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Customer relations is clients oriented and at its root lie the need to create a convivial atmosphere that will be beneficial to the organization and its sundry clients. Customer relations entail building or establishing a relationship between an organization and its customers through excellent service provision and delivery in other to create an impressionable opinion of the organization in the minds of the customers. Therefore, this study, “customer relations practice in the old and new generation banks: A comparative analysis”, compares and analyses the customer relations practices of both old and new generation banks in Nigeria with the view to identifying their distinct customer relations orientation and its implications on banks’ profits and sustenance. Using survey research and In-depth Interview methods, 384 respondents were sampled through cluster, quota and systematic sampling techniques respectively. This was from the total population of 783,047 for Enugu and Awka Metropolis. The questionnaire and interview were the instruments of data collection. The findings reveal no bank in Nigeria (both old and new generation banks) has found lasting solution to the problem of traffic and queuing system, which is attributed to staff inefficiency. However, new generation banks were found to do better in terms of service delivery and handling of customers’ complaints. At the final analysis, it is recommended that since all efforts to eliminate long queues in Nigeria banks has not yielded much results, banks should employ more staff as well as open more branches or expand the existing ones where necessary. Also, the daily withdrawal of the maximum of One Hundred Thousand Naira (N100, 000) with ATM Cards should be reviewed upwards so that the customers would have lesser transactions to make inside the banks.
1.1 Background of the Study.
Customer relations is a very broad field that encompasses customer/client service, corporate social responsibility, relationship marketing, reputation/image management among others. Due to its broad scope, it does not have a generally acceptable definition. However, this notwithstanding, one thing is certain-customer relations is clients-oriented and at its roots lie the need to create a convivial atmosphere that will be beneficial to the organization and its sundry clients.
Customer relations entails building or establishing a relationship between an organization and its customers through excellent service provision/delivery in order to create an impressionable opinion of the organization in the minds of the customers. Some organizations that have thrived in business over the years are those that carved a niche for themselves as customer friendly enterprises. In most cases, the difference between ailing and thriving companies or organizations lies in their customer service orientations. This is because, studies have shown that the perception of customers towards a particular organization or company goes a long way in determining the kind of patronage they give the organization. This is why a small company can grow and outshine its better in the market.
Customer relationship management, as the name implies, is saddled with the responsibility of establishing, developing and sustaining relational partnerships between an organization and its clients. It is becoming an important issue in marketing in order to gain customer loyalty, improve customer relations rates, as well as increase profits. Customer relations management refers to a management approach that seeks to create, develop, and enhance relationships with carefully targeted customers in order to maximize customer value and corporate profitability… (Kuo-chung and Chin-shan, 2012:64).
Customer relations (also known as customer care or service in some companies) is seen as giving attention or provision of service before, during and after a transaction. According to Turban et al. (2002), “customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectations”. It attempts to make best utilization of both divides. That is, it is geared towards customer satisfaction and aims at increased profitability.
The importance of customer service/relations may vary by product or service offered industry and customer. In the banking sector, customer relations take two dimensions, customer service (care) and financial relations. Although, in most cases separating them is most difficult because both of them are geared towards winning customers and ensuring the loyalty of existing ones. Customer service entails assisting the customer in making cost effective and correct use of a product or service. It includes assistance in planning, training, troubleshooting, maintenance, upgrading and disposal of a product or service. It can be provided by sales or service representatives, or by automated means. Examples of automated, are the Internet sites Automated Teller Machines (ATM). ‘Automated means’ in this instance, can be based entirely on self-service, or may also be based on service by more or less means of artificial intelligence. (www.ehow.com/aboutcustomerrelations.html#1xzz2EikiQ7ss/retreived-4/12/2012).
Financial relations, on the other hand, entails relationship marketing (a new concept in marketing communication). Relationship marketing has been viewed by Unegbu (2012:4) as buyer – seller relationship that accumulates over time with opportunities to transfer individual and discrete transactions into relational partnerships. She further states.
It implies the development of long-term relationships between the customers and the suppliers, in order to generate advantages for all those involved and to allow the co-creation of value rather than its unilateral distribution. It (relationship marketing) aims not only at attracting but also retaining customers and knowing them better (Unegbu, 2012:3).
Customer relations (which is the concern of this work) is “the frontline between an organization and its customers” (Lawson 2012:1). It highlights the relationship that is based on the understanding existing between an organization and its clients. The role of a customer relations person, to quote Ayo Oyebade, a brand strategist, is mainly to make the client happy and get into his (or her) good books by meeting every possible demand of the client or customer.
Oyebade further states:
In fairness to executives working on the clients’ side…they (clients) simply want to be part of your business success. They expect to be appreciated, we all love to be loved…we are human beings with affinity for affection. We usually take interest in those who are interested in us…the onus is on the client service person to understand this feeling and fashion a way that will work for his organization in dealing with the client that surpasses collecting a local purchasing order (LPO). Your organization must deliver all the deliverables with professionalism. It must develop reputation for excellence in service delivery.
The above presupposes that customers have vested interest in the organizations (banks) they patronize. The customer relations person’s duty is therefore to ensure that the customers’ welfare is not undermined. The golden rule here is “to do unto the customers what you would have them do unto you”. They are the ones that ensure your target sales are met and possibly ensure that the employer delivers dividends to the shareholders. Without the customers (clients) business is doomed. The customer remains an asset and his importance to the survival and growth of banks is portrayed in the words of Mahatma Gandhi quoted in (Onah & Thomas, 1993:14):
A customer is one of the most important visitors on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption on our business. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider on our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.
The importance of the customer to any business cannot be over-emphasized. In marketing, for instance, it is believed that the customer is always right. Ekwueme (2008:264) puts it more succinctly, “the simple lesson to be learnt is that if you wish your bank to survive and thrive, pay good attention to your customer even if he is irrational, aggressive or foolish. He is the king and is always right. You need him. He does not need you. Without him, you are out of business”.
In Nigeria, customer relations department is a specially carved out section in banks to cater for the need of customers. But unlike other departments like ‘Operations and Marketing,’ customer relations was relegated to the background. “Apart from the issuance of deposit/withdrawal slips to customers”, to quote Megwa Stella, a banker with one of the old generation banks, not much was heard from this department prior to the “ Consolidation exercise” carried out by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in 2006. The consolidation exercise (bank re-capitalization) led to the demise of many banks (89 banks in 2004 were shrunk into 24 banks in 2006) as well as the establishment of more vibrant ones (Ekwueme, 2006:255; Onyike, 2012:21). Such banks as First Bank, United Bank for Africa (UBA), and Union Bank are among the old generation banks that survived the CBN’s hammer, while the new generation banks (also called the post consolidation mega-banks) may include Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Keystone Bank, Zenith Bank, Access Bank and others. Consequent upon increased competition, which was the after-math of the consolidation, banks resorted to aggressive marketing by becoming more customer friendly.
Customer relations as aforementioned is at the head of the broad spectrum of public relations activities which Ogundipe (1990:241) says, “is sine qua non for the survival of such a corporate body…”
According to Ogundipe (1990), public (customer) relations in banks is expected to fulfill the following:
…Serving as a central information source about the organization and the publics, bringing to public attention significant facts, opinions and interpretations that will serve to keep the public aware of its policies and actions; co-ordinating the activities which affect its relations with the general public as well as with special public groups; collecting and analyzing information on the changing attitudes of key public groups towards it.
The centrality of customer relations in banks’ survival in contemporary society from Ogundipe’s standpoint is not ruled out. Of all profit making enterprises, financial institutions depend almost entirely on public perception and trust for their survival and success. This is because banking is predicated on confidence. So you must effectively manage information about banking services in every facet (Rhody, 1991:569-570; Ebiseniju & Okungbowa, 1998:29).
After the consolidation exercise, one thing had remained – the need to stay afloat and ahead of competition. The need therefore arose for banks to continuously research into and review their customer relations practice to know the perception of the customers with a view to retaining existing loyal customers and wooing prospective ones. While some banks cashed in on this, others may have underestimated its importance to their corporate existence. Just recently, Bank PHB, Spring Bank, Oceanic Bank, Intercontinental Bank and Afri Bank were either sold or forced into merger with other banks. The problem of these banks, experts argue, is not insufficient capital/asset base but bad customer relations orientations.
Research in the past has delved into the area of public relations, advertising and marketing, but none known to this researcher, was narrowed down to customer relations management (CRM) in banks. And neither has any study undertaken to do a comparative analysis of banks’ customer relations. This study was therefore motivated to fill the void in literature by undertaking to do a comparative study of the customer relations practices of both old and new generation banks in Nigeria with a view to identifying their distinct customer relations orientations and its implications on banks’ profits and sustenance.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Customer relations is not about understanding the market as it were; it is about understanding people and their individual needs and styles and meeting them.
The best way banks can do this is to keep the customers in mind and think of them as the real business, instead of the product or services offered. To do this, the banks must constantly strategize to adapt to the changing circumstances of the society and the behaviour of the customer, which is constantly in a state of flux.
To achieve customer loyalty and attract prospective ones, banks have introduced innovations into their operations. “Customer help lines, E-banking, queue efficiency and management, Automated Teller Machines (ATM)” and other customer friendly packages and dispositions are some of the innovations that endear customers to their banks.
However, notwithstanding these ‘post consolidation’ initiatives in commercial banks one still finds customers who complain of poor customer service in banks. In such situations, these dissatisfied customers usually compare their banks with others and as such may consider switching over to the banks they consider better. In most of the cases, financial analysts say, these arguments tow generational lines’. That is, while some argue in favour of old generation banks for their “long standing policies of customer satisfaction”, others favour new generation banks for their “youthful and flexible” customer service orientation. Is this so? Are all the perceptions about the banks correct? And how does this affect the customers’ preference of banks?
This study is undertaken to do a comparative study of old and new generation banks’ customer relations practices to determine their area of convergence, divergence and as well as to find out if their respective successes or failures are attributable to their customer relations practice.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The objective of this study is to assess the customer relations practices of old and new generation banks to determine their areas of convergence and divergence as well as to ascertain if their respective successes or failures are attributable to their customer relations. Specifically, the study intends:
1. To find out the differences between old and new generation banks customer relations packages.
2. To find out if the customer relations packages of old and new generation banks are accessible to customers.
3. To find out if the customers’ perception of the customer relations packages of old and new generation banks influence their choice of a particular bank.
1.4 Research Questions
1. What difference exists between old and new generation banks’ customer relations packages?
2. How accessible are these customer relations packages to customers?
3. What influence does customers’ perceptions have on their choice of any particular bank in the country?
1.5 Significance of the Study
The major problem most government and corporate organizations face in policy formulation is the dearth of empirical data in the area of interest.
This study will be meaningful in a lot of ways to the government, and corporate organizations since it provides them with some vital data in the area of banking and client/customer relations as well as help them to make policies and strategies that will be of help to business especially in the area of customer service or customer relations management. It will further assist in developing an understanding of research about the banking industry by finding out what are actually involved in the banking and client service world.
It may also help in educating other financial and non-financial organizations on the relevance of adopting good customer/client relations that is based on value re-orientation and customer satisfaction.
The study will as well provide data for the research activities of bankers, financial experts, students, lecturers, as well as other corporate bodies and public/customer relations practitioners.
1.6 Scope of the Study
This study is confined only to just all the customer relations activities aimed at retaining valued customers and winning new ones.
Geographically, it covers all the old and new generation banks in the southeast geopolitical zone. However, First Bank, UBA, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), and Zenith Bank were selected to be studied.
In order to get the perception of the public about the customer relations packages of the old and new generation banks, Enugu and Awka metropolis were selected. These cities were selected based on their strategic importance in the heart of the people. While Enugu serves as the capital territory of the old Eastern region as well as the regional headquarters of the banks, Awka is the nearest city to Onitsha, the commercial nerve center of the Eastern region.
N: B. Please note that public perception was chosen in place of customers’ perceptions because the perception of the public, especially those that are not on the banks clientele list can go a long way in influencing prospective customers choice of banks.
1.7 Operational Definition of Terms
Certain terms have been used in this research work, which may not be fully understood by all who come across it. It becomes pertinent therefore, to define some of these terms. Hence, we have them as follows:
Customer: This is a person who buys a product or service from a person or organization, usually a seller. In banking, a customer is a client who patronizes the bank either to make deposits, withdrawals, or get a loan or other banking services.
Customer Relations: This is the effort made by banks to establish and maintain goodwill between these organizations and their customers and prospective customers.
Bank: A bank is a financial institution set up purposely for the safe keeping of money, valuable goods and documents to be made available at the request of the depositor. It is also charged with the responsibility of accepting deposits, granting of loans and over draft irrespective of interest paid on them.
Old Generation Bank: These are the banks that were established in the country during colonialism. These are First Bank (established in 1894), Union Bank (1917) and United Bank for Africa (1948).
New Generation Banks: These are the banks that preceded Nigeria’s independence in 1960. These include Fidelity Bank, Zenith Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Access Bank, Keystone Bank, Stanbic IBTC Bank etc.
Ekwueme, A. (2008). Bank consolidation in Nigeria and Challenges to the financial relations practitioners: An analysis. International journal of communication, P. 252-270.
Ogundipe, Victor (1990), “Public relations in banking”, in Okigbo, I. (ed), Advertising and Public Relations. Enugu: Snaap Press Ltd., p. 241.
Ebisemiju, Bankole and Okungbowa, Andrew, I. (1988, June) “Managing a Bank’s public image is tough”. The Guardian, p. 29.
Okafor, C. O. (2006). Public Relations Principles & Practice. Enugu: CECTA Books.
Onyike, I. E. (2012). A Study of newspapers’ coverage of the Islamic banking controversy in Nigeria (Unpublished M. A. Project), University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria.
Rhody, Ronald, E. (1991). The handbook of Public Relations and Communications. London McGraw-Hill Book Company.
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