UK bank customer satisfaction dips on complaints handling

Customer satisfaction in the UK’s banks and building societies fell in 2015 according to results from the Institute of Customer Service (ICS), despite individual strong performances by online bank first direct and the biggest building society Nationwide. It was the only sector in the latest UK customer satisfaction index (UKCSI) to record a decline last year.

Consumers cited poor complaint handling as a key reason behind their frustration. The UKCSI also reveals that although banks and building societies do ‘get it right first time’ more often than organisations in other sectors (77% versus an average of 74.4% across all UK sectors), when things do go wrong it is the extent of staff engagement and empathy that lets organisations down.

The way members of staff at UK banks and buildings deal with complaints is among the weak points in their customer service delivery. For example, only 21% of survey respondents said their complaints ‘are dealt with immediately’ and only 13% said the member of staff they spoke to ‘took responsibility’ for resolving the issue. This resulted in satisfaction scores for the sector in 2015 falling by almost half a point, to 78 (out of 100), after steady increases since 2009.

However, with a score of 85.7 (out of 100) first direct tops the banks/building societies sector index, followed by Nationwide on 83.7. Both are also listed amongst the top 10 UK organisations in the pan-sector list. TSB (81.5) and Yorkshire Bank (81.3) are in third and fourth place, respectively, and also feature in the UKCSI’s pan-sector top 50.

Mind the gap

The data shows that where frustrations exist, the most common cause for complaint revolves around staff competence and engagement. Just 35% of respondents said staff apologised for errors and only 28% believed that staff listened carefully to their problem.

The biggest gap between banks and building societies and the other 12 sectors analysed in the UKCSI revolves around organisations’ net promoter score (NPS) – the measure showing how likely customers are to recommend an organisation to friends. While the sector has improved its NPS score since January 2015, banks and building societies remain 3.3 points behind the all-sector average of 19.1.

”It is increasingly apparent that a clear link exists between engaged employees and customer satisfaction,” commented Jo Causon, chief executive officer (CEO) of the ICS. “One cannot exist without the other so to really drive this, a culture of service must be apparent at all levels in an organisation, but it must start at the top.

“Customers are more concerned today about staff attitudes and behaviour than they were even five years ago, meaning that it is the responsibility of leaders to continually promote, support and develop employees’ service skills.

“But to succeed, they should not limit their attention to the ‘customer service department’. In today’s world, every part of a business has to be customer-facing and unless leaders adopt the mantra that customer service is everyone’s business they risk satisfaction levels falling.”

Channelling customer service

ICS’s research also demonstrates how the channels people use to deal with banks are continually changing. The number of UK consumers using contact centres has fallen over the past 12 months, while the numbers communicating with their bank through online channels is increasing.

There has, however, been a marginal decline in satisfaction when online communications have been used, suggesting that banks need to improve the customer experience in the digital world.

Causon adds: “The key is delivering a more personalised, relevant and meaningful experience in an environment of the customers’ choosing. Banks and building societies need to address this issue quickly or risk losing market share to an increasing array of challenger brands.”


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