Retail Banking #3: Half of complaints are self-inflicted

Smartphones and apps have embedded banking services in the everyday purchase choices and lifestyles of customers. This gives banks new opportunities to be part of their customers' daily lives, but in return customers expect convenience and a hassle-free experience. How is this changing the relationship between banks and their customers?

In my last post I looked at how banks use social networks to communicate with customers and to support the work of helpdesks. I finished up with an observation on how banking is now entwined with the lifestyles of customers. Finger-tip convenience brings with it a host of new opportunities for banks to be part of the daily lives of their customers. It also changes the expectations of customers, who want reliable and hassle-free banking 24/7.

So how does this new emphasis on convenience affect the relationship between customers and their banks? Following on from our initial research into the social media activity of bank helpdesks, Newton Insight revisited the data, but this time we moved upstream, to analyse the attitudes  and frustrations of customers. We wanted to understand why customers contact helpdesks in the first place.

We created a sample group of 300 bank customers and tracked their attitudes and behaviours over a 24 hour period – a day in the life of UK banking’s customer base.

The sample group was profiled by gender and age, and all social media activity was validated for relevance, context and expressions of emotion. Customers were defined as angry or satisfied, or as curious, which means they had general questions without a strong emotional signal.


The pattern of social media activity throughout the day has an understandable shape. There is an initial burst of complaints in the pre-work hours, followed by peaks in activity around lunchtime and after work. But it is important to note that the overall level of activity remains high from morning until late evening. There is a greater immediacy to complaints, with customers able to contact their bank in real time, as soon as a problem becomes apparent.

The distribution of discussion of individual banks follows the same pattern we established in the longer study of helpdesk activity. Over 100 customers approach Nationwide, Natwest and Santander per day. Customer activity for HSBC and Firstdirect is lower. The data also showed that HSBC and Firstdirect have a higher proportion of approaches from female customers.



A deeper dive into the motivations for contacting a helpdesk shows that the #1 frustration of customers is slow response times by branches and telephone banking services. Customers resent being queued or put on hold because it costs them time. This explains the sharp spike in complaints around 7pm – customers are typing messages to online helpdesks whilst waiting for their telephone banking service to pick up. 


Convenience, or in this case inconvenience, has the greatest impact on the emotional state of customers and transcends the significance of the initial complaint. To balance this up, our data also showed that a quick resolution of a problem was the #1 reason why customers give their bank positive feedback.

We didn’t look for variations in attitudes between genders, but there are some very obvious differences between customers. Men have a greater sensitivity to waiting times and will react with stronger emotions if they sense their time is being wasted. Women complain about time delays, but they are also sensitive to the attitudes of staff and make direct comments about the quality of the customer care they receive, not just the timeliness of it. 

Lost time and the attitude of staff account for half of all customer complaints. A problem with a credit card is an irritation; it is the delay in dealing with the problem that fuels frustration. 

Another way of looking at this is to conclude that banks are doubling the volume of complaints from customers by not addressing initial problems fast enough.

People want to get on with their lives. Cash may be the first currency of banking, but convenience is now a close second.

Have your say