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Leveraging on Service Excellence to Create a Customer Centric Bank

By Ola Babs Olugbemi

Differentiation in banking products is now becoming thin and non-existent with the advent of universal banking. All banks now provide similar products but how well and fast a bank can meet and exceed customers’ expectations determine the level of customers’ loyalty.

An average bank customer of today expects more than just the safety deposits. Today’s customer is now more aware of his banking needs, rights and obligations.

Attempts by banks to woo customers especially by claiming to be the best in service delivery has made many adopt slogans which in most cases do not align with their business models.

A Bank’s business model must be compatible with its intent of providing high quality services to customers, without which any investment or efforts in Customer Relationship Management will be less fruitful. To retain customer patronage and attract new businesses, banks must not only be good in customer service but must be customer-centric in orientation.

Being Customer Centric:
A customer-centric bank requires customer-centric products, processes, people and technology. The relationship with the customers as Patricia A. Husic, Chief Executive of Centric Bank; a local bank in America “Good banking is service based and customer-centric but great banking revolves around chemistry”.

About UBA’s Efforts towards building a Customer-Centric Bank:
United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc has been making concerted efforts to achieve excellent customer service delivery through a number of initiatives. One of them is the introduction of the Service Excellence Programme (SEP) aimed at ensuring global standard customers service delivery system across all its operations.

This noble effort of the bank is coming on the heels of a dwindling customer’s confidence and loyalty in the sector and the ongoing reform of the sector, being championed by the present leadership of the apex bank.

The Service Excellence Programme (SEP):
The Service Excellence Programme was launched by UBA in May this year and is structured along six broad transformational initiatives and 19 projects.  The transformational initiatives as contained in the SEP are, Process Excellence, Business Office Transformation, Training/Culture Change, IT optimization, Service Management and Strategy/Empowerment.

On the other hand the projects in the initiative are captured as follows; Credit Delivery , Card Issuance, Card Performance , Card Fraud Prevention,  Trade Transaction Processing, e_Learning and Staff & Executive/ Senior Management  Effectiveness (UBA DNA), Customers Complaint Management, ATM/POS Optimization, Customers Complaint Management among others

Service Mission & Management Commitment:
Generally the first two steps toward building a customer-centric bank are to set a service mission and have management commitment. Every staff must believe, imbibe this mission and consciously work for it.

A Cleaner under Jack Welsh’s management at General Electric knows the Six Sigma and the intended purposes for General Electric. However, building a truly customer-centric bank is not only a leadership function, it is organisational. Passion, Customer-centric products, knowledge of products, Process Improvements, Education/Training and Relationship Chemistry are other necessities which are to be performed by all and sundry in dealing with customers.

Passion for Excellent Customer Service:
Passion is derived from the service mission statement. Without passion, mission is but a useless eulogy on paper. This definitely will be the basis of the customers’ subsequent expectations and patronage of the bank. Those who had responded either positively or negatively to the banks service rating surveys might not necessarily be active customers but hold some perceptions about the banks. The need to create positive service impression rooted with real desire and efforts cannot be overemphasised. This is for all of us and indeed, our next port of call.

Customer Centric Products:
In developing products, customers need to be at the forefront. A customer_centric product will be convenient, easy to understand and beneficial to the customers. Its cross selling impact should not be ignored at the conceptual stage. Continuous product review will help in determining the gap in meeting customers’ expectations.

Lack of good understanding of the bank’s products has been identified to have done more damage to the bank than turnaround time. Customers expectations are raised unnecessarily due to this. It is essential for all staff to understand the bank’s products. Time invested in understanding the bank’s product offerings will increase the customers’ confidence in the bank’s service capabilities.

Improved Process Capabilities:
Processes in banks are essentially designed to support products and customer service. Process capabilities must be commensurate with product features for effective service delivery. Also, delays in approvals and decisions are bottlenecks to process effectiveness which corrupt service flow. Every process can be improved by identifying and eliminating non value adding activities (waste) in the interest of the customer. All process owners are advised to consistently provide suggestions on how turnaround time could be improved through process improvement without compromising quality. Every audit review of units, departments, divisions or groups is an opportunity for process improvements. The bank auditors or control officers also have enormous role in customer service through process audit improvements.

Continuous Learning Culture:

A customer centric bank is a learning organisation. Passion brings desire to learn. This is crucial in the spate of increasing customer awareness and feelings of importance. According to Henry Adams “they know enough who know how to learn”. Learning through trainings is essential to understand the changing customer needs in products, service delivery, process and technological optimisation, and controls. The war on fraud is better fought with making progress in knowledge as the fraudsters do. An important aspect of training in any organisation is the individual desire to learn not necessarily through organised forums. Also, sharing unique customer experiences among colleagues with similar roles will assist greatly in knowledge improvement.

Relationship Chemistry:
The most important step in the journey to being a customer centric bank is the ability of the bank to revolve around its customers. The essence of relationship management is to be the “banking next of kin” of the customer as well as his progressive business associate. Whenever he thinks of banking; he must think of you and the bank. How well relationship officers revolve around the customers determine the customers service perceptions in future surveys, the effectiveness of cross selling and in totality the achievement of all the stakeholders objectives.

Today’s customer unequivocally expects fairness, proper disclosure, superior knowledge and friendship. He wants a banking partner for his business to celebrate success with as well as receive empathy and support when required. How well have you being revolving around your customers?

The level of banking chemistry you develop with your customer determines his level of contribution to the transformation of your bank to a customer-centric bank.

A customer that sees you as part of his business progressively will cross sell you and influence the perceptions of his allies about your bank. He will understand occasional process failures as he always values your interest and support above any temporary systems or process delays. Customers needs are ever changing and the increasing feeling of importance makes the efforts to be the best in customer service a journey, not a destination.

The journey requires absolute commitment of all product and process owners not just customer service unit. Being a customer-centric bank starts the mind mapping of the desired service level by all of us, then turning our products, processes and technology into strategic assets with the output of quality services for our customers.

Ola Babs-Olugbemi is the Head Cards Credit and Collections, Retail Risk Management, UBA


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