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Does your help desk meet customer expectations?

Good experiences with Apple and HP contrast with some banks’ unhelpful desks

Does your help desk meet customer expectations?

Steve Jobs emphasized starting with the customer experience and working backwards. This strikes me as a sort of paraphrase of Steven Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind.” Might we understand the concept behind both as an example of reverse engineering?

I have my own way of understanding these admonishments, drawn from an experience that occurred just this week. Every banker who serves customers at any level should be thinking about this issue.

Technology troubles

I switched from Windows to Macintosh about 18 months ago, when it was time for a new laptop. My conversion to Apple’s world was not completely seamless. But I made it. And I can say that I wouldn’t voluntarily go back to a Windows environment.

Performance was completely “as represented” until a few weeks ago. I began to be frequently knocked off my internet connection and access times were often very slow. This was particularly so on the website of an elearning platform that I must use for a course that I teach. As I’ve got a class running right now, timing out and frequent inability to reach the site is simply unacceptable.

I pretty quickly satisfied myself that the problems were originating within the computer. My local phone provider, from which I draw my DSL access, assured me that I was “getting the speeds I was paying for.” Access to the site from my iPad and from a friend’s computer were unaffected, so I was virtually 100% certain of the source of the problem.

Yet I was reluctant to seek help.

Why? Almost every personal experience with any equipment vendor’s help desk had been negative and unsatisfactory for me for the last few years. Everything from agents’ often heavy accents to their lack of understanding of idiomatic English made conversations difficult and frustrating.

Reaching out for aid

Then I decided to get help, and called AppleCare.

From the moment the connection was made, the dialogue with the AppleCare agent was excellent. My problem was quickly diagnosed as a “sticky” auto launch application that impacted not only the first screen I’d see on a site but access to each successive screen.

The offending application was disconnected with no other inconvenience and my problem was solved (temporarily, it turned out).

When the agent had finished her work, she gave me my case number and promised to send me an email with her contact information. That showed up promptly in my inbox.

The problem recurred two days later, though in a somewhat milder form. I promptly emailed my AppleCare helper with my tale of woe. Within an hour (on a Sunday evening, mind you) I received a response and a promise to call me on Monday. I’m now functioning normally and feel the additional comfort of a name and number I can contact in the future.

Attention to detail in all forms

Meanwhile, I fully appreciate the importance of Steve Jobs’ advice.

My issue was handled in a highly professional manner with none of the side distractions of so many of the offshore call centers with which I’d had prior experience.

I can see that the same attention to the design of the laptop’s shell and the unusual way the electric cord connects and disconnects received the same level of attention to detail that my service call received.

I had a similar experience with a service call to HP earlier this year on the setup of my new desktop printer. This time the contact was for on-line assistance. My issue was quickly enough resolved, but with a minor level of unnecessary frustration.

HP sent one of those automated request for feedback I took the time to tell them about what I considered to be a significant flaw in their online instructions. What I was reading on the screen at their help site was not always exactly identical to what I saw on my computer screen. There were differences in nomenclature and what I considered perhaps small but material gaps in the information conveyed. I concluded by inviting them to contact me directly.

A day or two later a very experienced woman called from HP’s headquarters and interviewed me carefully for about 20 minutes. I shared my views and felt that I’d been understood. Not long after that I received an email thanking me for my help and giving me a phone and email link to the company’s “Executive Help Desk.” 

I had occasion to use it recently and the experience was great—about as thorough, efficient, and satisfactory as this week’s call to AppleCare.

Can your bank match Apple and HP?

Why can’t banks offer similar levels of truly superior service on their help desks and help lines? 

The fact that they don’t—confirmed by both direct and anecdotal evidence—suggests that many banks just don’t care.

Further, some banks seem to go out of their way to keep calls and inquiries from reaching frontline people who are best equipped by experience and finesse to handle these customer service issues.

Often our offices and facilities are not only state of the art but well decorated and visually appealing.  but our principal interfaces with customers are now concentrated in phone and internet contact.

The personal touch is receding rapidly and is being replaced with what are often—if not usually—unsatisfactory sorts of encounters more calculated to irritate than facilitate.

The “fix” is in plain view for anyone charged with investigating the state of customer service. Banks need the best people they can find to staff those jobs. They need to be trained to a high standard and empowered to deliver solutions that work. We need people who have God-given gifts of a sunny disposition; who can smile more easily than frown; and who can project a professional image.

These things have nothing to do with a person’s age or experience in banking.

If Apple and HP can do it, why can’t we? 

Perhaps our weakest link is not that we have the wrong people staffing those service desks. Perhaps we have the wrong people in responsible positions who are more beholden to a budgeted result than one that actually engages the customer in achieving a happy outcome

Start with the customer experience and work backwards. How hard is that to understand?

Ed O’Leary

Banking Exchange Contributing Editor Ed O'Leary, a veteran lender and workout expert, spent nearly 50 years in bank commercial credit and related functions, working with both major banks as well as community banking institutions. His last job before retiring was as the CEO of a regional bank headquartered in Alburquerque, N.M. He earned his workout spurs in the dark days of the 1980s and early 1990s in both oil patch and commercial real estate lending. O'Leary began his banking career at The Bank of New York in 1964, and worked at banks in Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. He served as a faculty member and thesis advisor at ABA's Stonier Graduate School of Banking for more than two decades, and served as long as a faculty member for ABA's undergraduate and graduate commercial lending schools. Today he works as a consultant and expert witness, and serves as instructor for ABA e-learning courses. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. O'Leary's website can be found at

In mid-2016 O'Leary's "Talking Credit" blog received a bronze excellence award for the Northeastern Region from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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