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Bank customer service ops migrating from branches to call centres?

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14th Jan 2010
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A researcher’s prediction that retail banks will increasingly shift customer service operations from the high street to call centres seems to be already starting to come true following complaints from small business customers.

Gartner forecast that by 2013, a huge 75% of banks in Western Europe and North America would close down 10% or more of their traditional branches in a bid to cut costs and boost efficiency.

It indicated that branches were likely to focus on high value transactions in future, while low value ones would be dealt with by remote contact centre staff. This situation was likely to lead to the creation of general cash deposit facilities for small businesses, which would serve multiple banks.

And the Bank of Scotland has already come under heavy criticism from small business customers for adopting just that approach. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) told the BBC that members were outraged at being "abandoned" and that being forced to use a call centre in Edinburgh was bad for both them and the bank.

Andy Willox, the FSB’s Scottish policy convener, said that: "Partners, who must make decisions jointly, now need to conduct finance negotiations huddled around a speakerphone. Even returning a call is now a touch-tone labyrinth of security questions."

He added that small businesses were also worried about how they would conduct their finance renewal discussions.

As a result, Willox found it "astonishing" that the Bank of Scotland could claim the situation was what customers wanted when his members were saying "the exact opposite". They were, in fact, receiving "a drop in service level without any drop in their bank charges", he added.

A spokesman at the bank responded that the new system for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) had been introduced after "extensive market research" and that since it was implemented, there had been an increase in both the number of its SME customers and the amount of lending to them.

He added that in "a small number of locations" the majority of contact with customers had been sporadically conducted over the telephone, which meant that it was no longer commercially viable for them to have face-to-face meetings with business managers. Such clients would now be handled by a business manager from one of the bank’s commercial centres, who would travel to meet them on a regular basis.

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