Does technology ease customer service constraints in banks?

Banking Tech

I find myself unconsciously assessing banking staff on their service efficiency whenever I enter a banking hall to transact business. Having worked hand in hand with customer services departments throughout my career by helping customer service supervisors with measurement matrices for their front-line staff has given me a lot of insight in this subject.

Most often, I find myself rating banks in the area of teller turnaround time, and personal bankers’ time management and overall crowd control whenever I am in a queue to do business. It is clear that most institutions worry a lot about the number of clients in their banking halls especially as expanding branch networks is usually highly capital intensive. A number banks end up using the agency model which often involves converting small shops to mini-branches and this naturally poses space constraints. Some of the measures banks have introduced to contain the space problem has been to introduce minimum withdrawal limits with penalties, deposit only collection agencies, automated cheque deposit terminals, ticket based queue management systems  and cash deposit ATMS.  I personally find internet banking and the ATMs as my favourite platforms and find myself irritated whenever I have to visit a branch for a service not offered through automated technology. This maybe because I have either found online banking too comfortable or the banking hall is genuinely annoying to be in.

Two of my favourite branch crowd management technology innovations used in banks for the past few years have been the automated queue numbering equipment and the more recent paperless transactions. The former basically uses a ticketing system to issue queue numbers based on the type of service required by the client and the numbers issued are assigned to tellers or customer service personnel based on their assigned tasks. I personally find this as the best method since the client does not have to sit in a particular order to access services but is called out to be served based on the ticket number. The latter is also an innovation recently used in Ghana but have existed in more advanced countries for a long time. It eliminates the need for a lot of paper used in the branch by allowing the customer to access services and then sign digitally to validate the transaction.

With the advent of these technologies, it is rather unfortunate that a number of the banks using them are still not achieving their customer turnaround time and efficiency. I specifically find that the front-end software used is either too slow, requires too many clicks to capture simple deposit or withdrawal data or that the tellers need more training. This problem is compounded by tellers having to go behind their teller stations to scan or photocopy client identification cards. For the banks I use often, I often find that even with high client traffic, the branches maintain an average of three tellers with one dedicated to foreign transactions and money transfers whereas the other tellers deal with local deposits and withdrawals while two teller stations are empty. A lot of the time, this happens when a new branch is opened to the public and traffic is slow in the initial stages. This then becomes the norm even as time elapses and traffic begins to grow. The most important point here is that, people and technology combine to make the technology efficient and cost effective. I had a particularly bad experience with one of the best technologically inclined banks in Ghana last week with a service I particularly find very basic. So I decided to go and collect a cheque book which had been produced some weeks earlier. After waiting in the queue for several minutes, it was time for me to see the personal banker. I sat in front of a well-dressed gentleman and explained to him what my mission was. After a few clicks he asked if I was sure I had requested for a Cheque book to which I affirmed. He went on to open a multiple tabbed spread sheet.

I followed proceedings as I could clearly see the display monitor screen. To my amazement, the gentleman tried out the ‘find and Replace’ dialogue once and proceeded to search for my details manually by flipping through the rows. After going through the entire workbook without any success, he excused me, attended to another customer and returned after about 10 minutes. I almost decided to leave but I realized immediately I would only be postponing my misery so I waited patiently for him to repeat the exercise. After an additional 15 minutes, he found my name and he used another 10 minutes to retrieve the book and fill out the register. I had already exhausted my lunch hour with about a half hour deficit. In total, I spent about 45 minutes collecting stationery from my bank.

While these human resource constraint decisions are vital to cost saving, it is absolutely vital to consider the impact on service delivery time and customers’ impression of the institution. Whiles technology exists to make things easy, it does not necessarily lead to that end and requires somewhat equal level of investment in human capital and training to generally help utilize the technology to its maximum capacity.