RBS NatWest's 'Technical Problem' - What Can We Learn?

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Andy Hanselman Consulting
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First things first. This is NOT a rant against RBS NatWest Bank – It is just a few observations about their ‘problem’ and what the implications may be for them and for others in business!

Let’s be honest, things go wrong in business and we all make mistakes. Some are small, some big, and some absolutely massive! I suspect that this one which has potentially affected 12 million RBS NatWest customers is at the ‘massive’ end of things, but what can we (they?) learn?

Lesson 1: ‘Deal With Disappointment And Be Seen To Be Doing So!

‘Dealing with Disappointment’ is a key ingredient of 3D Characteristic #3: Create Delighted and Devoted Customers. It means spotting and dealing with problems when customers have a ‘disappointing experience’, namely that their expectations have not been met. Crucially, it’s about being seen to be spotting and dealing with them!

A starting point has to be ‘spotting the problem’, and crucially letting customers know you’ve spotted it.RBS Nat West appear to have been slow in doing this - We spotted it in our office when we went online and recognised that something was wrong. However, there was no apparent recognition by RBS NatWest. So where do you turn to find out what’s going on? Twitter of course! It was rife with tweets, comments and rants! The power and speed of ‘Word Of Mouse’ which clarifies and / or exasperates the situation!

Lesson 2: The Power Of ‘Word Of Mouse’!

The ‘traditional’ TV news picked up on it and the next day the papers were full of it – obviously, RBS NatWest’s ‘spokespeople’ were saying sorry, but I can’t help feeling that their words were drowned out by all the negativity – at the end of the day, a young couple who couldn’t move into their new dream home is always going to be more impactive than someone in a suit saying sorry, and lots of other unaffected customers ‘just getting on with things’.

I got a text on Friday explaining briefly that money might not have reached my account and apologising for any problems caused – short, factual and apologetic and asuring me that they were looking into the ‘problem’. Adverts appeared in the newspapers, along with assurances from RBS NatWest that branches were staying open longer hours and at the weekend to sort out problems. By now, the ‘Twitterworld’ was rampant with negativity (tales of woe and quite a bit of humour in there too!).

I heard Susan Allen, the RBS Director Of Customer Service at RBS Group on Radio 4′s Moneybox on Saturday and thought she did well. Under quite aggressive questioning it was good to hear her stand up and be counted, apologise, take personal responsibility and be accountable for the troubles caused. She agreed to deal with the ‘specific’ issues raised personally and committed the bank to financially compensating customers for the problems created.

Advertisements appeared in the papers again apologising and explaining that branches are open, and I’ve had a text telling me that the problem has now been rectified and that branch staff are there to help me, which is good.

I also got this video produced by a customer who couldn’t go out on Friday night (which has obviously gone ‘viral’) (Please be aware, there are rude words in it, but it is cleverly done!)

Here’s a thought – could, should the likes of RBS NatWest ’fight fire with fire’? Would a good way to get through to and engage with their customers be to do it via social media as well as the ‘traditional’ methods? I’m not suggesting ‘funny videos’, but perhaps they need to revisit how they get their ‘good news’ out there? Apparently there is a Twitter feed, although this doesn’t seem to have ‘done the job’!

Lesson 3: The ‘Cost’ Is Not Just Refunds!

So, what does it all mean? Well, RBS NatWest have clearly acknowledged that they have got it wrong, they’ve fixed the ‘problem’ and they’ve promised to sort things out. It’s clearly going to cost them (and by definition ‘us’ as shareholders!) a lot of money to do this: extra overtime and staffing costs by opening 1200 banks until late and on Sundays, increased advertising costs, waiving overdraft costs, and of course the compensation payouts to their (and other banks’) customers. However, I can’t help feeling that the biggest issue and the real ‘cost’ is in reputation and potential lost customers!

Lesson 4: It’s Not Just RBS Nat West’s Problem!

However, this may not only affect RBS NatWest, the problem could also impact on other banks too! In a world where many are seen as ‘same as’, could this be the time that lots of banking customers start looking to see if there is an ‘alternative’? For example, the ’new kids on the block’ (Metro, Virgin and Aldemore) appear to be offering a ‘new approach’, and discussions we’ve been having with some of our clients point to real ‘forward thinking’ from some of our banks in the way they deal with their customers, which is great news. It will be interesting to see how the different banks differentiate themselves in their marketplaces in the coming months – watch this space!

Lesson 5: It Could Happen To You!

We’re in a fast moving world where customer expectations are on the rise and the speed of bad news spreading is accelerating. If things go wrong in your business, customers will shout about it.

It’s worth pointing out that it’s not all bad news! If things go brilliantly in your business, customers will shout about that too!

Why not take that lesson, learn from it and do something about it?

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