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Banks are champions of customer service. (Not!)

Just last week we read with interest an announcement by Citigroup; America's fourth largest bank in terms of its assets. It said that it is hoping to "radically change or improve" customers' experience while cutting costs. It went on to say that its aim is to use AI (artificial intelligence) to improve the client experience.

A couple of days passed and a reader of the Financial Times voiced his reaction on the letter page. The New Yorker’s letter was highly critical of Citigroup's chief executive Mike Corbat. He wrote "Calls to Citigroup customer service will surely become long, arduous “journeys”, as Mr Corbat calls them. Perhaps he has never been sent to a phone menu hell, trying to resolve account issues."

We can see both points of view. If artificial intelligence and voice biometrics genuinely work, the customer may get quicker answers to their questions. This could improve customer experience. However, we are suspicious of such claims. Is the aim of Citigroup to genuinely improve customer experience or is it to remove costs? Our suspicion is that cost reduction is the key driver and the pill is being sugared with a promise of better service.

Banks are not exemplary models of great customer experience. We have seen them reduce the number of outlets on the High Street. We have witnessed excessive and hidden fees. I remember back in 2015 Chase and Citibank both refusing our custom because we didn’t have the right profile – despite years of profits, zero overdraft and substantial bank deposits. At the time they said they didn’t want “small” and “international” business customers. Fortunately we were welcomed by HSBC. However the disruption in being forced to change banks was considerable. It is hardly surprising that a promise to improve customer experience by using robots to answer the phone is not being welcomed with open arms.


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