Banks have further to go to achieve customer service excellence

  • Jo Causon
  • 1 October 2021
  • Blog | Blog

At The Institute of Customer Service, we’ve been tracking levels of customer satisfaction twice yearly across sectors through our UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) since 2009. We’ve amassed huge amounts of feedback from many thousands of customers. One thing that stands out looking at it from a financial services perspective is that the banking sector is always a solid performer – but there is undoubtedly room for the sector to do more if it wants to truly excel. 

The latest UKCSI published in July is a typical example of what we see each time: Banks & Building Societies sit in sixth position out of the 13 sectors we analyse. The overall satisfaction score, at 78.8 (out of 100) is reasonably good and is 1.4 points above the all-sector average. But at the same time, it’s some distance behind the top scoring sector, Retail, which recorded a score of 81.2 points. 

I believe that banks in fact have a great opportunity right now to truly differentiate themselves through the quality of their service. The pandemic has significantly accelerated customer usage of digital for all sorts of purchases and interactions, and July’s UKCSI was the first time that 50% of the customer experiences recorded were digital. With the banking sector being a leader in terms of the sophistication and ease of the digital services available to customers, it is surely in a strong position to capitalise on this. 

We see this strength in the UKCSI itself – the proportion of banking customers who said they conduct business through an app was far ahead of any other sector (15% compared to an average of 5%). Alongside this, adoption of online banking has become widespread too of course. 

This being the case, one might have expected banking customer satisfaction to have pushed up positively through the COVID-19 crisis – but this has not happened. In fact, customer satisfaction is slightly lower than it was a year ago (78.8 compared to 79.1 in July 2020). We also see a fairly wide variation in customer satisfaction by channel – ranging from a high of 83.5 for apps down to 72.9 for email. This suggests that some organisations need to focus on achieving greater consistency of the customer experience across all channels, as well as considering the need to still provide human interaction and contact for those key customer moments that require higher levels of reassurance and personal advice. 

In addition, we have seen a significant rise in the number of customers experiencing a problem with their bank or building society – standing at 11.9%, which is 1.1% higher than in July 2020 and the highest proportion since 2014. Satisfaction with complaint handling (6.1 out of 10) is the same level as a year ago and in line with the all-sector average. 

Taken together, these findings suggest that while banks generally do the basics well, they have further to go if their service is to drive up loyalty and brand advocacy. As well as considering how they continue to serve a diverse and more polarised customer base. The three leading issues that customers believe organisations should improve are:  

  1. Making it easier to contact the right person to help them

  2. Having more branches available (underlining the fact that digital cannot be everything)  

  3. Improving website navigation.  

The Bank & Building Society sector has some ‘star’ performers in the UKCSI. First direct was the top-ranked organisation individually across the entire survey base in July (recording an impressive score of 86.6). Other perennial high performers include Nationwide Building Society and the Co-operative Bank. There’s no doubt the sector is capable of stand-out levels of service. The challenge is to drive those standards more widely and consistently across the piece – to make banking a true exemplar of service excellence.