September 2013 saw the introduction of the much anticipated new banking legislation, which stipulates that customers moving from an existing bank to a new provider will be able to complete the switching process in 7 days, a significant reduction from the existing 31-day process. Customer apathy and a fear of a protracted, complicated process are key factors behind the fact that 38% of consumers never switch accounts, despite 65% of consumers feeling that banks fail to improve their customer service proposition. (YouGov Plc. Sample size 2,114 adults. September 2012)

With a simplified switching process now in play, banks are under increasing pressure to up their game in relation to their customer service offer. How ready are the banks for this new challenge and are they geared up to attract new customers? Posing as potential new customers, ABa contacted 11 UK financial services providers to ask for details about their current accounts, citing dissatisfaction with our existing banking provider as the principal reason for the enquiry.info2


Nationwide achieved the strongest performance, offering customers the most friendly, tailored, knowledgeable service that resulted in the most customer recommendations and theoretical account openings. Unpredictability in service levels was prevalent across each brand, but Nationwide and Halifax offered the most consistent customer experience.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, colleagues mentioned the switching process in just one third of the calls (91), and only discussed the switching process in full in under 20% of the calls (53). Natwest colleagues were most likely to provide full details and reassure the customer about the process (44% of calls). First Direct mentioned switching the most, but fell behind Natwest in customer reassurance about the process itself.

From a commercial perspective, Santander and Natwest were most likely to try and encourage the customer to apply for a current account whilst on the phone. This more aggressive sales approach was not always balanced with a tailored, friendly dialogue and therefore customers were less likely to be persuaded to open an account. Across all brands, effective questioning took place on just over 37% of the calls, with First Direct (68% of calls) and Santander (48% of calls) taking the top spots respectively.

Service subtleties


Both Nationwide and First Direct were the only banks to achieve positive NPS scores. The decision of whether customers would recommend the bank based on the individual call experience is strongly linked to how effectively the banking colleague built a rapport during the call and demonstrated brand advocacy, through positive promotion of what their bank had to offer the customer. A friendly, positive, manner, with genuine interest in the individual customer being shown, was most frequently delivered by Nationwide and this approach pays dividends in the decision-making process of the majority of customers.

First Direct colleagues displayed a natural talent for linking current account benefits to topical issues in the wider world and, for the most part, conveyed a genuine tone when explaining what they needed to do in order to offer ‘amazing’ service. If you are going to use such terminology within an opening script it is essential that the service received lives up to the expectation, otherwise the message is simply paying lip service to a process and customer disappointment is almost guaranteed. A unique touch from Nationwide was not only to ask whether there was anything else the customer needed at the end of the call, but also to ask whether there was anything they could have done differently to improve the service. This worked when it was delivered with authenticity and that comes down to the delivery of the service ‘script’ and ensuring you have the right colleagues able to perform in line with it.

Consumers now have ‘customer choice’ placed firmly back in their hands and the financial services industry faces a challenge, but also an opportunity, to reinvigorate their customer service offer – paying closer attention to the service subtleties and softer sides of service and with it not only secure customer loyalty, but also increase their market share.

25 mystery customer calls were made to 11 UK Financial Services Providers: Barclays, Co-Op Bank, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, Metrobank (Central London only), Nationwide, Natwest, Post Office (trial status) and Santander. Our Mystery Customers posed as potential new customers, making a first line enquiry about current accounts, citing dissatisfaction with current banking provider as the reason for the call. Fieldwork completed in August 2013. For further information please contact Danielle Sones at / 0161 431 1221).







Pic - CEDanielle Sones – Experience Director at ABa Quality Monitoring. ABa is the UK’s largest provider of bespoke mystery shopping and customer experience tools, helping clients achieve insight into and clarity of vision of the customer experience. Danielle has worked with ABa for over 12 years and has designed and implemented a multitude of successful mystery shopping and compliance programmes across a wide variety of industry sectors.

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