This time it is personal

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Excellent personal service does not always need to be delivered face-to-face – and its value cannot be improved nor diminished by such dressing-up.

This time it is personal

Sean Adams

I read recently that NAB is rumoured to be launching a new direct bank brand, operated entirely via the phone and online.

An interesting move when many competitors are focusing on the outstanding experience that customers will receive whenever they visit a branch. Shorter queues, bigger smiles, comfier sofas, fresher coffee.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the entire banking industry is conducting a charm offensive in an attempt to regain the trust of customers, disillusioned by many years of rising fees and corporate greed.

But where does that leave a new entrant with no branches and therefore no public face? How can it possibly compete in the new world where personal service is once again the latest marketing must-have?

But this raises a question. Do you actually need to eyeball someone in order to provide them with excellence in personal service?

When I started thinking about good and bad examples of customer service that I had personally received, I came to an interesting observation.

The worst example of personal service I have received in the last five years (excluding companies who have abandoned service altogether and moved to an offshore call centre and are thus not a fair comparison) came from my bank.

It announced one day that because I was a “valued customer”, I was to be given my own personal banker who would meet regularly with me to “tailor banking to suit my needs”.

However, my initial feeling of importance soon dissipated when I met the clown who had been allocated to look after my money. He managed to combine professional ineptness with a complete lack of people skills that took the breath away. After a while, I stopped returning his calls apart from the denouement where he told me that my service level was now to be downgraded “because the bank isn’t making enough money out of you” (I kid you not).

I contrast this with my pay TV company. I have phoned them on a number of occasions with a variety of technical and general questions.

I have never met any of them and each time I speak to someone different. And yet they are always unfailingly polite and professional, and since they have my complete customer history at their fingertips, they are able to recall incidents that I had long since forgotten.

On one occasion recently, the person I spoke to phoned me back a few minutes later to say “he had been thinking about my problem” and thought it could be related to my cable so he had arranged for a new one to be sent to me. No charge. Just as a precaution.

That to me is real personal service. I had never met this person and probably never will. I had not spoken to him before this exchange either.

The lesson of this story for marketers is that excellent personal service can be delivered through various channels, but must be based on two central foundations – first, a detailed knowledge of your customers and their history of interactions with you; and second, a service culture that empowers your staff to do whatever it takes to solve their problems.

As NAB is doubtless aware, you can do this on the end of a phone or email just as easily as you can face-to-face.


Sean Adams founded his marketing advisory company The Seed in late 2000. Sean has had nearly 20 years advertising experience in Australia and Britain across a range of disciplines – research, planning, account management and media. Over that time he has worked with some of the world’s top advertising agencies, working with many of the world’s leading brands

To read more Sean Adams blogs, click here.



Mark Parker writes: Very good post. It never ceases to amaze me at the disparity in service levels here in Australia. Telcos, banks, transport…  I had a phenomenal experience with a company. I bought a new laptop bag which arrived damaged. The exchange process was superb and it was great to see exceptional customer service in action.



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