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I have visited my local bank branch twice this year. On the first visit, in May, I found a surprise when entering the door. The surprise had taken the form of a small service desk, and a smiling young lady beside it who welcomed me, enquired as to what I was hoping to achieve with my visit to the bank this day, and how she might be of assistance.

Recovering from my surprise, I announced that I needed some gift cheques, and she promptly proceeded to do all in her powers to help me reach my goal. It soon became obvious that her powers were limited to informing me of which service desk I should be targeting,  handing me a number from the queueing system, and smiling encouragingly.

The bank had apparently hired a service attendant, or more likely a Retail Banking Customer Support Representative, or whatever the correct union approved title may be. As I was standing there with my queue number, I gave this some thought.

My first thought was that this might mark a remarkable shift in the bank’s view of customer service at branch offices. For years the thinking had been that the only thing that customers brought to the bank offices was sand in their feet, and the banks did all they could to discourage customer form showing up at the branch. They did this on the other hand by providing state of the art internet banking, and on the other hand by raising service fees at the counter and accumulating queues that competed with the hottest nightclubs in town. But now they had spent money on making the branch office customer experience a more pleasant one. One elderly gentleman, whom the service person patiently helped to use a bill payment machine, may even have been encouraged to visit the branch more often.

My second thought was that the clearly improved service level actually did nothing to cut down the queueing time. Would it make more sense to (wo)man one of the empty service counters, to actually move the queue along more quickly? Then again, the difference might be marginal, and whilst the friendly reception did not lessen the waiting time, it made me feel a lot less bad about it.

My other visit to the bank this year was this week. I again encountered the service desk at the door: it was no longer a surprise, but this time it was empty. I made my way in all by myself, and even got the ticket from the queueing system without incident, but could not help feeling a bit disappointed.

When I reached the service counter, I found behind it the same young lady who in spring had been employed to improve the customer experience at the door. The bank had had the same thought as I did, and as a result had reallocated a customer service resource, ie. transferred the nice lady behind the counter.

I was not sure what to think. The transfer no doubt diminished the waiting time, but that was not apparent to me in the queue, and thus did not increase my happiness as much as it should have. The friendly reception at the door did nothing concrete to further my cause, but made me feel better. A typical case of rationale versus emotion. In customer service, emotion quite often wins.

What do you think?

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