One for its direct customers and one for the customers that have been introduced to the bank via a mortgage broker.

Direct customers are able to deal with Premium Banking, which offers a personal banking relationship similar to NAB. Customers that are introduced by mortgage brokers have

a different relationship  platform. The customer’s mortgage broker essentially acts like their relationship banker. The mortgage broker can refer the customer to different areas of the bank, including financial planning, credit cards, etc (in much the same way as a personal banker would).

Obviously, the quality of the mortgage broker will determine the quality of your ongoing relationship with CBA.

WESTPAC

Westpac has a group called Priority Banking. This group is set up to assist customers that have more than $500,000 of borrowings (or deposits). Customers of PB have a dedicated relationship manager to assist with their banking and wealth creation needs. The staff in the PB group are generally more experienced bankers and can assist clients with all aspects of banking, including additional lending. Customers are normally referred to this group through their branch relationship.  The group also independently contacts eligible customers, inviting them to deal directly with PB in the future. In addition, existing customers can also contact the PB group.

SST GEORGE

St George doesn’t have as an extensive national branch network as the big four banks (although it does tend to have very strategically placed branches in the capital cities). It is for this reason that its relationship platform differs from the other lenders. St George offers customers Gold status if they have more than $300,000 of borrowings with the bank.

The main benefit for Gold customers is that they’re able to deal with the bank’s Gold call centre. This call centre is staffed by more experienced bankers (real people answer the phone – no automation) and customers enjoy shorter waiting times. They’re able to escalate any issues/problems to management for quick resolutions. Gold customers are also entitled to a free gold credit card.

ANZ

Unlike most other banks, ANZ does not have a specific group that targets customers with a significant amount of borrowing (say more than $500,000) but don’t quite meet private banking eligibility. Customers are generally relationship managed by ANZ’s branch staff or specialist mortgage managers (located in the branches and some are mobile). The branch staff are assessed and rewarded on the amount of lending relationships that they maintain (ie. loan amounts managed by the branch) so you’ll generally find that the branch staff are very keen to look after you. It’s therefore up to the branch manager and customer to build a personal relationship.

PRIVATE BANKS

All of the top five lenders offer a private banking platform. Private bank is aimed exclusively at high net worth individuals. Customers must have more than $1 million in borrowings, $1 million of investable funds and/or income of more than $250,000 per annum (normally the measurement is a combination of borrowings/investments and income). Becoming a private bank customer is generally by invitation. Private bank believes that it offers a different level of service (in terms of quality and the type of products and services it can deliver). You will find that private bank will not discount interest rates or any fees beyond the standard discounts (ie. no special deals). In our experience, private bank is just as susceptible to poor service as any other platform. While they like to believe that they offer a ‘premium’ service, the actual experience of their customers differs dramatically. Once again, it depends on the person you deal with.

HOW TO MANAGE THE RELATIONSHIP

Things such as brand name, training, products, branch network and job title rarely have any influence over the service you will receive. It all comes down to the person you’re dealing with. It doesn’t matter if it’s a branch staff member, a premium banking department, or the bank’s top tier – private banking. You can receive poor service anywhere within the bank. The consistency of service also doesn’t change with the level of service platform. An attentive branch member is far better than a very poor private banker.

Segmenting customers into different tiers is still very useful, because as a person’s relationship with a bank grows (ie. more lending, products, etc), so does the complexity of their situation. Therefore, they generally need to deal with more experienced staff. They also may have the need for a different array of products. If you’re dissatisfied with the service you’re receiving, then it’s likely that you’re dealing with the wrong person.

The simple solution to this problem is to deal with a different staff member. The way I see it is that it takes two to tango. Therefore, I believe customers have just as much responsibility to voice their concerns as staff members do to resolve issues. If you suffer in silence, nothing will change.

UNHAPPY WITH EXISTING PERSON

If you’re unhappy with the person you’re currently dealing with, then ask to speak to their supervisor. Explain to them that you’re unsatisfied with their service. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, then maybe say that your personalities just don’t gel, or something like that. Most managers will be very keen to receive this feedback. They would much rather a client complain than the client just being unhappy or worse still, take their business elsewhere. At least they have an opportunity to fix the problem.

NO RELATIONSHIP

If you don’t have an existing relationship, but you want one, then I suggest starting with your local branch. Ask to speak with the branch manager and explain that you want to establish a relationship.  Perhaps go to a number of branches and then pick the manager who you think will offer you the best service. The branch doesn’t have to be near your home or office. At the end of the day, you can do things by phone, fax or email. The most important thing is to get a professional banker. If you’re not happy dealing with branch level staff, then maybe investigates the next customer relationship platform (some of which are discussed above). If you continue to receive poor service, then move your complaint up the line. Remember, in my experience, senior management are very keen to offer great service and they will normally make sure issues are resolved promptly.

SWITCHING ISN’T ALWAYS THE ANSWER

Sometimes people think, “I’m not happy with the service I’m receiving, so I should refinance to another bank.” Refinancing is possibly a solution. However, who’s to say that you’re not going to come across another dud staff member at the new bank, and then you’re back to square one. I think refinancing solely because of poor service is too dramatic. If you break your arm, you don’t amputate it – there are less painful solutions. My advice is to invest a bit of time in the relationship with your bank. Go to a different branch, lodge a complaint and be reassigned to a different banker. At least, try these solutions before you switch banks. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not encouraging you to put up with poor service. On the contrary, unless we complain or take our business elsewhere, the service will never change.

MORTGAGE BROKERS

Establishing a relationship with a mortgage broker might be the solution to your problems. Mortgage brokers will generally have fewer clients to look after compared to a personal banker at a large bank.
In addition, the bureaucracy of a big organisation doesn’t slow them down so they might be able to react to your needs quicker.
The downside to mortgage brokers is that they’re generally restricted to assisting you with lending only.
Therefore, if you have an issue with a bank account fee or credit card, then they can’t really help you.
Therefore, their banking relationship  is a bit restricted. However, a combination of broker and branch staff might be a good mix.

GOOD LUCK

The essence of what I’m trying to convey is that in the current environment, great service can’t be expected without some effort on your part.
You need to realise that the person you deal with will dictate, to a great extent, the experience or satisfaction you’ll have with the lender. You really need to be proactive. If you’re not happy, then seek out a better person.
Banks will not be able to improve their service without honest and open feedback from their customers.
Stuart Wemyss is a chartered accountant and director of mortgage broking firm ProSolution Private Clients.

Email: stuart.wemyss@prosolution.com.au

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