The Secret Accountant highlights the different approaches banks seemingly take to customer care.
When Simon and Garfunkel performed their live concert in Central Park many years ago they inserted lyrics in to the song ‘The Boxer’ which declared ‘After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same’.
If we were to write a song about the changing profession and the world around us would we consider such a line?
Being good with numbers we would include the previous line ‘I am older than I once was, but younger than I’ll be’.
However, I think clients like the fact that we bring an element of consistency and normality to their business support systems. I was asked by a client recently which bank I would recommend they open an account with for their new company. This was a client who has been in business for some years and couldn’t get any joy from his own bank.
He asked who we bank with. Could I give him our manager’s number? Truth is, despite running a £4m turnover practice, we don’t know his name, let alone his number. What is more, we rang the branch with a problem last year and they didn’t know either. Never mind, we have only banked with them for 47 years so still time for them to get to know us.
I have recently set up another business for a client who was formerly at director level with another one of the ‘big 4’. He left taking a package because in his words ‘I couldn’t reconcile the message the chairman was giving to the public with the actual things going on inside the bank. We can never deliver on the service we promise whilst making continued sweeping cuts to both personnel and services available to our customers.'
However, it is not all bad news for the world of banking. There are some smaller banks who now offer excellent service. They have real people on the end of a real telephone number, not one of those 0845 numbers that takes you to a suburb of Mumbai. They make decisions in less than six weeks and you can actually talk to the person who makes the decision – imagine that!
And so, in a world of helplines and office closures, rationalisation and cost cutting, while we must all compete, just being open and answering the telephone and, better still, phoning people back when they leave a message is now a competitive advantage!
We had a publican client who, after four years of fines and penalties, eventually won his tribunal to allow him to submit paper VAT returns because he doesn’t have a computer and it infringed his civil rights.
In a world of internet and call systems and email and many other impersonal inventions, never forget that people do business with people. Today more than ever clients want to feel that they have someone in their corner who is prepared to talk to them and listen to their issues. Build that in to your practice and you will do well for many years to come.
The Secret Accountant runs a practice in the heart of England