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LUESBY: In search of great customer care

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Customers in a banking hall. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A recent survey reporting that consumers find it far more painful to lose money than joyful to gain it amounts to a poor starting point for bad customer service from our banks. Yet banking in Kenya can be a painful journey.

So how do we deal with bad servicing of our money? Last week, on a WhatsApp group, someone shared an article on that ‘how’, prompting one of the engineers to say he just goes to the CEO, it works. Yet the article claimed calling the CEO hardly ever worked.

So does it, or not? My own experience is that escalating to the executive suite normally brings a resolution, except once. And that once was in Kenyan banking.

For sometimes, a Kenyan Visa card can be put into a foreign ATM and it fails, but the money is debited from your account anyway.

So, you are there, stood on some high street in the UK, or Germany, France, or California, in need of cash, and the ATM is saying transaction failed, but your Safaricom-on-roaming phone pings at you with your bank’s SMS text confirming the maximum possible withdrawal for the day has just been debited from your account.

No chance of a retry, down by Sh40,000, life has in a split second presented you with a rather debilitating financial problem. The reason it happens, I learned after multiple failed withdrawals using my former Barclays Bank of Kenya Visa debit card, is a matter of speed.

For getting cash is a double message. First, the ATM pings your account and asks if the money is available. Your bank confirms it is and pulls the funds from your account. The ATM gets the confirmation and then issues the cash, and closes the transaction with a second ping to your bank collecting the money.

The time out can occur on the first ping. Your bank debits the cash, but the confirmation response time is so slow the ATM times out. And that’s where you can then hit a wall: with your own bank.

In this, my own experience of BBK’s customer care was the worst I have ever seen. You call the customer care line and they say they cannot help, you must send an email. You email, and get no response, not even after days and actually, if tested with no other follow-up, weeks.

You move to calling specific staff, and then, with some human interface, finally get someone handling Visa cards who writes that it will take 49 days to restore the funds – for no reason that anyone can explain, because the funds are just sat in the bank on a failed transaction.

At one point, down by more than Sh100,000, I did write to the CEO, who swiftly responded, the first time – referring to a head of department to resolve the matter, who never did. And, in the end, I left the bank.

At that point, I moved to CFC Stanbic, where, for the very first time, I last Friday suffered a failed ATM transaction. I emailed my account manager Saturday, got a near immediate response from his colleague, the failed transaction was confirmed on Monday and the funds restored the same day. And the CEO never even knew.

And there’s the thing about competent customer service and competent banking, the most the CEO will ever know about it is usually nothing – they never get complained to. But customer silence is golden if you’re a business leader, because it means your system is functioning.

And perhaps that’s why the gurus advise that approaching the CEO doesn’t work. Because if a CEO is presiding over a failing system, he will be used to complaints, and already didn’t fix the issue. Your one more complaint isn’t likely to get him, or her, to sort the problem now.

So CEO or no CEO, the answer to terrible customer care is one: move. Because one bad bank doesn’t make an industry. Some know how to track down a failed transaction. And it just isn’t worth the fight with those who don’t. They won’t change.

How to get great customer care? Move until you find a service that gives it.

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