AS THEY say, top service trumps product quality.
Over the years, the domestic banking sector has seen a shift amongst players from being product-centric organisations to those that are customer-focused.
Where a product-centric approach would have enabled banks to flourish before, failure to acknowledge the consumer as an integral part of the equation would have spelt doom in today's competitive climate.
Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam, (BIBD) the sole Islamic Bank in the Sultanate, has embarked on the lengthly process of reviewing its customer service standards and ensuring it evolves into something that is "truly Bruneian".
As part of a four-part series on how major organisations in the country build, maintain and enhance customer satisfaction, The Brunei Times spoke to several BIBD staff on the bank's efforts towards attaining customer service excellence.
"To us, customer service in Brunei is being courteous, being resourceful and so on," said Hjh Nurul Akmar Hj Mohd Jaafar, the Deputy Head of Consumer Banking at BIBD.
Wee Wan Chin, the Head of Quality Assurance, said the bank has started providing extensive staff training that is "uniquely BIBD", with a goal of tailoring international customer service standards to the needs of customers in the country.
Wee said this is evident in the way frontline staff greet each customer with a salam (the word for 'peace' in Arabic, often used as a greeting).
In accordance with its "truly Bruneian" philosophy, the bank also makes an effort to be seen in local publications such as BIG Magazine and the Butra Home Concept (BHC) magazine.
The bank also gains exposure by supporting local bloggers and utilising social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Finding out more from the customers
Since 2009, the year the bank launched its 'Wish Campaign', BIBD has been actively conducting surveys and focus groups to gain a deeper understanding of the kinds of products and services that customers need.
On a monthly basis, BIBD conducts a customer rating survey where it gauges a customer's experience using the bank's facilities over a set period of time.
With the focus groups, BIBD handpicks customers from across the country to find out more about what its customers need.
"We find that based on these demographics, they have different types of requirements and it is quite interesting to find out," said Wee.
On top of that, the bank also depends on its frontliners for feedback.
"We get feedback from them and from there we find out about how we can evolve and we try to modify to make the way we serve customers better," she said.
Training employees towards achieving a unified customer service image
The bank recently invested $25 million for upgrade works on existing technology used at the bank. Some of the recent services and products that the bank has churned out to meet the demands of customers include Internet banking, debit card and a call centre.
However, one of the key basic requirements for all the services to take off is that customers want the bank to be reliable and provide them with the right information when needed, said Wee.
"There are different needs for customers. They are able to talk to their personal bankers and relationship managers on that, but the basics are already there. We know what they want, so we work on the masses and cater towards them," said Wee.
The bank has already started a few initial phases of training, which gets "cascaded" down to the frontliners and back office staff.
"We want them to have the same mindset as well and this is the way we set out our internal and external customers as well," said Wee.
David Ng Min Kong, the manager of BIBD's call centre, said the number of calls received by the bank has increased by 300 per cent. On average, the call centre manages about 1,100 calls per day.
While there is no provider of professional call centre training in Brunei, Ng says that motivation is key in training the 28 workers in his team.
"This is one of the jobs (that require high morale), and it always boils down to team leaders and how they lift their team up, how they encourage their team to work harder, and work together," said Ng.
Ng said he brings his team closer together by having experience sharing sessions amongst peers twice a month.
"We sit down as a group and discuss how we handle calls and talk about our most difficult calls and share the experience among one another," he says.
The common challenges that the bank faces is predicting the future. For Ng, he says his call centre department cannot anticipate the kinds of calls that will be coming in.
"In terms of preparations for the team, being alert is one of the key points, so they must be prepared and they must have all their systems available and they have to be resourceful," he said.
Wee said that there is bound to be challenges in meeting customer satisfaction as each customer is unique.
"There are basics day in and day out, and we know how to tackle them by ourselves. But if there are unique ones, normally we work as a team with different people from different departments so we come up with a solution for a particular challenge," she says.
What the future holds for BIBD's customer service approach
"We aim to be the number one locally and to achieve that, a lot of investment has to go in, and I think we are almost there, maybe 60 to 70 per cent," said Nurul. Because customers are also very fluent in terms of product knowledge, their needs moves faster than what the bank can provide. "It becomes like a catch-up game," she said.
Asked whether it is an advantage to the company that Brunei is small and more manageable in terms of market size compared to other countries, Nurul said that it works both ways.
On the one hand she said that it is easier to handle customer service in smaller markets but it will also be easier for unhappy customers to share negative experiences with others.
The bank's solution is to tackle the problem as soon as it shows up, while maintaining a "truly Bruneian" approach in terms of customer service.
"In all international banks, they have their international standards already, but for BIBD's case, we want to be uniquely Bruneian and we are cultured in a way where we know how to handle locals," said Ng.
The Brunei Times
Friday, August 17, 2012
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