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What graduates should know about customer service in retail banking jobs.

Customer service in retail banking: what graduates must know

Develop a proper understanding of what customer service is and you will impress retail banking recruiters.

The specific type of job you had is less important than you think. What’s important is that you show that you did something extra.

Graduates vying for customer-facing roles often assume that excellent customer service just involves a big smile and giving customers what they want, when they want it. This is a mistake. Recruiters from HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group told TARGETjobs precisely what customer service is and how graduates can show they have customer service skills during the recruitment process.

Retail banks work with individual customers

One of the main differences between retail banking and other sectors in the financial industry is the customer base, which comprises individual customers. These can range from a teenager opening their first current account to a pensioner seeking a high-interest account for their savings. Retail banks have their main branches on high streets and operate, to an extent, like shops. So, similar to a high street store, customers pop in for a product or service and staff are expected to meet their needs, while delivering excellent customer service.

Excellent customer service explained by an HSBC recruiter

A graduate recruitment manager at HSBC told TARGETjobs: ‘Customer service isn’t just about being nice and polite or giving a customer the biggest mortgage.’ Instead it involves a range of factors, including:

  • identifying customers’ limitations
  • seeing things from a customer’s point of view
  • providing sufficient information to a customer
  • helping customers to make an informed decision
  • having a genuine desire to do the right thing for customers
  • tailoring your approach to customers’ individual needs and circumstances
  • liaising with the right people within the business to ensure customers are given full and accurate information.

You don’t always need customer-facing experience...

Retail banks don’t all insist on customer service experience, such as a stint in a restaurant, bar or clothing retailer. For example, at Lloyds Banking Group previous experience isn’t mandatory because the bank is happy for graduate recruits to learn on the job. HSBC says that the examples of your skills that you give in interviews don’t have to be drawn from work. This is especially true in 2021 when there is less of this sort of work available and you should prioritise your health (and minimising the risks to others) over gaining experience to add to your CV. Remember that any previous customer-facing part-time jobs or extracurricular activities will provide examples of your skills, too, so it’s not all about what you have done in 2020 and 2021.

...but all retail banks want graduates with customer service skills

All recruiters will be looking for customer service skills, which are the competencies and qualities that will allow you to deliver excellent customer service once you begin your graduate job. According to a graduate recruiter at Lloyds Banking Group, possessing certain core skills and qualities will help you to learn how to deal with customers effectively. She said: ‘Kindness, compassion and empathy are critical, but you also have to have market intelligence, analytical skills and logic in order to offer the best service and the best value to customers. Being kind is not enough – you have to add value in the long term.’ During the Covid-19 lockdowns, you may be able to develop some of these skills from home.

Recruiters will assess your customer service skills

You should expect your ability to provide excellent customer service to be put to the test at different stages of your chosen employer’s recruitment process. Lloyds Banking Group has a three-stage application process that includes an application and online test, job insight assessment and virtual assessment centre. ‘Through the recruitment process at Lloyds we test your core pattern of strengths,’ said the graduate recruiter we spoke to. ‘We test if you care and if you can make judgments with a strong empathic undercurrent. We look at transferable skills and qualities such as being innovative, caring for other people and having a strong moral compass. If you have those, you will be able to learn how to care for customers.’

Use examples during the graduate recruitment process

Graduates won’t all have real-life examples of when they achieved customer satisfaction. But if you do, use them during the recruitment process. Otherwise, use examples that show you’ve got the skills necessary to deliver excellent customer service. For instance, the HSBC recruiter we spoke to said: ‘In the examples that you give during the telephone interview, the recruiter wants evidence that you have gone above and beyond the call of duty to meet a client’s or customer’s needs.’

The specific type of job you had is less important than you think. What’s important, explained the HSBC recruiter, is that you show that you did something extra, because responding with something along the lines of, ‘I worked in McDonald’s and my queue went down quickly,’ is not a strong enough example and will not impress employers. She said good examples could be those where you:

  • stepped in to help a colleague resolve a problem
  • tried to find a different way to meet a customer’s needs
  • calmed a situation down after it got out of control.

Article last updated 24 February 2021.

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