Some service basics lacking at the Big Five: DALBAR

By Mark Noble | August 15, 2007 | Last updated on August 15, 2007
3 min read

A new study by DALBAR Canada has found that when it comes to Customer Service 101, little things can go along way in landing would-be clientele. Yet at the branch level of some of Canada’s major banks, simple but effective service skills are in short supply.

Using “mystery shoppers,” DALBAR audited service at Ontario retail branches of Canada’s five largest banks, RBC Financial, TD Financial, Scotiabank, BMO Financial and CIBC, trying to determine what basic or “soft” customer service techniques appealed to bank customers and how the different institutions fared at implementing them.

Each mystery customer was instructed to open a new chequing account at one financial institution. The customers, who ranged from ages 21 to 54, had no previous relationship with the bank, and the customer selection was divided evenly across urban and rural areas and gender. In addition, DALBAR made sure that the customers were evenly distributed among three family-income brackets: less than $25,000, $25,000–$50,000, and more than $50,000.

The type of account requested was identical. The new customer was looking for the lowest-fee chequing account possible and anticipated conducting about 30 transactions per month.

What DALBAR found was an absence of subtle techniques that are fairly easy to implement and would make a significant difference in a customer’s experience.

For example, DALBAR says customers placed a lot of stake in the professional appearance of the sales staff and were more comfortable banking with a representative who had a name tag and wore proper business attire.

The key area DALBAR says mystery customers responded to, and many branch representatives fared poorly on, was acknowledgment of the client and the ability to make him or her feel like the focus of the representatives’ attention.

On average, customers had to wait 90 seconds to see if they were acknowledged by a branch member, DALBAR says. In 40% of the mystery shop visits, branch representatives failed to acknowledge the customer with even a smile or nod or by maintaining eye contact upon their entrance into the branch.

DALBAR notes the most successful branches were those that actively showed an interest in the client during the transaction.

“Customer satisfaction increased dramatically when branch representatives made an attempt to build rapport in the beginning stages of the account opening,” DALBAR wrote. “Being able to identify interests and potential needs based on subtle cues that arise during the account opening are areas branch staff must be trained in and motivated to take advantage of.”

Rapport building didn’t have to be anything drastic. DALBAR says choosing an appropriate follow-up question could go a long way in making a sale. For example, a representative who asked, “Will this be your primary account?” would develop a greater rapport by then asking a follow-up question that demonstrated attention to the customer’s specific need.

DALBAR suggested this follow-up: “If so, that would mean you would expect a greater amount of transactions, which would help me identify which specific chequing account is best suited for your needs.”

Another area that mystery customers put a lot of stake in was how comfortable they felt in the bank environment. DALBAR says that customers liked banking in places where there was a waiting area with comfortable chairs and reading material such as newspapers and product brochures. Overall, customers gave the banks a score of 82% on this. But one bank, which DALBAR would not identify, obtained a score of only 50%.

Because the study was commissioned by one of the banks audited in the study, a DALBAR spokesperson said he could not go into any more detail about the result of the study, and how the individual institutions fared will not be released to the public. The company also declined to comment on the overall performance of banks’ customer service.

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Mark Noble