Santander and the Disposable Client

We are all constantly  bombarded with articles about banks individually or collectively wronging their customers to the point that we seem to have built resistance to being indignant.

It’s no secret that, for reasons that warrant attentive study, many account holders have developed a Stockholm-syndrome-like relationship with their bank where a hefty amount of “Irrational Loyalty” makes them immensely more permissive towards being given poor levels of customer support. Last week’s story though, is taking the cake.

Santander sent a letter threatening to close a customer’s account.

Let that sink in. Close. Her. Account.


Was this because she failed to maintain any of her contractual obligations? No. Was it because they suspected she is involved with any dodgy activities? Nope. Was it because she failed any payments? No Siree. It was because she made an offhand remark in a conversation with a customer representative that offended them.

Now for those of you not familiar with the story you’d be forgiven to think the poor woman lost her cool following one of the many failed interactions with her bank, where they upheld their firm habit of failing to serve her, and finally gave the bank, through their representative, the phone worker, a piece of her mind. (After all that’s incidentally the primary reason why AI will be slow to completely replace workers in branches or on calls, in my opinion, because it’s infinitely more satisfactory to scream at a human when we can’t take it anymore.)

That’s not what happened. While in the process of making a human connection and trying to make conversation Mrs. Leigh mentioned a term recently coined by the media about his place of residence. The man was from Bradford which was recently dubbed “CurryLand” in the press as it has the highest concentration of restaurants providing the delicious dish in the country. She remarked on that probably in much the same way she would have remarked on tulips about Amsterdam or on chocolate about Switzerland, mindless small talk designed to further the conversation and then promptly, forgot about it. Imagine her shock when receiving the letter all but accusing her of racism and threatening to close her account.

If we leave the Political-Correctness-gone-mad angle out of it let’s look at it from the perspective of Santander – if you listen to their PR teams, examine their marketing and watch their latest acquisitions in FinTech, you’d be thinking they are well on their way to the trendy state of CX Nirvana – being “Customer Obsessed”.

And then they send this to Mrs. Leigh:

Should there be repeats of this behaviour when contacting us, we may have no option but to review our banking relationship with you and we may then decide it is in everyone’s interests for you to seek alternative banking arrangements.’

Oh dear.

Now don’t get me wrong, no one claims banks can turn into Zappos over night and drill the importance of PEC (Personal Emotional Connection) into their employees while expecting them to be fiercely invested in making their caller happy like they do, but “seek alternative banking arrangements“?!?

It’s not like we expect Santander to surprise and delight Mrs. Leigh or that they would wow her with relevant and emotionally charged Money Moments™ she would fondly recall for years to come and that would turn her into a fervent brand advocate, but “review our banking relationship“?!?

It’s not exclusively Satander’s fault either.

This – the lack of customer service excellence, the subpar digital experience, the absence of true desire to serve, it all amounts to an abusive relationship and we, the battered consumers, stick around. We have to take some responsibility for it. They don’t know any better, we don’t switch banks, we don’t leave, we stick around and stick it out again and again. We have to shake the victim mentality and collectively sanction it before it will get better. We can’t carry on with the inferiority complex and this diffuse feeling that banks are doing us a favour by engaging and as a result, constantly demand so much less out of them than we do of any other service provider.

Even taking a closer look at the amount of attention this story got is telling. The field day the press should have had with this, yet the Little Britain”Computer says “no” and the “no soup for you!” Seinfeld Soup Nazi references are nowhere to be seen. It has only been reported in a handful of fringe or weekend papers and main media has, so far, stayed away from it. That’s likely because of the “Snowflake angle” but what if it is also a symptom of our general resilience and nonchalance to the dismal levels of service we get from our banks. What if they deemed it unimportant because “hey, it’s just banks, what do you expect?”

Back to Santander though. The banker that wrote that letter is the banker who is meant to have the passion and knowledge to put the customer at the heart of every interaction. The banker that wrote that letter is who is meant to keep clients coming back to Santander when they could bank with Starling or even Amazon. More terrifyingly, the banker who wrote that will be informing AI.

Good luck to Santander and good luck to us all.

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