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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 tell 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

Sophie Biney, graduate recruitment manager at HSBC, says: ‘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

All retail banks want graduates with customer service skills

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 previous experience isn’t mandatory because the bank is happy for graduate recruits to learn on the job. In contrast HSBC seeks graduates who have spent some time in a customer-facing role. But all recruiters will be looking for customer service skills, which are the competencies and qualities you need in order to achieve customer satisfaction.   

Examples of customer service skills graduates must have

According to Francesca Campalani, senior talent manager and youth brand lead at Lloyds Banking Group, possessing certain core skills and qualities will help you to learn how to deal with customers effectively. She says: ‘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.’

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. HSBC, for instance, holds a telephone interview and assessment centre, during which interviewers and assessors will gauge your ability to deliver great customer service by asking you specific questions, such as, ‘How would you maintain a good relationship with customers?’ You will also take part in a group exercise that will simulate a retail banking scenario.

Lloyds Banking Group has a four-stage application process that includes an application and cultural assessment, online testing, video interview and assessment centre. ‘Through the recruitment process at Lloyds we test your core pattern of strengths. We test if you care and if you can make judgments with a strong empathic undercurrent,’ says Francesca. ‘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, Sophie says: ‘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, explains Sophie, 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 the recruiter. Sophie says 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
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