Monday, 4 May 2009

'Sorry 'Bout That!'

In December last year Tesco bought out Royal Bank of Scotland's stake in their Tesco Personal Finance (TPF) joint venture for £950m. It now, "plans to develop TPF from a successful, popular collection of financial products to a full-service retail bank in the years ahead". 

You could almost hear a general sigh of relief when Chief Executive Mr Terry Leahy said Tesco Personal Finance would be an "old-fashioned bank dealing mainly with Tesco customers who we know". Hoorah! Someone has noticed that we (the customers) have been through a testing time with banks (and most others, to be fair) telling us what we want rather than listening to what we’d like. 

They have been telling us that we want slick operations with technological ‘solutions’ for all our modern needs delivered in a low cost way that is available ‘24/7’ at the push of a button. Oh dear! Very slick, very alloy, very hi spec and not at all wooden and warm. 

Not that everything old is good and everything new is not. Old fashioned values have a worthy place and innovation does too. The trick is to combine the two. Of the “richest towns in the UK” a theme pops up time and again if you study the list. Most of the top towns have what you might call an old fashioned High Street. There is still a butcher, a baker and probably one of those fantastic hardware stores where you seem to be able to get any odd thing your Mum always used but you haven’t seen for years. 

If they are still there and they are successful then they are not actually stick in the mud retailers holding out as the last bastion of the empire. They are tapping into a particular market for quality goods delivered with quality service. In many ways they are ahead of the current game. 

If we had managed to be clever in the last 20 years and not cut the costs so hard that the old fashioned knowledge went out of the window along with the personal service we would still be able to apply the nice flashy stuff where it was needed to good effect. 

‘Kids of today’ can’t add up. Very true, and how sad. They use their calculator, or more likely now, their phone pad and produce a figure, with no understanding. Exactly the same principle applies to banks and any other service industry in a wider context. The customer gets the standard answer delivered somewhere along the line by computer. I used to call it the book answer but that is no longer appropriate. What is the case though is that no understanding or thought enters into it and there is no discretion for varying what would probably be the right answer in 80% of the cases. 

So we, the customers have to work the system or put up with it all. “Sorry ‘bout that” they trill sweetly having wrecked your day, wasted your trip and driven you to find an overpriced coffee on some  uncomfortable designer sofa surrounded by uncleared plastic detritus, just to calm down.

When the Banks swept away all the Branch systems into a maelstrom of call centres, processing centres/units and conglomerated computer based services they had something of a good idea. But they forgot the personal element . Some went further than others before calling for a turn around. By then it was too late. More fixes took place to recover the important elements of what had been lost. For some years it had all only worked because there were loyal staff left over from the days when they saw everything pass through and they still understood it.  Gradually they went, either through age or encouraged early retirement (displacement).  The Banks were slow to pick up the ‘Training Need’ as they call it. The machines didn’t need servicing all the time so surely part timers could cover?  Meanwhile the refurbishments no longer had a budget, and those High Street locations were white elephants now. The costs no longer made sense. And wasn’t everyone baying to be on the internet these days?

So more machines then,  and people are pleased to use them. You can’t get any sense from the Branch anymore anyway.

In business terms you have to adapt. If you are of a mind to have a clean sweep and brush everything away for the nice new plastic light weight wizzy system, you are probably wrong. Solve one problem and you probably create another. You cannot stay still. There is nothing wrong with change. Applying it is the clever thing.

Take a second look at your plans with an outside consultant. It doesn’t have to cost a lot and it may save you much. In the last week I have managed to stop a good firm putting in a new process that would solve their perceived problem but would have created a dozen more. The second view, from an outside perspective is worth so much. You can get this from Bob Shepherd Associates.



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