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Banks’ terrible customer service and NatWest’s awful charter

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, because this particular issue has been on my wick for some considerable time. Now is the moment to get it off my chest!

NatWest’s marketing department has been running irritating TV ads for a long while now promoting it’s ‘Customer Charter’. I find these adverts intensely irritating, primarily because of the poor quality of the promises featured in the ‘Charter’.

It reflects a sad state of consumer affairs in the UK when a bank feels able to make a song and dance about these fourteen pathetic promises:

1. We will extend the opening hours in our busiest branches.

NatWest has committed to opening 600 of its branches on Saturdays. That’s about a third of their branches. Given that the bank wants us to give it our money, it isn’t exactly reaching for the sky in extending opening hours, is it? When the ‘Charter’ is fully implemented, the vast majority of its branches still won’t be open when the vast majority of consumers are most able to access them: weekends.

2. We will aim to serve the majority of our customers within five minutes in our branches.

That is, your custom means so little to NatWest that they expect you to queue for over five minutes to speak to them about half of the time. They expect you to queue to give them money. And we are supposed to be grateful for this apparent concession. How has service become so poor in this country, and how so especially in the banking sector? Tesco will open another till if I have to queue: NatWest will leave me hanging around.

3. We will provide you with friendly, helpful service whenever you deal with us.

The rubric for this item suggests that they want to piss off only 10% of customers. Again, not exactly aiming high, are we?

4. We will help you to make the right choices for you and your money, providing a clear product range with simply explained features and charges

That is, of course, provided that the ‘right choices’ happen to fit in with NatWest’s product range and profit margins. There is no commitment to providing independent financial advice, despite that being what’s hinted at by this promise. Not exactly reassuring.

5. We will provide a 24/7 telephone banking service.

The rubric for this one contains the now oft-quoted concealed racism of promising “UK call centres”. And is there actually any major bank that doesn’t provide this as part of their normal service? Surely not.

6. We will work with you to keep you safe when you bank online with us

Again, this seems an utterly bizarre promise. Keeping me safe when I bank online with NatWest is, in the most part, about NatWest having secure systems. I would liked to have taken that as read.

7. We will help you quickly if your debit card is lost or stolen and you need access to cash

Once again – wow. They have to make a special promise to enable me to access my cash if I happen to lose the card that provides the bank with the most convenient method of me accessing my own money? Again, I’d have very much liked to have taken that as read.

8. We will continue to be a responsible lender and are committed to finding new ways to help

The bank that lent a single woman on benefits £5000 for a nose-job will ‘continue’ to lend responsibly? Great!

9. We pledge to stay open for business if we are the last bank in town and will consider a range of options to ensure a local banking service is available

I’m supposed to be grateful that a bank is promising not to close if there isn’t another bank nearby? You mean I’m supposed to be grateful that NatWest guarantee to maintain a monopoly? And note that the first half of the sentence – suggesting that they’ll maintain the branch – is seemingly contradicted by the last half, suggesting that they will ‘consider a range of options’. Like a once-weekly service in the back of a van.

10. We will provide young people with financial education through our independently accredited MoneySense programme

11. We will actively support the local community in which we live and work

It’s difficult to complain too heavily about these commitments, except to say that they have very little to do with any promise to customers, and everything to do with demonstrating corporate responsibility… And that both programmes cost only the tiniest fraction of the profits of the organisation.

12. We will resolve customer complaints fairly, consistently, and promptly

Apparently, they only want 25% of complainants to be annoyed at the handling of their complaint. Note that the Bank has just been fined £2.8m by the FSA for poor handling of complaints. So how’s that promise going?

13. Twice a year we will publish the most common of complaints

Twice a year they’ll tell us what we complain about? But I already know what I moan about. Why tell me about it? Why not just fix it?

14. We will actively seek your thoughts and suggestions on how we can become more helpful

But, other thank listening, they’ll do nothing. There’s no commitment to following the suggestions, or responding to the thoughts. Thanks, NatWest.

So what do I suggest? Simple: switch.

Swtich to Smile. Switch to First Direct. Switch to The Co-op.

Switch to anyone who actually gives a damn about customer service, instead of waiting for change for a bank which clearly doesn’t know how to prioritise customer service, and whose solution to poor customer service appears to commit to more poor customer service.

Don’t put up with it. The more you put up with it, the more these corporate idiots think its acceptable, and the more poor service propagates.

Swtich, switch, swtich!

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