I'm Sorry Mr. Customer, I Have No Idea Who You Are!

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11 August 2010


  • Using the ATM and Online system more...


  • I certainly am of the opinion that the customer exaggerated his reaction to the situation. Banks have to standardize their operations. One way of doing this is by not discriminating amongst the customers (preferrential treatment for a few and not for the others except for privilege banking customers). I believe the teller was just following the standards laid down in such a situation.

  • Reminds me of a funny story from a few years back. I was travelling on vacation in Europe, and discovered that their ATMs didn't let me withdraw a whole lot of money. I kept getting my transactions declined above about $200. At $5 per transaction, it was getting very expensive to withdraw money. So I called the number on the back of my Canadian ATM card that said "we accept collect calls" (naturally, they didn't have a toll-free number for Europe), but the number reached an automated voice response system that prompted me to enter a language, and the German operator refused to send through the collect call unless someone approved it on the other end. So I bought a calling card for 10€, dialed direct, went through the endless IVR prompts, and finally reached a live person, with 2€ left on my card. Turns out I needed to increase my daily withdrawal limit, because the exchange rate was capping me at a very low withdrawal limit. "You need to contact your branch to do that," the guy at the help desk said. "Can't you do it centrally?" I asked. "No, that's a branch operation. I can look up their number for you, but I'm sorry, I can't transfer you."

    So alas, I bought another 10€ calling card, and called my branch directly. I've had an account there since I was 6 years old, but have rarely gone to a teller (in fact, I don't even live near that branch anymore). After explaining my story about being in Europe, the whole withdrawal limit problem, having talked to the other guy, etc., the woman at my branch said, "No problem sir, we can take care of that. You'll just need to come into the branch to sign some paperwork." Eh? "Did you understand me? I'm in Europe, I can't come into the branch." "Well sir," she replied, "I can't verify your identity over the phone, for security purposes. I don't know who you are. Can anyone at the branch vouch for your identity?" I'd been using ATMs for so many years (at the bank's encouragement, no less), I'd barely seen the faces of the people who worked in the branch itself. Just as I tried to explain that to her, my 10€ card expired.

    I think there's a disconnect between the increased use of automated tools (Internet, ATMs, etc) and most banks' perpetual marketing campaigns to present themselves as "partners working with you." Bank marketing makes people think they have a personal relationship with their bank. The reality is, they don't. The more banks move to automation and delivery channels that don't involve humans, the more we become mere account numbers in the system.

  • In the UK my bank is happy to talk to me as a person and uses my chip card and PIN to authenticate transactions. This feels like a better balance of security and friendly interaction that answering the same 4 or 5 questions each visit.

    Does beg the question why not just use the ATM to withdraw money of course.

  • Thank you all for your comments.

    Bo, your point is well taken, and I had a chuckle myself. Absolutely, it would be much simpler if the customer moved to self-service channels. I don't think this customer is going to change his habits anytime soon though!

    Vivek - Yes, it may have been exaggerated. However, a balance between customer recognition and procedure needs to be achieved. Is asking for personal info the right way to do this?
    Craig's comment (thank you Craig) is potentially an ideal method. My primary bank uses this method as well - it's not intrusive, and everyone has to do it in order to speak to a teller.

  • That's a great story Kenneth, and a fantastic illustration of the challenges. I agree that there is a disconnect per your description. Banks have yet to truly nail the multichannel integration thing and struggle with capturing a 360 degree view of the customer. Throw in the fear of fraud and everything crumbles like a house of cards! There are more efficient and customer friendly ways to deal with challenges. Lots of room for improvement.

  • I agree with Bo, although I place the burden for this on the financial institution. It is their job to spot heavy branch users and look for ways to reduce the transactional burden they place on the bank. The bank needs better training to help staff understand why/how migrating people to self-service options is important, and equip them with the tools necessary to accomplish this (gently) even with the most stubborn customers.

    Maybe they were trained to be rude to heavy branch users? "Sir, if you'd like courteous service, perhaps you should come in less often?" lol.