Amanda Aldridge on retail: Banks need retail skills to fill the service gap

How many times have you moaned about the service you've received in a shop? Yes, you've undoubtedly had some bad experiences, but as people now spend so much time shopping - out of necessity or pleasure - the law of averages suggests there are bound to be some disappointments along the way.

Compared with what you'd probably find in the US, we are some years behind.

But it must be said that those working in retail are a hell of a lot better at customer service than the vast majority of other service industries.

Take banks and building societies. The generally held perception is that the customer service they offer is inferior to many retailers. Since people are more likely to get divorced than change their bank account, the financial services sector has grown complacent. In contrast, it is the easiest thing in the world to switch allegiance from one shop to the one next door after a single episode of poor service.

The financial services sector is certainly in need of a shake-up - and it would appear to be happening. There have been plenty of stories about the rebranding initiatives that will, supposedly, reconnect this or that bank or building society with their long-suffer-ing customers.

One prominent recent example was the renaming of Abbey National as Abbey, complete with retail-style signs in lower-case text and pastel colours.

It remains to be seen what other, more practical, changes may follow.

A variety of customer service initiatives are being undertaken by other banks, as typified by Lloyds TSB, has been repositioning itself as the 'consumer banking champion'. This sounds great, and I'm sure we're all looking forward to putting these changes to the test next time we are charged for going slightly overdrawn.

So how exactly will the banks implement these changes? The answer is by poaching people from the retail sector.

The roll-call of retailers decamping to the banking sector is impressive, and growing all the time. Lloyds TSB recently recruited former Kingfisher finance director Helen Weir as finance director, while Barclays' high-street operation is being overseen by Robin Dickie, a former WH Smith executive. Head of retail banking at HBOS is a 36-year-old high-flier, Andy Hornby, who honed his customer service skills working at the self-proclaimed consu-mer champion, Asda. And, earlier this month, HSBC employed Joe Garner, operations director at Dixons, to further improve service and product development. The bank's key requirement was that the successful candidate had retail skills.

While this influx of retail expertise will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the banks' front ends, it could still take many years for their service levels to match those of retailers.

It will be very interesting to see how HSBC's purchase of Marks & Spencer Money pans out. Some are predicting that, in the hands of a bank, service levels are bound to deteriorate and that the unique selling point of the proposition will be lost. Fortunately for HSBC, history suggests few people will divorce themselves from the bank should these standards fall.

This view of the banking sector might sound cynical, but it does provide an opportunity to give the retail industry a pat on the back for providing customers with a comparatively good level of customer service. The only worry is that some of the people responsible for that service seem to be jumping ship.

- Amanda Aldridge is head of retail at KPMG


- Egg and First Direct have developed account aggregation systems which enable customers to view updated details of all their online accounts (from any provider) on one screen.

- Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) has installed 'Click and Call' phones in 650 of its branches, offering a hotline to direct banking services.

- NatWest has overhauled its branch network, creating reception points and more room for customers to sit and talk to bank staff. Counters have been lowered to create a greater sense of interaction between staff and customers.

- Banks are gradually increasing the sophistication of databases so that when they write to a customer who holds several accounts, credit cards and a mortgage with it, the letter will refer to this. In the past, customers might have received several similarly worded communications from different divisions of the bank.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Virgin, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer
Mumsnet admits users' emails and passwords accessed via Heartbleed bug backs 'rubbish' mobile app with TV ad
Powerade launches global World Cup campaign
Subway considers taking fast food to fast lane with F1 sponsorship
Burberry's flagship Shanghai store facade responds to weather changes
Ikea splurges 'grey' Belgium with colour
Grim outlook for Tesco boss Philip Clarke ahead of expected profits fall
Thomson to create first crowd-sourced wedding decided by Facebook fans
Currency wars meets origami in Alpari FX trading ad campaign
Amazon rumoured to launch 3D smartphone in September
Facebook to allow European users to store and transfer money on site, claims report
Unilever pilots multi-brand advertising with YouTube beauty channel
Lego, Coca-Cola, Net-a-Porter, Bitcoin and AOL: the digitally creative brands