For a bank that recently had a programme that promotes kindness and putting their customers first, recent events have shown that First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Nigeria’s oldest banking institution, is yet to fully grasp the art of customer service.
My journey with First Bank began when we had to open salary accounts with it, after I was employed at NEXT newspaper in 2008. I believe I opened my account at their Lapal House Branch, Lagos Island, the building which also housed NEXT. Before then, I doubt if I had any previous banking relationship with them. Knowing how some Nigerian banks are, I have weathered the storm with them over the years, the days of long queues, the days of shorter queues; the days of pleasant staff, the days of not so pleasant staff.
However, nothing in my years of banking with them, and with any other bank for that matter, prepared me for what I was to experience at a First Bank banking hall the other day. It all began when very recently, I wanted to use my card at the ATM, and the transaction was declined. I proceeded to go use it at a POS, the transaction didn’t go through. I also wasn’t able to perform transactions on my mobile app. It was then I knew something was wrong.
I had to figure it out that it could be because of my name change. You see, when my GTBank ATM expired, the bank in which I had done my BVN, I changed my last name from Bangudu to that of my husband. I had, however, not gone to First Bank to effect the change there.
The bank just froze the account. Just like that! That was the first straw. No courtesy to inform me that there was now a discrepancy in the name and that of the account that had my BVN origin. No communication, such as: ‘Dear customer, we have noticed some discrepancies in your account details. Please, visit any of our branches.’ Okay, after freezing the account, no informing the customer, like: ‘Dear customer, your account has been frozen due to errors noted in your account details. Please, visit any of our branches to rectify it”. Nothing! You just had to discover yourself by getting embarrassed at the ATM or POS or over the counter, or some other way.
My sister had sent some money to me and that was the money I went to withdraw. First Bank, you knew, or you didn’t, that my account details had error(s), yet you could receive money on the said account, but couldn’t release it, because of the said error? How hypocritical!
Anyway, last week, I went to the bank. It is the only branch I am aware exists in Kubwa, FCT. I armed myself with the necessary document that could be required of me, as I already had an idea it could be the name-change. I had planned that I may spend an hour or at least two, to fill all the forms, queue, and be attended to. I know this time budget is ridiculous already, but given the state of our banks, whose staffers act as if they are doing you a favour, I decided to be that benevolent.
If I had known what was ahead on this very day, I would have spent at least half the time and energy I spent in the front of the mirror, praying for patience and longsuffering to bear what was ahead. But alas, as the mere mortal that I am, I was busy feeling myself, feeling chic and fly. On getting to the bank last week Monday, I sighted the customer service queue. It was ridiculous. I took a spot. A man was attending to the queue, giving forms. I stated my concern and got the forms, which I began to fill.
After standing in the queue for a while, I noticed that it was barely moving. It dawned on me that it was only one staff attending to people. I had begun to lose my patience; and all the ‘babe’ feeling was beginning to fizzle out. The place was getting stuffy. Customers were getting impatient. People were joining a queue that was barely moving.
It seemed like the bank had just carried out an exercise on customers’ details and had to freeze accounts, with errors and mismatches. As a result, they should have made proper arrangement to see that sufficient hands were on ground to attend to customers, as they were sure to come, calling. It was a shock to behold that only one lady was attending to customers. With the number of people waiting, even five people would not have been too much to attend to the now impatient customers.
The other lady who I believe should have also been attending to customers was hardly on her seat. It was a terrible experience. To cap it all, inside forces – other bankers from inside – would come and distract the one lady attending to customers.
Before long, I started hearing comments such as: ‘Chairman, free that babe now, make she attend to us”… “This is no longer First Bank, this is Last Bank”. To say the place was becoming a market place is an understatement. There was no explanation or apology from the bank officials as to why only one person was attending to such a queue. They just left us shouting and lamenting there as some people of no consequence. It was so bad that at some point, two customers were almost about slapping each other. I believe if the bank had taken better care of us, customers wouldn’t have to turn on each other out of frustration.
It finally got to my turn. The bank official was nice. I don’t know how she managed to be that collected despite all the pressure on her. She attended to me, and to think that after many hours on the queue, I left in good spirit. She said that the process would take about 72 hours.
I went to the bank, Monday October 16, a week later, in high hopes that my account would have been unfrozen, and I will be able to make my transactions. I stood on the customer service queue and then went to meet the lady (another lady) attending to people on the queue, with my account name and number; to help me check if my account has been unfrozen, as the second person that was supposed to attend to customers was barely available. She told me to join the queue. This queue we are talking about is one that takes about 30 minutes to attend to a customer.
I, however, just wanted to check if my account had been unfrozen. I had joined that queue the previous week and the lady that attended to us was checking people’s account for them and telling them why their accounts were frozen. They dropped their name and number on her table and she will check it for them. It would have been very ridiculous to join the queue, that type of queue, that was barely moving because there was just one bank official attending to people. It was no fault of the customers that the branch is under-staffed.
When she told me to join the queue, I then requested for a withdrawal slip. I remember that the previous week I went, the lady who attended to us (the people standing on the queue) also attended to customers with withdrawal slips. Once again, it was ridiculous to have these set of people join this type of queue. Another queue could have been arranged for people who just wanted to check their accounts and sign their withdrawal slips, as it took about two minutes to attend to each of this category of customers. However, Nigeria’s first and oldest bank did not think it wise to do so.
The lady gave me a withdrawal slip. I filled it and put it on her table and went back to the queue. After a while, I went to meet her. This woman had been mean, but I had chosen to ignore it. Now, she told me pointblank that she was not going to check (if my account has been unfrozen). She told me I would (take the slip and) queue at the withdrawal queue, and then if my account was still unfrozen, I would come back and queue on the customer service queue. I just felt hot tears dropping from my eyes. What wickedness! On my own money? Was it a crime banking with First Bank?
This woman was sitting right in front of the computer. It wouldn’t take her two minutes to do the checking. I wasn’t asking for the impossible. Just last week, I witnessed how her colleague created time to check people’s account for them and cater for those with withdrawal slips, because it was not realistic to lump up such customers with those of us who had detailed rectification to do as regards details of our accounts.
This woman just set out to be mean. Maybe, when she saw the tears, she had a change of heart and checked the account for me. With all the disdain she could gather, she uttered words like: ‘your account is still frozen. Give them some time’. No explanation on why my account was still frozen after about a week; no time frame of when I should check back. I left and went to a corner to get myself together. I knew I wasn’t going to let her get away with that.
I asked a bank worker to direct me to the office of the branch manager. Another bank official I met at about the entrance of the manager’s office told me she was not around and said I could speak to the supervisor. I went to see her and explained all that happened. I asked if the way I was treated, and spoken to was right? “It wasn’t”. She apologised and asked for my account details, to know what was happening. And, in a very short while, she told me I could use my account now, and that I could also use my existing ATM card. I didn’t have to do a new one because of the change of name, until it expires.
For a bank that says it puts its customers first, I was beyond shock at the meanness of the Customer Service staff, among other things. Just last month, the bank said it had a historical FirstBank Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability week themed ‘Promoting Kindness, Putting You First’, encouraging people everywhere to step out of their comfort zones and perform random acts of kindness.
First Bank, charity begins at home. Let that kindness be felt in your banking halls. Your customers are complaining. If you are irritated or don’t have sufficient staff to handle customers like us, you can send us mails and texts to come collect our change so that your staff can fully invest their time on your billionaire customers, instead of treating us like sub-humans. There are banks that would gladly have us and would treat us better. If you have any little value left for your non-millionaire-customers, I believe you would have installed Close-circuit cameras at that branch. You can take a few minutes to watch and see.
First Bank, your customer service is appalling. Work on it. Your Kubwa branch is a joke. Fix it.
•Oluwaseyi Bangudu sent this piece from Lagos.
Source News Express