Better banking customer service please

buerosExcept for well-paid banking executives, I doubt there are many people who would not agree that banks need to improve their customer service skills. While everyone will agree the objectives of any business are to make a profit and satisfy customers, the first aim needs the second aim to achieve results. Banks are falling short of satisfying customers, and therefore a favorite pastime of  the American public and beyond is “bank bashing.”

The number of US homes receiving foreclosure filings may climb to 20 percent this year. Last year, 2.87 million property owners received notices of default, auction, or repossession. Yesterday, the US Treasury announced that 600,000 homeowners have been granted “permanent” mortgage modifications under the Obama administration’s anti-foreclosure effort called the Home Affordable Modification Plan. The bad news is that more than 800,000 homeowners were declined. The modification plan, which lasts five years, reduces the monthly payments, interest rates, and extends the term of the mortgage. It does not forgive the amount owed, but gives a temporary forbearance of the principal owed.

Since I sell real estate and frequently list “short sales,” (those homes that are worth less than the mortgage amount) I listen to the stories of homeowners who are losing their particular American dream. While I do not agree that anyone should be exempt from paying their mortgage, and there are too many people just bashing banks because they are looking for a free ride, nevertheless banks need to improve their communication skills and most especially their customer service.

Delinquent homeowners complain about customer service rudeness, ridiculously long waits on the telephone, constantly submitting the same documentation over and over again, and no communication whatsoever. There are no penalties provided in Obama’s plan for the banks since HAMP is a voluntary program. According to Prentiss Cox, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, the fundamental flaw of HAMP is that the people who caused the mortgage crisis are now the ones assigned to fix it, so how can they be acting in the public interest?

Banks need employee training, changes in processes, and changes in procedural management. They need to provide homeowners with better online service and access to customer service representatives who can actually steer a homeowner in trouble to a place where people who actually want to do the right thing can obtain real information. When people count on banks to help manage their financial lives, it is important for banks to accept responsibility. Banks play an important role in the community, and too often they are now labeled the bad guys.

Banks need to re-examine the core values which include the professionalism of their staff, wait times, responses, and services actually delivered. Never in the history of the US has the housing industry been in such turmoil. Banks need to return to respecting their customers and focus on service instead of only focusing on loss profits.

photo credit: loop_oh