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The High Street Should Be Driving Customers In, Not Out (August 2014)

I thought I would share an experience that happened to me today at the Halifax.

My parents called me last night to tell me that I'd received a letter from the Halifax.

After asking them to open it, I was reminded that I have a small amount of money in an old account at the Halifax and unless I closed the account, I would lose the money. I no longer bank with the Halifax and had totally forgotten about this account.

It wasn't enough money to send me on holiday, but it was enough for a few Costa Coffees, and I thought it was better off in my pocket than theirs, so I have just been into my local branch to sort out closing the account.

Now the branch was quite busy, and it is a Friday afternoon, but still, I am a customer with an account with them.

A customer service advisor approached me as soon as I walked in the door, a good start I thought. I recounted the story of the letter and told him I was there to close down the account.

The look of pure disinterest on his face was a picture.

"The best thing I can do is to give you a telephone number to call and they can sort this out for you"

"But can't you sort this out ?" says I looking at the two bank cashiers and three customer service desks !

"Well, Customer Services will be able to find your details easily" says he.

"Well, you can also find my details" I said in my best Jedi mind trick voice.

"Yes, but I've got a customer coming in soon and this will take at least 20 minutes."

"And is there nobody else who can help me ?"

At this point, he almost threw me towards a member of staff who had just sat down and wasn't really expecting somebody to be stood in front of her so fast.

As I started to recount the story for a second time, her eyes visibly rolled as she agreed she could help.

She then, quite remarkably, tried to sell me the advantages of switching my current account over to the Halifax. Not wanting to be rude, I did the typically British thing of saying I would certainly give it some thought.

Now, part of my gripe is that this situation was handled very badly by the bank staff. From time to time, we all get queries, sometimes nice and easy, and sometimes a bit difficult, but surely they should all be dealt with equally.

The second part of the issue is that there seems to be a common thread amongst high street banks at the moment to try and take as much as they can away from the cashier. My own bank, Lloyds TSB is no different here.

If I walk in with an envelope of cash, I am almost escorted away from the line and pointed towards the pay in box by the cash points. I almost have to wrap my arms around on of the vertical poles and cling on to it for dear life so that I don't lose my place in the queue.

Teams of bank staff stalk the queues, praying on victims with an accusing scowl of "do you really think you are important enough to see the cashier."

Now I understand there is a need to keep the queues down, but how long is it before we don't need a cashier altogether ? And we certainly won't need customer service advisers.

Personally, I like the personal service of the bank, I like that the cashier knows my name and asks how my holiday went that she arranged the currency for.

Be careful what you wish for on the high streets. If you are constantly pointing people towards the internet, that's exactly where they'll end up.

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