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Slides, friction and customer experience

I remember a couple of instances when I was young, when my Mum polished the slide in our local park. She actually took a duster and a can of polish in her bag along to the park when we played. Slide

The slide itself was really high to start with, probably because in part I was quite small at the time being about 6 or 7 years of age. But it certainly seemed high enough at the time. An all metal thing it was with wrought iron steps and a shiny and literally ‘polished’ slide surface. Just standing on the top step was enough to give you butterflies, let alone the sliding experience that was to follow especially after my Mum had been busy with the Mr Sheen!

It was a great experience. Fast, thrilling and without friction to slow me or my friends down and one we could repeat again and again until tea time.

It’s the same with customer experience. The more ‘friction’ in a business process, and the more resistance that a customer encounters, then the less satisfying the customer experience will be overall. The greater the number of steps the customer has to go through or the more forms they have to fill out or boxes to fill in on a web page, then the higher the perceived level of effort will be from the customer’s perspective, irrespective of what the actual level of effort is in reality. MrSheen

This raises the probability that the customer experience will be less than desirable, if indeed they actually complete the process in the first place. If they do actually get through the process, will they think that is was too difficult and so be unlikely to return and buy again?

Recent figures suggest online shopping cart abandonments now reach into the billions of pounds each year and is rising steadily, in part due to the fact that checkout processes create way too much friction for customers. That’s a significant loss to business given the amount of time, effort and money invested in getting customers to a website in the first place. Even instore, abandoned purchase rates are high because customers feel they have to queue for too long before being able to pay.

So in order to reduce friction and improve the customer experience, there’s a number of options available;

1. Gather feedback around customer effort directly from customers. Get an understanding of how much effort customers have to go to in order to buy your products or use your services and at each steps of their journey.

2. Where customers spend a large amount of effort, look at ways to simplify the process by reducing the number of steps customers have to go to or by speeding up the overall time the process takes to complete. Always try and see and experience how processes work from the customer’s perspective.

3. Map the customer journey. Ensure that business processes are aligned to the customer journey and that it’s as effortless and frictionless as is realistically and commercial viable for you.

Simple? It should be. Reduce friction, improve the customer experience. Happy sliding!

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How psychology can improve your customer experience

Maybe not an obvious area to look to when trying to improve customer experience, but the disciplines of both psychology and behavioural economics can help us understand how to deliver a better customer experience through understanding both perception and behaviour.

Psychology imageOne such example from the field of psychology is the ‘peak end rule’ which helps us understand exactly how our perception of experience is formed, which we can then use to our advantage when designing and shaping great customer experiences.

The research behind this was initially conducted by Daniel Kanheman, the nobel prize winning psychologist. The experiment has often been replicated but the initial one involved patients undergoing a colonoscopy. Whilst not wading into the gory details, the experiment showed that whilst the two groups of patients had experienced different levels of pain throughout the process, they recalled experiencing the exact same levels of pain, despite the fact that their actual experience varied.

Kahneman concluded that the patients, and indeed all people, seem to perceive not the sum of an experience over time, but the average of how it was at its peak (e.g. pleasant or unpleasant) and how it ended. The graphic below illustrates the principle;

peak-end-rule

The peak and the end of an experience dominate how the experience itself is remembered even trumping our rational perspective. We’re not saying positive first impression aren’t important as they absolutely are. However, in addition to this, you now need to focus on peak and end with your customers.

Interestingly, there is also another effect at play here. One called the duration neglect effect. In essence this means that the duration of the experience over time has little or no influence on the peak end rule. Therefore it’s of little use to try and extend a positive experience further over time to make it last longer with the hope of creating more imppact. The useful aspect is to identify opportunities to create peak experiences during customer interactions. The more extreme the peak, the more memorable the experience. Positive surprises or moments to significantly exceed customer expectation work well. Better still if you can combine peak and end at the same time, you’re on the way to having delivered a truly unforgettable customer experience.

However this could simply be to ensure you send customers away happy in all instances, and to ensure their end experience is as positive and as high as possible.

As an example of how not to do this, I’ll share an actual experience that happened to me. Many years ago I was invited to a wedding and stayed in the hotel where the reception was.

The weekend and the wedding reception was fine (as far as I can remember) and we went to check out after breakfast on Sunday morning by the 10am deadline as all the other wedding guests had to, which was the problem.

By the time we got into the reception area, the queue to check out stretched from the front desk to the front door! To compound the fact, there was only one member of staff checking guests out. It seemed to take a life time to get to the front of the queue and while we were checking out I asked the girl why there was only one member of staff working. She replied that no one else was in for another hour and it was only her!

qless-queue

That’s my overriding memory of that weekend and that hotel. The massive queue to get out. Not the leisure facilities or the wedding reception which was the point of being there in the first place but the queue to leave. I also remember the frustration and my thought about how little the hotel must have cared about the guest experience to put people through an ordeal like that.

That apparent lack of foresight and planning of the staff rota (I’m assuming) combined with the fact that the hotel clearly knew that there was a wedding that weekend and that their occupancy levels were very high to full, created a significantly negative end experience. I’d also suggest that it wasn’t just me that felt like that too.

That whole experience could have been so significantly different, if they’d just planned it better. It’s a simple but great illustration about how just one thing wrong in a customer experience can destroy all the good and positive work done prior to that point.

I’m sure that if you’d have asked the hotel how much they cared about their guests and the guest experience, I’m sure they would give you the right answer, but their working practices and the impact on the customer experience conveyed a different message. That lack of planning said to me that they didn’t care enough to rota more staff on, on a Sunday morning when checkout ‘traffic’ was at its busiest.

This also outlines another important point which is to be congruent with customer experience between what you say and what you do. If you say the customer is important, then you have to act in a way that shows that the customer is important and you can only do that from the customer’s perspective.

How could you use the understanding of the peak end rule to improve your customer experience delivery?

 

 

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Case Study: Findel Education – Transforming Customer Experience.

Getting shortlisted for the UK Customer Experience awards is an achievement in itself. Winning an award is a huge success. Findel Education fought off strong competition from the likes of LV, Virgin Media and Capita to win Best Business Change or Transformation at this year’s event.

However not content with winning one award, in the same day Findel Education won The Best Customer Experience Programme at the North West Contact Centre Awards. In addition, they’ve recently won an award for Best Improvement Strategy at the European Call Centre and Customer Service Awards. As with success in many areas, the origin of their customer experience journey started a few years ago amidst a climate that was the opposite of where Findel Education are today. Findel logo_v3

If you’re not familiar with Findel Education, a trip to any school will soon reveal who they are. Part of Findel plc, they are Europe’s leading educational resources supplier, employing over 400 employees with an annual turnover of £104 million.

A little over 2 years ago they were a very different company and the word ‘customer’ was seen as a negative word to everyone internally. Findel Education had grown dramatically over the last 15 years through a series of acquisitions bringing together a multitude of different brands, people, systems and processes.

Not surprisingly, a full business review identified that there was a significant need to change as a business, and to focus on the customer experience delivery. The findings didn’t make for easy reading. They discovered that;

  • They had lost a significant number of customers throughout 2010/11, resulting in £7m in lost sales.
  • The business was not focused on the customers’ needs; removing cost was the main business driver for decisions.
  • The marketplace was changing; there was more choice, less school funding and nothing to differentiate them from their competitors.
  • Employees were not motivated.
  • There was no clear company strategy or vision.
  • Customer Service was a contact centre responsibility.
  • They had a poor reputation for service in the market.

With this troubling environment and under a new leadership team there was the go ahead to launch a project aimed at turning the business around with 4 clear objectives;

  1. Understand what customers want.  Business and customer signpost
  2. Become easy to do business with.
  3. Engage employees (to engage customers).
  4. Focus on continuous improvement.

 

Their new vision was to become the first choice for educational resources in the marketplace, and to achieve that they had to truly put the customer at the heart of everything they did and not just talk about it. Something that is a challenge for a lot of organisations looking to improve the customer experience but an important point of congruence between what an organisation says and what it actually does.

To kick this off, a ‘Best in Class’ service culture quickly became one of their new 8 strategic goals alongside people development and process excellence.

Part of the change in culture came early on by the introduction of 3 simple questions to get employees to think ‘customer first’.

 Customer first questions

 This simple ‘Ask yourself’ campaign meant that every decision, every meeting, every discussion was focused on the customer. This became Findel Education’s customer mantra and meant that they could start to shape their customer experience change strategy.

In late 2010 the company launched their ‘Employee Voice’ and the ‘Customer Voice’ campaigns. This was a simple yet structured feedback programme that would help benchmark ongoing progress and also help them remain focused on taking the right actions.

Employees provided feedback around how customer and employee focused the business was. This gave people a voice about how Findel Education should do business and the experience provided to customers.

Once a quarter customers are asked three simple questions;

  1. Are you happy with the recent shopping experience?
  2. Would you shop with Findel Education again?
  3. Would you recommend Findel Education?

Despite the positive start, the company soon realised that they didn’t have a full view of what their customer experience looked like, where they were winning and where they were failing. They needed insight from an inside-out and an outside-in view of their existing customer experience. It was at this point they engaged performance improvement company Blue Sky.

This gave additional credibility to the programme and gained the support of employees. Hundreds of customers were involved and over 150 employees provided insight. The vast amount of information gained unfortunately presented an overwhelming picture of how much there was to fix.

However, as a priority, customers wanted Findel to focus on 4 key areas:

  1. Allow them to find the products they needed easily.
  2. To meet their service expectations, before, during and after they’ve shopped.
  3. For Findel to listen to them.
  4. To be ‘easy to do business with’.

In order to effectively manage the Customer Experience to deliver on what customers wanted, Findel Education built the foundations from the bottom up including restructuring their contact centre. Curiously, it was only at this point that Findel Education appointed a Head of Customer Service and a Learning and Development Manager. However prior to this, there had been little investment and little training but they soon realised that they couldn’t deliver the improvement programme without employee engagement and this ‘eureka’ moment formed a critical foundation to their success.

Quarterly review meetings focussed on what the business needed to do better in terms of performance and what needed to change, which resulted in improvement actions. This also ensured a process of both continuous improvement and continuous engagement with employees.

Employee engagement was a priority as all Customer Service Advisors needed to take on board the new policies and  the company’s ‘Every Customer Counts’ training embedded this.

Advisors were also restricted by historical processes that had become barriers to customers doing business with Findel Education. If an item had to be returned for example due to a processing error by the company, the customer had to pay the return costs and Advisors had no ability to waive this fee. This gave birth to the ‘no hassle returns’ policy which delivered perfectly for customers on their fourth requirement of Findel Education’s being ‘easy to do business with’ which has subsequently gone on to become their mission statement.

Through various activities like Customer-focused training for all employees, regular “Buzz” sessions for Customer Service Advisors  and a Management Training Programme to help managers support the culture change , the wider company and the contact centre culture has been effectively transformed. Employees now feel empowered to do the right thing for the customer and go that extra mile to deliver ‘Best in Class’ service.

Findel mission

 Findel Education’s new approach to delivering a holistic customer experience was summed up by the introduction of their customer charter, focussing on the three key areas of success with customers.

  1. Customer focussed attitude
  2. Market leading proposition
  3. Best in class service

This charter was designed by employees based on customer feedback and has been communicated and is visible to everyone in the business and includes Findel Education’s service promise of which their ‘no hassle returns’ and ‘free next day delivery’ form a key part.

However, this new approach to business hasn’t come cheap. Findel Education have made a considerable investment in offering free next day delivery, and packaging and courier improvements. Furthermore they have clocked up 1,324 days of customer experience training in 2012 alone. First contact resolution is now the norm and the query to order process has significantly improved.

All this investment and effort though is already starting to pay dividends. Employee perception of Findel Education as a customer focussed business is up significantly year on year with 97% of employees believing that they give customers what they want, compared to only 58% in 2011.

This improvement in results is echoed from customers too. The customer voice feedback showed that 96% of customer were happy in September 2013. The highest score since the customer experience programme began. In the same month, repeat business scores hit 100%. Customer NPS is now at 80% up from only 50% in 2011.

For anyone still not convinced on the financial return on investing in the customer experience, the numbers for this business  are healthy; sales this year are already ahead, average order frequency per customer is up from 3.7 to 5 and extra brand demand in 2012/13 equated to almost £3 million. Findel people_v3

Findel Education acknowledge they still have a way to go on their journey despite the significant achievements they’ve already realised. They’ve already identified their next steps which include customer self-service, multi-channel integration and next generation training to name but a few initiatives.

However, for all their progress they’ve made they have certainly been worthy of their three awards and they have a great story to tell about what’s possible in delivering a great customer experience once the right foundations are in place. If they keep tracking as they are, they might need a much bigger awards cabinet next year.

This article was originally written for the December issue of The Customer Experience Magazine.

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When no problem means no problem

We were out for lunch the other day at a great place called The Shibden Mill Inn, just outside Halifax in West Yorkshire and just down the road from Shibden Hall and park.

shibdenhallnew

Shibden Hall, set in 37 hectares of the Shibden valley, is a six hundred year old medieval timber-framed manor house. A Grade II* Listed 15th century house is one of England’s oldest and was built in 1420, five years after the Battle of Agincourt. If you want to read more about the house and gardens the link is here.

The Mill Inn itself dates from the seventeenth century and so has been part of the local area for over 300 years. Opposite the mill is Red Beck, the stream that powered the mill once in days gone by. The website describes it perfectly; “The flow of water now adds to the inviting nature of the Inn’s outside area, a tranquil setting to enjoy dinner al fresco or a few summer drinks.” Unfortunately it was raining on this day but when the weather is good, it’s idyllic sat outside.Shiden Mill Inn

I was surprised how busy it was for a Monday but given it’s reputation, quality and service it probably comes as no surprise. In fact,  among other accolades, it was awarded the prestigious title of Les Routiers Inn of the Year 2011. So there we were eating lunch when a member of staff came over to check if everything was ok. “It was” we said “but could we get another drink please?” “No problem” the waitress replied and then it hit. She actually meant that it was no problem. Now it wasn’t a difficult request but that didn’t matter. What she was able to convey was a genuine sense that it wasn’t a problem or nor would anything else be should I ask as a customer. It wasn’t a stock phrase she was using, it came across as it was truly meant. Then I sat back, watched and reflected on the service moments that were happening all around me and had done since we’d entered.

The service was relaxed, unhurried, friendly, genuine, attentive yet effortless and the staff displayed a sincere desire to serve and serve well. It stood out significantly compared to many of the other service experiences I’ve encountered recently. It felt as luxurious as the interior of the Mill itself. Now it could be argued for example, that the experience of buying a sandwich in an express supermarket outlet for lunch doesn’t need to be like the service at Shibden Mill because of the volume of customer, value of transaction, the smaller amount of time people spend in the outlet and that customer’s just don’t want that level of service in that situation. I disagree. Think how much better the quality of our daily lives and experiences would be if everywhere delivered Shibden Mill service. I for one would be an advocate.

And the result? A blog post and a serious recommendation if you get chance to go. Oh and the food’s great too! Here’s the link

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Case study: Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) – pursuing customer excellence in a challenging environment

Managing 2.85 million customers in an increasing competitively environment whilst adapting to a backdrop of decreasing local authority budgets and funding is some juggling act that would leave a lot of organisations in deep water. Not KAL though– they are on the offensive and are pursuing both customer excellence and innovation to deal with the coming challenges.

KAL logo

About KAL

KAL manage 12 major sports centres and swimming pools on behalf of Kirklees Council in the region. They are organised as a charitable trust and so all profits are reinvested into facilities, their ongoing development and growth initiatives to bridge their funding gaps following their approach of ‘invest to save, invest to grow’. As an organisation they are managed by a Board of Trustees who come from a range of backgrounds to help develop and drive the strategic direction of the Trust.

In March 2013 they exceeded 2.85 million customers, tracking way ahead of their 2014 business strategy target of 3 million customers. All this despite a challenging financial landscape. Turnover for the last financial year was £12.8,m up from £8.5 in 2007/8, despite a cut in funding from local authority of 32% over the last 3 years. Currently for each person that visits a centre, the council pays roughly 59 pence per head. 5 years ago it was £1.

As if these challenges weren’t enough to content with, the competitive landscape for Health and Fitness is about to change significantly in Huddersfield alone.

The competitive landscape for health and fitness

Budget gyms are now the ‘new kid on the block’ with two new planned openings in Huddersfield town centre alone by DW and Exercise for Less in the next 12 months. KAL have already hit back by developing their own ‘Smart Fitness’ package for £14.95 per month which has already attracted over 12,000 members. In addition KAL have their own brand new site development at a cost of £35 million due to open mid-2015. However the competition doesn’t end there though. The University of Huddersfield has approval to build a £22.5 million brand new leisure facility and will open the doors up the general public in addition to the student community in spring 2014.

This is all in addition to a number of smaller gyms and facilities in the Kirklees area. One such facility was the Fitness First gym at Lockwood Park, where Huddersfield’s Rugby Union team are based. After getting into financial difficulty last year which also threatened the sustainability of the rugby club, KAL agreed to take on the facility with its member base and majority of staff. After an initial refurbishment it was rebranded and officially opened in January 2013. Kirklees has certainly has its fair share of leisure facilities!

Customer experience is key

So with expanding competition and customer membership, and with products broadly similar in nature and in price, customer service is increasingly going to be a key differentiator in helping KAL stay ahead. Gym shop

This was first recognised back in 2011. The Commercial Board had been informed of the 32% cut in budget over the next 3 years and so had a funding gap to fill. The outcome was the ‘Big 8’ ideas to boost revenue, innovation, diversification and customer experience.

 Mystery shopping to diversify

Once such idea was to introduce mystery shopping but with parallel aims. The first, as you would expect from deploying a mystery shopping programme was to improve customer retention, raise service standards across all 12 facilities and to be able to audit processes for consistency such as the fitness suite visit experience and the membership sales process. The second aim, was to retail the system on to other businesses to use, and so generate additional income.

KAL’s approach was to go to the market initially and purchase an ‘off the shelf’ mystery shopping programme. However they quickly realised that the cost would be prohibitive. Undeterred, they decided to commission their own web based system and so iiD Solutions was born. A subsidiary consultancy business offering insight, intelligence and delivery to other businesses across industry using the mystery shopping software platform for data collection and analysis, tried and tested on the KAL organisation. This approach saved KAL a significant amount of money. In fact the life time cost of the system is actually less than a year’s subscription to an existing commercial package. iid logo

Mystery shopping visits are conducted monthly across all sites using a team of shoppers. Site managers have access to the system via their own log on, and can check their own scores and results, their progress over time and how their site compares to the others in the group to inject some healthy competition into pushing standards higher. The managers can also look at specific areas within their facility such a reception area, pool area, or café to help further drill into identifying areas for improvement or praising staff for exceeding standards.

Monthly results are also reviewed by the Commercial Board in their strategy meetings and there’s an expectation as to a minimum target of achievement by the sites. The numbers tell a positive story. Average mystery shopping scores on product knowledge of staff are up 3% over the last 12 months and fitness suite visit experience is up to 84% demonstrating that the KAL teams are actively engaging and using the feedback from the shopping data.

Annual customer satisfaction focus

This is an additional source of data around understanding for improving the customer experience. The back bone of any customer experience programme is a customer satisfaction survey which KAL conduct annually. 2013 saw over 1600 responses across a robust representation of members across all 12 sites. Again, the numbers tell a positive story amidst the back drop of increasing competition and rising customer expectation, not to mention the increase in membership. Year on year scores are up with the biggest increases in ‘overall satisfaction of staff’ to 87.4 and ‘overall satisfaction of information provided’ to 81.1.

KAL also measure Net Promoter score and 2013 saw a 3% increases to 32%. Interestingly, the health and fitness industry average is around 22%.

Staff are key to the customer experience

Despite the increases in satisfaction around staff from this year’s satisfaction survey, KAL aren’t standing still on staff development recognising the importance of all staff in delivering a great customer experience. In April this year, KAL joined the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) which is 2 year programme they’ve committed to, underlying their seriousness at developing the total customer experience. KAL now have 5 of their own staff as approved ICS trainers and the plan is to rollout training to 80 people between September and December this year. Of those 80, 50 are front of house staff, sales and membership, who will each undergo the 3 day ‘First Impressions’ course, in addition 30 Front line and Operations Managers will undergo the 4 day Service Management course. From 2014, all remaining staff will undergo ICS training to ensure a consistent level of service across all facilities which should see them ahead of the competition in service delivery.

And to the future

2014 also sees the start of the next 5 year strategic planning cycle. KAL have now established a ‘setting the pace group’ to gather further ideas and promote employee engagement. To date they have also;

  • Established a set of KAL values
  • Conducted KAL roadshows across the 12 facilities
  • Created an “Active Thinkers” group to consider and improve key issues
  • Promoted an inclusive culture encouraged by Managers. Staff views are actively sought via staff councils, staff surveys and site visits.

 

All this will add to the solid foundation already established, and further promote their cultural change within the organisation to further deliver on their philosophy of ‘best of public, best of private’ approach to business with a clear link to improving the customer experience as a differentiator.

 

KAL’s summer marketing campaign focussed at getting more people into activity used the strapline around ‘imagine, believe, achieve’ Three values that I think KAL themselves use to drive the business into the future.

 

Thanks to Joe Baker, Business Improvement Manager at KAL for his input into the case study.

Article first written for the July 2013 edition of Customer Experience Magazine.

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Removing service level guarantees

I recently received a letter from my bank informing me of a number of changes to my current account terms and conditions. I don’t usually read the small print as more often than not the changes are to wording in the terms and conditions themselves rather than fundamental changes to the account. However, one of the changes particularly caught my eye and it was entitled ‘Service level guarantees’. Service GuaranteeMy immediate reaction was to expect the bank to outline how it was committing to improving service levels but once I read, and then re read the text, that’s not what the letter said.

The opening sentence of the paragraph read ‘We are removing the Service Level Guarantees’. Not improving them or even raising them to a higher standard – just removing them. The paragraph went on to say how my right to express dissatisfaction or complain hadn’t been removed and how well established their procedures were to allow me to do this should I need to. Interestingly, they didn’t say exactly what the service level guarantees were so curiously, I dug out the terms and conditions booklet which I’d efficiently filed without reading. The booklet itself, whilst looking small, opened out to be 5 sides of uber small print containing 20.2 clauses, non of which as far as I could see outlined any service level guarantees. So I was left to phone the bank and ask them.

It transpires after a conversation with Bernadette, that the bank wasn’t removing service level guarantees. Confused yet? It was removing guaranteed financial payments for service level failures, the minimum being £15. So for example if the bank set up a standing order incorrectly or failed to issue a new card within the published timescales then they would automatically pay out. Instead, the bank would look at each incident in turn and judge whether a payment was warranted or not. I jokingly asked whether the removal of the automatic payments was because the bank were paying out a lot of money and were they trying to cut costs but that wasn’t the reason so Bernadette informed me.

Apart from the confusing and unclear wording on the letter. I’m not sure what I think about this. My initial reaction, based on part skepticism, part experience is that the bank were trying to wriggle out of it’s obligations to service level delivery, and in part I still think this. If the bank were truly focusing on service delivery, they shouldn’t be worried if occasionally they slip up and have to pay out on a previous commitment. I understand times and situations change and the need for review but attempts to change promises like these rarely provoke a positive response and can feel like an erosion of both brand and service. Interesting, this letter came to me in the same week the bank’s new Chief Executive announced the need to add £1.5bn to the balance sheet in part due to losses from 12 commercial loans (£900m) inherited in a building society take over in recent years. Coincidence I’m sure.Red traffic light

However, in fairness, having worked in financial services where service level penalties are common,  and used in my experience for all the wrong reasons as a stick to beat up suppliers, they’re notoriously difficult  to operationalise, to measure and manage and they tend to become the focus of too much attention. One such customer account had in excess of 80 service level measures, a number of which were deemed critical, upon which failure brought an automatic financial penalty wheres the rest worked on a sliding scale. The majority of measures and the data collection wasmanual which in itself was a cottage industry. Time that could have been better spent serving the customer. There was a palpable sigh of relief every month in the organisation when the results were published and all the traffic light measures were ‘green’. The opposite, if any were red not to mention the pressure and fear they created internally -not a great climate to work under. It also drives cost up which ultimately gets passed onto the customer so they loose there too. If the bank gets something wrong, just put it right – quickly and efficiently.

As a customer, I’m not really interested in guaranteed financial penalties.  If I was in a supplier relationship I might want financial penalties for service level failures, but personally I don’t think it drives the best behaviour or cultivates the right relationship. So removing something I wasn’t aware of existed is no bad thing but it does make me question the reason why,  which in turn makes me trust the brand less and introduces doubt, and that’s not what I’d be setting out to achieve if I was the bank, given the current climate.

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