When I want entertainment I don’t go to the bank…

A colleague recently told me that the staff at their bank now dress up in fancy clothes, run around the customer area trying to crack jokes and generally behave as if they were part of a performance at Sideshow Alley at the Royal Easter Show.

I’m sure there’s a reason for this behaviour. Most likely it came from a highly strategic strategy planning document produced by the strategic marketers in the strategic planning area of the bank. It probably had a title something like: ‘Strategy 2012 – making the customer banking experience more fun’ …strategically speaking.

We agreed it was a bit strange, as we don’t want our ‘banking experience’ to be fun, just efficient. I forgot all about it all until last Friday, when I went into a National Australia Bank (known as nab) for the first time in over 20 years. I was doing the banking for a friend who was incapacitated.

The first warning sign about my pending ‘banking experience’ was the loud music being played through the ceiling. As you know, music tastes vary across generations and within generations, so the task of delivering music to suit all customer tastes would not be an easy one. Certainly the doof-doof sounds didn’t appeal to my musical preferences.

I assume there were a few strategic focus groups conducted to determine the most appropriate music and the odd strategic planning session to determine the audio strategy for the branches. But the volume was quite loud, I assume to drown out the sounds of the street noise – trucks, equipment and the like. It forced you to almost shout at the poor teller to make yourself heard, pardon me?

The second warning was the branded ‘kids corner’ with a few random toys. As anyone  knows (even non-strategic people), the body language of a kids corner implies the service will take a long time. Because if you have to entertain the kids it means you’re waiting around somewhere in a queue.

The next warning about my forthcoming ‘banking experience’ was the row of plasma screens behind the teller area. They displayed trivia questions. But before the answer to the trivia question was given you had to endure a nab advertisement. I am not making this up.

Take a minute to think about this – some super-strategic team of strategy planners and strategic executives, has decided that the strategic solution to the problem of waiting around in queues is to force people to watch trivia Q&A and bank advertisements.

Why not use the bank’s strategic planning genius to solve the problems of the delays in the first place? Invent a solution to poor service, rather than give up and try to make the ‘banking experience’ more fun? I just want to do my banking and get out. I don’t want to be delayed, let alone ‘entertained’ during the delay.

The answer, from my humble observation, was to employ the right amount of staff to serve the customers – nab certainly has the profits to pay for a few more staff.

You see, there were three teller windows in this particular branch. It was lunchtime on Friday. Guess how many tellers were working? You guessed good – only one teller window was working. And in my layman’s opinion, if you had three tellers working, you would decrease the delay in serving customers so the bank doesn’t have to worry about trivia contests, kids’ corners, doof-doof music and other ‘entertainment’. But that’s just me.

I did eventually get served. Although during my waiting around I noticed that nab branding was everywhere – even little carry bags designed to look like fashion shopping bags, branded highlighters, pens, note paper and more.

There were also ‘shelf-wobblers’ stuck to the teller counter. I’m not sure if these were meant to make the nab customers feel superior or to make potential nab customers feel inferior. They were alleged quotes from other banks’ customers giving excuses as to why they wouldn’t switch banks. Now I’m sure these were obtained legitimately in a strategic focus group and a strategy planner came up with the idea of displaying the quotes as strategically as possible. That’s why these public sledges were displayed right where people were getting served. I suppose they were there to ‘entertain’ you while you wait?  But they did seem a tad patronising and condescending. Certainly a prospective customer (like me) might feel a little offended as a result of reading them, as they implied non-nab customers are jerks.

However. here’s the rest of my ‘banking experience’ for you. After all the power-branding and fun things I’d experienced (and still listening to the music) my teller had a hand-written piece of paper with her name on it, taped over an official brand-guideline approved name tag. It was a Persian name of some sort, Alfalfa or something? A young woman, she wore make-up by Dulux and had horrid chipped nail polish on every finger that she used to process my banking bits. Nothing worse than dirty nails in customer service.

One of my requirements was to deposit a US currency cheque. Unfortunately Alfala didn’t have authority to do so. She had to get the Manager to approve it. So Alfalfa walked out of her open teller box and around me, to a woman sitting at a desk in the middle of the banking chamber, just at the back of the customer queue.

So the Manager of the branch was the one we had all walked past, without a greeting, and was sitting there observing us, while we all waited to be served.

I think it’s obvious how to make the banking experience more enjoyable – but unfortunately it doesn’t need a strategy document or sophisticated strategic thinking. It just needs enough people to do their job as efficiently and pleasantly as possible. Then if we want to, we customers can go and entertain ourselves at the places strategically designed for fun.

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