Listen to your customers: they often know where you’re going before you do – @levie

Just over a month ago, I wrote a blog post about how not to destroy a great brand, it’s subject: GTBank. It was easy – the flaws were there, customers had been complaining and it didn’t seem there was much being done by the bank to fix the problems. I probably should not have put that post on my personal blog – suddenly, hundreds of people were visiting my blog everyday, reading, sharing and leaving comments on a blog that had previously just been there as my sounding board.

In hindsight now, it was inevitable that I would get a call from GTBank concerning that post. It only took a month to happen. This post is mostly about that call, and the events that followed. It also is probably the most difficult I have ever written.

The first time I visited the GTBank head office, I expected at least a mild air of hostility from the their communications team. The day before, I had called my lawyer as soon as I got the call from GTBank’s representatives, to be sure that we are ready with a defence, should we need it. However, there were no threats. The communications lead was very businesslike, almost nice. I’m not sure what the team thought about me when I walked in, but if they felt any animosity, they did a great job of masking it.

Straight away, the lead went on to tell me she has read the blog, and held no grudges, as she understood it was written by someone who meant well for the bank. Next on, I heard a five minute introduction to how GTBank works, the commitment to quality, the QC process and how customer complaints are handled. In the end, I realised they must know about all the troubles the bank has – and they confirmed this. “Yes, the bank understands the issues, and is working on them”, they said.

The summary of the opening presentation was that:

  • GTBank is already aware of all these issues.
  • They are glad the customers hold them in such high regard.
  • They did not expect the amount of growth they had in the last two years, and obviously, that’s taken a toll on the banks resources, and they’re currently working hard at fixing the shortfalls.
  • Taking down the 3rd party transfer from Savings accounts, for example, was a pro-active security measure – it just was not communicated properly.
  • The internet banking platform is currently undergoing major improvement work, and should improve user experience and performance as soon as the changes are implemented.

When I got the call from GTBank, I didn’t only call a lawyer and my advisers, I also prepared a presentation which laid out in very simple language the source of my disappointment with the bank, how some of the issues may be fixed. To tell the truth, the presentation savaged GTBank services, and had a line that effectively said the new website is “absolute nonsense”. The presentation ended with a little final statement – if it was hoped somewhere that the blog post will be taken down, that it was not going to happen, because that would not solve any of the problems highlighted in it. Luckily, that point never came up, as far as I could hear.

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In the end, the team went line by line through each of the issues I raised, and addressed them. Obviously they had prepared for the meeting, but that in itself bought my respect.

Before my meeting ended on Friday, I had requested my hosts to please send me detailed summaries of their improvement strategy, what they are currently doing to improve services, and the the numbers to support those activities. On Thursday evening, I got an email with the subject “Thank you”. Thank you was a reference to GTBank’s appreciation of the customer’s (me) comments, suggestions and recommendations, and was followed with a deck of information on how GTBank is fixing service quality (only excerpts shown).

Over the last two weeks, I have had two meetings with big communications people at GTBank, exchanged a couple of emails, and even had discussions on fixing some of the problems the bank has. Best thing I can say is that GTBank seems to understand that gaps exist in their services and platforms, and if their teams are to be believed, they are working to fix the problems. I also think they believe in constructive criticism. There are potentially thousands of reasons why my post went viral, but I have come to think, for the most part it was because many people who complain about GTBank truly love the bank and would love it to succeed.

In 2010, the world was introduced to a new brand management strategy by Steve Jobs. After reading that story, I realised that there’s no better way to promote one’s brand than getting full on with customers and stakeholders and addressing their issues. After my meetings with GTBank, and the subsequent emails, I found more reason to respect the brand. They may not have addressed all my problems, and my friend still has outstanding internet banking issues to deal with; but I am just one little customer, and top level GTBank staff spent hours to convince me that the bank was doing it’s best to improve services and banking platforms.

The questions on customer experience and quality of service remain. I know now what GTBank’s plans for the future, and hopefully they can communicate these better to their customers, but how soon are those changes coming in?

I was privileged to meet a guy from IT, whose ideas told me that the bank is thinking right along the same directions as I was thinking, in terms of technology (I can’t resist saying that our UI guys are a little better than their UI guys), but how soon are these changes coming on stream? GTBank is seriously working on staying ahead of the market with their Internet Banking platform, but how soon will these changes happen?

Of course, being a big bank, stuff takes a little longer to get done, approved and tested. But maybe the management could create special R&D silos, which have direct access to the decision makers, so they don’t get caught up in the bureaucracy. That’s what Steve Jobs and Jony Ives did at Apple, which built up a 10 year advantage in product innovation.

A focus group would be great for GTBank too. In my head, GTBank is not a bank - it’s a brand, built on great banking products. Often times though, a successful product team could get stuck. This is where a focus group helps. Feedback and ideas could be crowdsourced from people who love the brand and would love to see it succeed. And the cost of this could be as expensive as a few cups of coffee and open communication channels.

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On Tuesday, the 20th of November, I took a ‘trip’ to GTBank Ikoyi to make an FX deposit (hint: I shouldn’t have to ‘source’ for FX and pay into the bank. Why can’t I buy from the bank? CBN?). Of course I wasn’t just there for a transaction. This was my first time back in a GTBank branch my meeting at GT HQ, so I was looking out closer than normal. First thing I noticed was that I did not recognise any of the guys I knew at the branch, but there was no queue in the banking hall, as the staff were getting around very busily.

The customer care desk was no longer where it used to be – instead, there was a single desk with a self service desktop computer on it, for internet banking. Cool, I thought, except it looked rather random the way it sat there, and could have done with a decent potted plant on the side to give it character. I went straight to the pay counter, where I was next in line for service. My turn came quickly enough, but I had forgotten my FX account number. The customer care lady didn’t smile, but she helped by telling my to just write my current account number and all will be well. It was. I was done in less than 3 minutes.

As I was leaving, I noticed that there was a recessed hall to the right of the entrance, where a decently sized customer care desk was. The bank had apparently expanded the customer care desk, and people seemed to be getting served rather efficiently. I only wished the hall was more obvious as I walked into the bank earlier. Like having a really bold sign that tells me I can get help ‘here’.

I see here how GTBank is trying to improve the experience in banking halls. It could be better, but I hope whatever the bank is currently planning and doing to improve the experience of customers, it does quickly. The customers who truly love their bank will appreciate it.

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Because I also had to deal with a lot of random people asking if I was writing so GTBank would ‘pay’ me, and probably will have to answer if this post was paid for by the brand, I must clearly state that I was not paid then, and haven’t been paid to write this follow up. If two cups of coffee qualify as payment, then maybe I have been paid, otherwise, we could all treat this as a conversation between a brand and a friend.