Have Bankers Lost The Art of Caring for their Clients? asks Bill Spindloe.

week our article focuses on a very pertinent subject -The Banking Sector in particular how Middle East banks have modelled their service offers on the now much maligned first world practices.  A more worrying question for  L&D departments to ask themselves is, have we been complicit in supporting these practices? Our UAE  contributor for this week, Bill Spindloe regularly contributes articles to various magazines and websites. Watch out for further though provoking articles from Bill over the summer.

Ask anyone working in the Middle East banking sector what’s key to success in the region and they’ll tell you the same thing; relationships. Whether that’s wealth management, investment banking or retail banking, knowing your clients and keeping them sweet is integral to getting ahead in the region.

However, on the retail banking side, it was really only a matter of time that as the regional institutions grew, they abandoned their customer friendly approach and adopted the Western retail banking philosophy to customer interaction.

In the good old days, the ability to actually talk to someone in the bank, even the bank manager, was part and parcel of the service provided when you opened an account. Now, you’re directed to laborious automated telephone lines, or forced to fill in a template form on the website that rarely matches your specific requirements.

This isn’t news, of course, but it’s a new problem in the Middle East and the HR and training departments of the banks have been complicit in the erosion of good client service. In particular, it’s a problem for the aging population in the region, many of whom are unfamiliar with any sort of technology, and banks are deliberately excluding these customers.

Any HR professional working in a Middle Eastern bank will tell you that customer or client care is at the heart of their employee training programmes. If this is the case, it must be a very subtle form of suggestion inserted into the training because it certainly doesn’t appear to be coming through. It’s also unlikely that many of the staff will have to deal with a customer in person.

Fundamentally, it’s the job of the HR department to be a business partner. The need to analyse the data, look at the feedback from internal and external customers and suggest not just training courses to support some executive’s idea of service, but to guide and help shape policy. The ‘human’ part in ‘human resources’ should be the giveaway here. They are the department that deals with all people activity in the organization.

Banks should look at how they deal with one another, as that’s a good indication of how they view their external policy towards customers.

It’s easier now to find out more about someone you went to school with 25 years’ ago on social networking sites than it is to really understand the expertise of your colleagues. If you can’t find out information easily as an insider, just imagine how someone from the outside views a bank they can’t communicate with.

I recently consulted for a Middle Eastern bank, and surveyed their customers to highlight some of the problems. Some of the stats are pretty sobering: 13% of those who complain will tell more than 20 other people, 58% find banks’ websites unhelpful and unfriendly, it now takes three phone calls on average to solve a customer’s problem and it now costs five times as much to gain a new customer than it does to retain an existing one.

It’s clear that HR teams really need to start ramming home the importance of training staff in customer care, and if you’re finding it hard to be heard, quote that last figure to the management. If nothing else, they understand negative numbers.

Bill Spindloe has been working in human resources, learning and organizational development for over 22 years, consulting and advising varied industries including airlines, oil and gas, hotels, manufacturing and the banking sector. His work has seen him working with clients in Asia Pacific, Middle East, North America, and Europe.

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