Several big hands for Santander

Leading shaker and mover within the FS sector, Santander, recently announced that they will be reversing the trend of off-shoring customer service centres and are bringing their operations back to the UK. This is apparently in response to overwhelming customer feedback and criticism from regulators and stakeholder groups. The bank acquired Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and parts of Bradford & Bingley in 2008 and is currently absorbing parts of the RBS network. The bank has 25 million customers and 1,300 branches in the UK.

They deserve several big hands for pointing to what has been one of the most unsightly elephants in the room for some time now, namely the decision by service organisations to take advantage of the lower cost option abroad but at the expense of jeopardising their brand by complicating (to be kind) the customer/staff contact points.
It is taking on 500 staff for new phone centres.
Commenting on the call centre move, CEO Ms Botin said: “This is what our customers have told us is the most important factor in terms of the satisfaction with the bank, and we have listened to them and decided to bring all of our retail call centres back from India.”
BBC personal finance correspondent Simon Gompertz said Spanish bank Santander had one of the worst complaints records in the industry last year. There was a trend for banks and other companies to bring call centres back to the UK, although many are now moving administration work to cheaper countries instead.

Interestingly, however, when telecommunications company New Call Telecom, transferred its business to Mumbai three years ago, announced that it was moving one of its call centres from India to Lancashire, in a move that is expected to bring 100 jobs to the area they stated that increased costs prompted it to move to Burnley.The company highlighted a growing trend in India for higher costs of property, salaries and accommodation.

It would appear that developments in the off-shoring space are certainly something to watch over the next few months. It has been obvious for some time that change managers underestimated the cross-cultural issues associated with operating certain services beyond the national boundaries of the originating brand.  As Ian discusses in Brand Engagement, what appeared like a decent business case on paper, backed up by over-simplified process management principles hasn’t always stacked up in the face of the subtleties required when dealing with sensitive personal data and demanding customers with very different norms and expectations. Many brands have been slowly undermined from within and many, like AOL/DELL, are having to make strenuous efforts to address the damage that the decision to off-shore has done to their brands.

Few financiers factored in the growth in the Indian economy either and the increasing demands that this would place on the financial bottom line. Although given the amount of recent change within the FS sector in particular it’s doubtful whether many of the executives who signed off the original business case for the move will still be in situ.

Whatever the rationale, Santander’s decision is certainly a significant move which the brand management community should be watching with great interest.

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