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Customer Service – Need to Raise the Bar in Banks By Jagdish Pai K L, Customer Service – Executive Director, Canara Bank

The position of banks has changed considerably from the past, wherein demand used to far exceed the supply. In today’s deregulated environment, there are several players in the market. Customers today are highly discriminating. Customers’ loyalty is past.  Information asymmetry no longer exists. Today’s market is hyper active in disseminating all necessary inputs about the price and service provided by the various players.  Consequently, customers are becoming well-informed and demanding.  They quickly differentiate players, who provide fast service and move to institutions, which provide prompt and efficient service.

Changing customer demands and proliferation of new technologies, such as, CBS, business process reengineering (BPR), ATMs, Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS), make it necessary for banks to move from transaction banking to customer-centric solutions. In the Indian scenario, where all the banks are offering almost similar products and services, the only way a bank can differentiate itself is through providing need based efficient customer service.   

An analysis of complaints received by the Banking Ombudsman during 2009-10 reveals that a majority 24% relates to credit cards related complaints followed by 15% complaints relating to 'failure to meet commitments made' (non adherence to fair practices code as adopted by banks), 8% to loans and advances, 7% remittance related complaints, 5% deposits related and 6% related to pension.
Improving customer service in banks
Creation of new and clearly differentiated value requires product management, product delivery management, convenience management and customer delight management. While financial expertise and use of technology products can bring about customer delight in banks, five basic building blocks of customer awareness and satisfaction relate to the following:

Building Long Standing Relationship
Providing good customer service is the prerequisite to marinating a relationship on a sustained basis with the customers - a relationship that makes the customer feel proud. Banks have to examine events that influence customer perceptions and ensure proper alignment of business strategies for effective customer service. 

Centralizing Customer Information
Customer focus requires leveraging existing customer information to gain deeper insights and to formulate policies to improve related processes to provide efficient customer service. Centralizing customer information will help the banks immensely in identifying the specific customer segments and their requirements. 

Thinking from the customers’ point of view
Customer is the king.  As Mahatma Gandhi stressed, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so”.  This says it all. There is a need to look at 360 degrees view of the customer service, particularly, the customers’ point of view and develop innovative products in conformity with the customer needs.

Innovation in Products/Services
With deregulation, banks in India are innovating products and services and the alternative technology aided delivery channels to make banking transactions faster, cheaper and easier. To get younger and upwardly mobile customers, banks need to be more technologically savvy and also popularize their technology aided product offerings in a big way.

Change in Staff Attitude
In today’s context, we can have everything – better and faster technology, swanky branches and best product/service offerings but if the mindset of the staff remains the same, it may not yield expected results.  Hence, there is a need to transform the mindset of the staff at the counters. The staff skills to handle technology, increasing their knowledge of products/services and improving their soft skills to communicate with the customers could help banks become more customer oriented banks.

Initiatives of Canara Bank
Canara Bank, with 105 years of existence, has been known in the banking industry as a customer-focused bank. The Bank has taken several initiatives in the past and present to improve customer service across branches. The Bank was the first bank to bring out a Citizen Charter. The Bank’s customers are loyal and the Bank has been proactive in its dealings with the customers.  In a reflection of the changing times, customers of Canara Bank are posting their complaints in some of the consumer websites. To address this issue, we have formed a web-communication team to redress such complaints posted on the websites. We look at this as one way to leverage technology to reach out to our over 38 million customers in a timely and effective manner. Most of complaints are regarding ATM cards, delay in sanctioning housing loans, delay in transfer of accounts and pension related issues.  The centralized customer service cell at Head Office and separate cells, in each Circle Office of our Bank cater to this requirement. We are in a service industry, and this innovative move attempts to convince the customers that we are sensitive to their requirements. 

Way Forward………..
In a service industry like banking, a sharper focus on customer service is most important to retain and attract new customers. Providing excellent customer service can be an effective way of making the banks distinctly more competitive. It is essential that banks treat their customers well.  At the end of the day, happy customers are going to be the real brand ambassadors for the banks. This is why, there has to be a renewed thrust on customer service with customer service being tracked on an ongoing real-time basis. This necessitates designing of innovative and cost-effective mechanisms of delivering banking services efficiently, developing profitable business models and leveraging technology optimally.

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