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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Survey on Queues in Banks!

Way back in the early days of 'customer friendly banking', maybe around 1995-96 I remember writing to a customer service center of a nationalized bank complaining how I had to wait for over 15 minutes to complete a transaction where with additional queues it would have just taken about 2 minutes. I really didn't expect anything, but, after a few weeks I was surprised to receive a letter from them stating that during very crowded times they do have additional counters, but, maybe it was not in operation at the time of my visit, any which way they were sorry for wasting my time! Rather neat. Another time, I was in a bank where the teller was unnecessarily delaying issuing of a Draft and I started taking down the customer service number when the branch manager (who had observed me) walked to me and enquired whether I had a problem and asked me that I first have to approach him before I write to the customer service cell. Both were nationalized banks.

The conditions today if anything is nowhere as promising. My bank handles large number of pension accounts and obviously at the beginning of each month there is a large crowd of elderly who are there to collect their monthly pension / returns from investments (the equivalent of a salary for many and in poorer families perhaps that which sustains the family too) and they are subjected to extreme humiliation.

Firstly most of our banks are not designed to cater to people. If there are large number of accounts, then it makes sense to have the bank in a larger premises with seating arrangements. We don't need sofa's in banks, more like the metal chairs that are now part of every railway station in the country. Our banks for some strange reasons seem to have less than a tenth of seating capacity to its highest transaction time crowd. So, obviously people will have to stand around. More people standing around in a closed environment always gives the impression of something is going wrong or about to go wrong.

Second, the stupid system of part-computerised, part-manual method that is still followed in many nationalized banks. Either they become fully computerized or they switch back to their manual systems. Only our banks can have the 'system is not working, we don't know when it will be all right' at the middle of a busy business hour as a valid transaction excuse. I have been a victim several times of this malfunctioning system. People have no way to know when the computers will work, because there is no resident computer service personnel nor does any of the bank employees ever get trained on how to tackle things. In one branch I saw the entire staff convene at a safe distance from the customers just to ensure that they are not lynched. While at that I should also mention the utter unreliability of some of the ATMs (some other time).

Third, banks don't believe in treating people as customers. Still like the policemen in the roads, they tend to treat customers as some kind of low level creatures on whom they are bestowing a great reward by transacting with them. I often wonder why not organize all the elders who are regular pensioners in a branch and make them manage the crowd coming for the pension transactions at least. They can help the bank to manage the crowd during those busy two - three days and ensure that the pensioners are also felt like they are important to the bank. It can only provide yet another local platform for the elders to interact from and perhaps may find ready volunteers.

Four, corruption is high in banks. So,what is surprising?! The worst thing for some one in a queue is to find this sneeky oily little rat who will always go past every line right into the cabin to get his work done and even flirt with the rest of the staff. Nothing can be more frustrating if you are 65 years old, come early in the morning to withdraw your pension, have been issued that stupid metal token and while you wait in the queue for over an hour, there is this chap sneaking in and out in a jiffy with his transaction over. Some banks have touts hanging around the place who in the process of helping the customers also broadcast and manage the corruption of the bank officials.

Customer service call centers doesn't work. At least the one bank I have tried, I have to go through so many automated menu's that at the end of it when I reach the message that says, 'wait and some one will attend to you', I feel like kicking someone.

Despite its longer queues, I think the railways with their innovative music chair arrangement have made the ticket booking not such a bad exercise. People have been made to feel comfortable and perhaps this adds to how they behave at the counter.

Queues are unavoidable in a heavily populated country, but, queues can be managed only if those who are servicing the queue were to respect those who are part of the queue I feel. If there is no respect for the pensioner in the bank, the ticket seeker in the railway station or the poor women who is about to collect her annual government gratis from the tehsildar office (or in the RTO office or in the ration shop, .....the very many places in which the servant of the government makes people queue up). Couple of years back, Chennai witnessed the tragic death of people in a stampede resulting from bad queue management, a good example of how a badly managed queue behaves badly too.

Now to the survey which does provide some very interesting results. I am particularly surprised that more than 20% have actually rescheduled their business plans because of the queue. One should estimate the loss of productivity and loss of opportunity and perhaps extrapolate the economic impact of the queue if possible. Many bank unions start talking of the NPA of large corporate houses whenever there is talk of more private banks, perhaps one should see how many banks are NPAs or contribute towards creating NPAs.

June 07, 2007 09:38 IST

Indians across the country are getting increasingly frustrated and losing their patience with the serpentine queues for banking, ticketing and bill payments.

'Bank' queues have been identified as the single-biggest queue problem by 84 per cent of the respondents to a just-released NCR Corporation Queue Frustration survey conducted by ACNielsen. They spend close to an hour waiting in queues.

This is closely followed by 'ticketing' queues at 80 per cent and 'bill payment' queues at 27 per cent.

The survey also reveals that 26 per cent of the all-India respondents had little patience with service providers too, having switched to another service provider offering better self-service solutions.

The survey also reveals that waiting in queues goes much beyond frustration as 60 per cent of respondents got really angry, 23 per cent respondents admit to have cancelled or rescheduled important business plans, 22 per cent of respondents had an argument, and 20 per cent have pushed in line as a result of queue frustration.

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