Money is personal, so why aren’t most banks?
First Direct often gets recognised for its customer service, and while we never take awards for granted we’re really proud to have been acknowledged over the years with multiple awards for this.
There’s no secret formula for great customer service, but it is personal. By this I mean taking time to treat people how you’d want to be treated yourself.
In the beginning…
Customers have been front and centre of everything first direct does since day one. In fact, when we sat down 28 years ago to decide how to create this new bank, one word was written down in the middle of the piece of paper: ‘customer’. Everything else came from this, and that still holds true today. It doesn’t matter what the industry is, to create exceptional customer service, that’s not only professional, but relatable, too, you need to hire exceptional people. So that’s what we do.
When we hire people, we’re first and foremost looking for people who are passionate, open-minded, creative people. People who are loud and proud. We want to work with people-people; the kind of person customers’ want to spend time with, and actually enjoy the conversation.
How to make friends and hire people
To do this we’ve always hired for attitude and trained for skill. That way, we guarantee our people live and breathe a great attitude towards customer care. The technical parts of the role can be taught, but the rest needs to be there from the beginning. It’s not just about hiring friendly people and leaving them to learn the ropes though. Our training programme is comprehensive, and even once they’re up and running we’ve an ongoing support system in place to offer continuous development for everyone who works here.
Providing clear career paths and development in place is essential, because if we want people to commit to us they need to be able to see how they can grow with us. In fact, many of our people have been with us since launch, and our attrition rates compare well to most other similar organisations. It means we’ve got some really experienced people, who’ve worked across different departments and know how everything works and how to get things done.
Happy Employees = Happy Customers
Keeping our people engaged with the business also means providing services to make their lives easier. We spend so much of our time at work – we’re mindful of making sure we offer ways to keep happy and healthy. On site, we provide a concierge service, a nursery, restaurants, and a gym, and regularly organise events and pop-up shops. Our active sports and social set-up allows us to tap into our sponsorship network with links to the first direct arena and Northern Ballet. We have regular events and excursions for people to enjoy with their friends and families too.
We might not quite be a family-run business, but we do have staff who first brought their children to the nursery, and who’ve grown up and joined first direct – putting their own children in the nursery! This continuity cannot be underestimated and makes people want to work hard for each other – resulting in a better experience for customers. We work hard to remember we’re humans first and bankers second. That way, we treat customers with the care, consideration, professionalism, and helpfulness they might not get everywhere else.
The Nitty Gritty
There’s no point having the best people if they can’t speak to customers, so we don’t have IVR (interactive voice response), and all our calls are answered by real people. Coupled with this service is a range of exceptional products which are highly competitive against the rest of the financial market. We aim to stay in the top quartile of rates in the UK, giving customers what they need to be satisfied.
Pulling everything together is our multi-channel approach to banking. Many more of our customers use our digital channels to bank with, so we need to constantly try and stay ahead of the curve and make sure however customers get in touch, the quality of our services has to be exceptional. Whether a customer chooses to engage over the phone, on a mobile or tablet, or on their computer, or through telekinesis (joking – we are not quite there yet) we don’t mind – we just want the experience to be amazing.
So what’s the formula for great customer service?
Remember that customers vote with their feet. If they have a bad experience they might leave. You need to give them a reason to stay with you, that reason being the great services built and delivered by great people. And we try to exceed their expectations of what dealing with a bank can be like. It’s personal.
Joe Gordon, Head of First Direct