Despite recent reforms in the Nigerian banking industry to make them more robust in securing the money of their depositors, customers and other stakeholders, there are clear indications that the sector needs a closer look in terms of its customer relationship management. The banking industry, as a service sector, is generally characterised by three of the five recognised features of service. These include intangibility, inseparability and heterogeneity. While intangibility refers to the non-physical nature of services, inseparability means that the rendering and consumption of services are done at the same time. This makes a bank-customer relationship an emotional/customer experience driven process where the quality of service is measured by how the customer is treated in the course of interacting with the bank.
Heterogeneity, which is the last of the three features, identified the role of human beings involved in the consumer service process. This feature sees service as an act of performance that cannot be repeated the same way when performed by the people involved in attending to consumers. Even in sectors, such as the banking industry, where there are standardized procedures of attending to clients, yet, human interaction makes service rendering a heterogeneous venture. From the analysis, it is argued that the management of Nigerian banks should understand the context of their operations especially for those commercial banks.
It is equally important to have a clear understanding of the process of the customer experience while patronising a bank. There is pre-service stage, service stage and post-service stage. The pre service stage is the point where customers are looking for a banking firm to bank with. Here, they have the alternatives to select from. The actual service encounter is the point at which customers relate with the banks in order to meet their financial needs. In short, it covers service requests, interaction with the personnel of the service provider and service delivery. The post service stage is the stage where the consumers review their experience with the service encounter. It is the point where the consumer’s expectation is reflected against the quality of the service outcome. The consumer evaluates the service experience against the perceived expectations. At this stage, future intentions to purchase are also determined.
A satisfied consumer whose perceived expectations are met by the quality of service may not only return to make a repurchase of the service but also tell others about their experiences and vice versa. This shows that banks, as a service sector operator, must have an efficient, seamless customer relationship management. But, the question is – is this the experience? The answer to this question is in the negative drawing from personal experience and complaints from some bank customers.
The first complaint is that of Mutiu Iyanda. He is an account holder with Access Bank who has not been able to resolve a 3-month complaint of a blacklist of his account. According to the angry and dejected customer of the bank, he has not been able to meet his financial responsibilities which has affected him badly. He detailed his attempts to get the issue resolved and the stumbling blocks he has continued to meet both at the branch where his account is domiciled and even from the head office of the Herbert Wigwe-led bank. How could the resolution of a compliant could still be pending three month after it was lodged? Why should a digital problem require an analogue situation? These are questions for Access Bank, Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Central Bank of Nigeria who are the regulators of the banking sector.
The second complaint comes from a colleague, John Ogunlela. He holds an account with First City Monument Bank. He had some issues to be urgently resolved, he found it difficult reaching the customer service. He quickly came to his Facebook page to call out the bank. He queried, “Dear #fcmb, your website is unnerving – it has no Contact Us. I need to talk to you and I’ve gone round and round the site and can’t find any link to how I can get in touch. No phone numbers, form or email address. It is unbelievable. Please inbox me your Customers Services numbers if you’re reading this. Thank you.” Upon help from a Facebook friend, who sent a Direct Message to him on how he could locate the buttons to get across to his bank on its own website, he still had a terrible experience. He narrated : “I finally found it under Learn More, tucked inside Customer Service, a plain text in a list under My Bank and I, down the page. Apparently this is a secret the customer is supposed to spend time digging out. And thank you, Abayomi Alao.”
It did not end there. He recounted his experience further: “So, I call and call. The voice prompt says I should “be rest assured” that so and so. I panic mildly at the disastrous grammar. The voice asks to enter account number, which I do, then it asks to press 1 or 2 to report card or fraud issue. Since I am not reporting fraud or a card issue, I disregard the statement. Pronto the call terminates. Then, I try the Whatsapp contact option. The faint double tick shows the message is diverted to the device. Seven hours later I am still waiting for a reply. The email I sent is also seven hours old. FCMB customer service desk used to be one of the best and it was midnight here. They kept on top of it and called me ceaselessly until I was okay. I am sad for them this is how they now operate. I will have to start all this tomorrow because I just won’t brave those Covid queues and crowds in the banking hall.”
It is easy to punch this argument based on the small number of the dissatisfied customers cited. However, the seriousness of the situations for the two banks would be better appreciated when the efficacy of the words of mouth especially in this digital era is taken into consideration. John Ogunlela has not less than 4,458 followers on Facebook where he shared his predicament. Mutiu Iyanda too has access huge following on an international blog that he writes for and where he has written an open letter to the Access Bank’s CEO, Herbert Wigwe. He has as well lodged a complaint with the Federal Competition and Consumers’ Protection Commission.
Again, considering the environment of the banking service, it is critical that banks ensure memorable experience for their customers. Whether on digital platforms or in the banking hall. The two complaints are representative of the issues an average bank customer deals with in Nigeria. Discomforting and hurtful experiences of the customers, such as the ones narrated above, has the tendency to affect financial inclusion drive of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Insights drawn from a study reveal that despite the fact that Nigerian commercial banks have digitalized their operations, their customers still face a great deal of issues as they process their daily banking transactions. The customers still have to fill forms, queue within the banking halls waiting to be attended to. This is against the 2017 cashless policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria. That Nigerian commercial banks are claiming digital prowess but operating on an analogue mode is counter-productive to the financial inclusion drive of the apex bank. In a 2017 Global Findex Database, 40% of Nigerian adults have an account with a bank or a mobile money provider. The report further revealed that Nigeria and six other countries contribute nearly half of the globe’s unbanked population of 1.7 billion.
In conclusion, it is important to continue to ask questions on the digital banking practices in the Nigerian banking industry. How would a bank whose processes have been digitalized find it difficult to enable a seamless digital consumer service contact? In the same vein, how could Access Bank not able to resolve a complaints for three months? Where is the intelligent bank as claimed by the bank’s Chief Executive Officer? The complaints of the two customers are different in scope but are tilted towards the same direction- the digital platforms should ensure issues are resolved with customers’ minimal or no contact with the banking halls.