The era of consolidation in the banking industry has created great profits for the surviving entities, but there has been a cost. Remember the neighborhood bank? I do. And it was a secure feeling to know that you had a relationship with a financial institution that facilitated communication one-on-one and issues could be resolved quickly.
Then things changed. My bank went through three incarnations and the familiar feeling with the neighborhood bank was gone. It seemed that bank managers and personnel changed quickly, the need to reestablish relationships with bankers was required, resolving issues became more bureaucratic, and the individual began feeling like a number rather than a client of the bank.
A superb example of this is Washington Mutual. This was a comparatively modest local bank in the Seattle area, and through excellent business decisions, grew to be one of the largest banking institutions in America.
That growth has had an impact on customer relations. Over the years, I have trained bank tellers and other personnel in verbal and non-verbal communication skills because the banks valued this important element of dealing with customers.
That has changed dramatically. Now, banks such as Washington Mutual have telephone automated systems and expect the individual to solve their banking questions with a computer. My own experience has led to increased frustration because I, along with millions of other Americans, have questions that require a human being at the other end of the conversation.
The Washington Mutual automated system requires the input by the caller of an account number or the call is ended. Then the choices often have no relationship to the question at hand.
Further, there have been numerous occasions when I have been assured that I would receive a return call from a supervisor within 24 hours, after spending considerable time working through the automated system. That turned out to be a false statement in each case, since the return call did not come within 24 hours, and in fact, never occurred.
It is frankly unfortunate that bankers understand growing their institutions but are negligent when it comes to maintaining a system of communication with their consumers that satisfies the patron of the bank.
Communication professionals offer the kind of service that would pay dividends in terms of customer loyalty. If a person has a feeling of alienation, a sense of detachment, and gets the message that the bank does not really care about their concerns, what motivation do they have to stay with the bank if a better offer comes along?
It is simply a reality that customer loyalty needs to be a primary goal of banking institutions. It is one thing to grow and bring in customers from a bank with which you merged. It is quite another matter to convey a consistent and ongoing program with which customers feel is concerned about them. I have personally experienced 2 major national banking institutions that simply have not effectively maintained that sense of continuity.
Communication Strategies that would focus on this objective and bring more effective customer service to the clients of the bank can be implemented and would enhance the image of the bank and its relationship to its customers.
Organizational Communication Strategies is a specialized area of Communication in the business world. An audit of present communication functions at all levels would lead to substantial and valuable recommendations for improving communication quality both within the bank itself and in its relationship to customers.
How well does the intra-bank communication system work? What can be done to improve its quality so employees can more efficiently communicate with each other and resolve questions of mutual concern? How can the consumer telephone system be improved? How can that system allow consumers to get from one department to another through one central phone number instead of spending excess time in finding a different number for a different department? What about training for bank personnel dealing with the public so there is improved communication between bankers and clients? What are the techniques of communication that create a feeling of connection between a consumer and the bank?
These questions are relevant and important in an era that arguably dehumanizes our business relationships by replacing those with automated telephone systems. I would encourage bank executives to consider this need that can be accomplished if given the attention, training of personnel, and commitment from the bank.