Leaders of most service organisations profess to be ‘customer focused’. But survey data on customer satisfaction suggests reality rarely matches that promise. The actions don’t match the words.

Genuinely putting customers at the heart of everything a business does requires courage, commitment and resolve. It also often requires a different business model.

Place yourself in the customer’s shoes

This starts with mindset — senior managers need to get out of their offices and spend more time with customers and those who serve those customers.

They need to see their experiences first hand and listen to their feedback with humility. Reading customer surveys at your desk is never as powerful as feeling their emotion.

Armed with that energy and insight, those leaders need to turn up each day with an unquenchable resolve to make things better.

“Senior managers need to get out of their offices and spend more time with customers and those who serve customers“

They cannot be satisfied with the status quo — no matter how good it may be — and they cannot rely on the old notion that head office would find the answer. It often can’t — or won’t. More often than not, the right solution will come from what customers, consumer groups and our colleagues are telling us.


People on the frontline are key

Many people talk about ‘empowering’ their colleagues. I don’t know what that means.

A person can only empower themselves — it’s a choice. What senior leaders can do is give people the authority to do what they know is right. Then those individuals on the front-line need to apply their judgement. They are best placed to consider the customer’s need, and go out of their way to put things right.

But the rest of the organisation has to stand behind them. Rules or processes that subvert that authority are leadership folly — a sense of control that actually put the business out of control.

Giving power back to the consumer

Putting customers in control is key. In the financial services sector if we are to deliver real transparency this means giving people control over their data and financial choices.

Most customers trust their bank to keep their money safe, so surely banks could also play a leading role in ensuring customers’ data is safe too, and not misused or sold to third parties. Many people today give away their most precious commodity — their personal data — without giving it a second thought or considering how it may be used to benefit others.

Technology has a part to play

Technology plays an increasingly important role in determining whether or not businesses genuinely put customers first.

Delivering technology for its own sake, or solely to cut costs, would be a bad example. I believe technology can be used to bring people together, whether by enabling more face-to-face conversations via video, ensuring sign-language users can talk to colleagues any time of day from the comfort of their own home or taking services that used to be locked to a physical location ‘on the go’.

Own up when you screw up

Being customer centric demands that we admit where we get things wrong — whether or present or past mistake, and to be willing to change.

Having listened to consumer organisations like Which? Barclays was the first big bank to eliminate both sales incentives, and also the use of premium rate numbers. Of course we don’t expect or deserve to be thanked for those changes — frankly, we should have made them sooner and without provocation from Which?.

“Being customer centric demands that we admit where we get things wrong — whether or present or past mistake, and to be willing to change.“

But we want customers and consumer groups to know their calls aren’t falling on deaf ears, and we are genuinely working to reform what we do. And we want them to know that we know we have much, much more to do to regain their trust fully.

Good (fair and appropriate) regulation has a key role in reinforcing what businesses need to do to be centred on their customers. We welcome strong regulation — including much of the work of the UK Financial Conduct Authority — as a manifestation of the highest consumer standards, and a level playing field across our industry (including incumbents and new entrants).

Doing right by customers is good business

Fundamentally, we believe that doing good for customers will mean doing good for society. So I also think that companies that truly put the customer at the heart of their business model don’t do “Corporate Social Responsibility”.

Activities that they do to benefit society must be connected with and core to the business and part of everyone’s day job, which is how we’ve been able to mobilise thousands of volunteers to help over one million young people in the UK to boost their employment prospects though our LifeSkills programme.

Banks are not alone in having faced many challenges with respect to customer service in recent years. We would like to think that we have learned many lessons and that our business is now emerging stronger as a result.

We want to be known as a business that is able to listen, engage and respond in the right way.

We want people to recognise us as a bank that connects with and care deeply for its communities and helps them grow and prosper.

We have a long way to go, and know all too well that, ultimately, only demonstrable action will suffice.

We are committed to that.

Matt Hammerstein is Head of Client & Customer Experience at Barclays PLC

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