Good customer service is fundamental to the success of every bank/client relationship. Paolo Catena, Treasurer, iGuzzini illuminazione, speaks as he finds. Bankers, pay attention!
The quality of customer service provided by banks to their corporate clients can make or break a relationship. When so much is at stake, it seems odd that some banks seem to think it’s acceptable to deliver less than excellent service.
“In my experience, I have seen customer service often not being treated as a key aspect. But banks, even the biggest ones, should understand that it is customer service that makes the difference,” comments Catena. It also sends the wrong signals to customers. “If I send an email to a bank but I have to send an additional two or three reminders just to get an answer, that to me is a bad sign. This sort of inattentiveness is so frustrating for the customer, and the bank is giving the impression of sloppiness and neglect. In football terms, I would say it is an own-goal for the bank.”
Call for rapid feedback
But with banks increasingly going digital with their product and service set, how important is the customer service offering to treasurers in achieving what their aims? After all, digitalisation can often provide self-service solutions.
For Catena, customer service “has always played a key role in the relationship between the company and the bank”. He acknowledges that the pandemic has given a strong boost to digital transformation, and that the banking sector has been heavily impacted from this point of view. But in his working experience, while he notes some banks were already at the digital forefront, others were lagging behind and had to adapt quickly. The rapid roll-out of new operational models was another potential problem in the making.
Far from removing the need for strong customer service provision, Catena believes that the digital transition has made it even more important. “Being able to count on a dedicated team, easily reachable both by email and by phone – without annoying waits – has become an essential part of the service offering.”
And even more important, he feels, is rapid feedback, “without having to press the banks with repeat emails and phone calls”. It would, he argues, be “very helpful” if all banks submitted a satisfaction questionnaire to their customers at least two or three times a year, but in his experience “this rarely happens”.
The sort of customer support issues often seen may, in the grand scheme of things, seem minor. But poor service can directly impact a treasury operation, notes Catena. “Many banks have a help hotline, but when you really need help, you often have to call your relationship manager because trying to call those hotlines risks a long wait,” he explains. “And while some banks have dedicated customer support teams that exist to expedite issues for treasurers, the quality of service delivered can vary from country to country, even within the same bank.”
It may be tempting to think that poor customer service is confined to certain types of bank, perhaps even point the finger at the smaller domestic institutions where employees do not have the support mechanism in place. This is not the case, says Catena. “In my opinion, the problem of poor customer service is widespread, both in large banking groups and in local banks. I believe that it is not the size of the bank that makes the difference to good customer service because good professionals can be found in every type of bank, regardless of size.”
When persistent poor service becomes a serious issue for treasury client action must be taken to prevent harm. When bad customer service is experienced, Catena says that often his first thought is to look for an alternative. “But that’s easier said than done,” he admits. “Moving banks may not even be the best solution because the risk is just too great.”
For this reason, Catena argues that it is important to work with a range of banks, from the large international banking group, to the smaller local bank. “Each one has its pros and cons, so we must try to understand the strengths of each bank, and then channel the work accordingly. By doing this, you could avoid a lot of hassle and frustration due to poor customer service.”
Warning to banks
Corporate treasurers – or indeed any other type of customer – should not have to plot a path through mediocrity and poor service, but it’s clear that the issue remains, notes Catena. “If the customer is ignored, if the bank does not respond within a reasonable time, if the customer has to phone or write an email several times to get an answer, then it means that the bank is not focused on customer service,” he says. “The banks that are still offering poor customer service are making a mistake that they will soon regret.”
Even though it’s not always easy for a corporate client to move to a new bank, Catena urges all banks to understand the importance of delivering and maintaining a high level of customer service. Good service is key to customer retention, but it’s also vital for bringing in new clients. “A satisfied customer is a bank’s best advertisement. A dissatisfied one, on the other hand, could be its worst enemy, creating a bad reputation. For every company, including banks, taking care of customers means having the company’s interests at heart, because a company without customers is doomed to fail.”