ANZ struggles to fix customer service problems

ANZ’s (ASX: ANZ) reputation for over-charging fees, for poor customer service and continuously axing staff should make customers think twice before walking into a branch. After already facing class action for its Australian operations, the company’s New Zealand customers — both personal and business customers — are taking part in a class action of their own.

Andrew Hooker, a lawyer for the customers, says that ANZ has charged unlawfully excessive fees on accounts when the accounts default and that the amount runs into the tens of millions. Mr Hooker has said: “Those fees aren’t sustainable at law and so therefore they should be refunded”.

However, ANZ is standing behind its fees and said the rates are fair and that it will contest the action.

Could a computer solve the problem?

Interestingly, a report released today by ABC has said that ANZ has already signed up to purchase a supercomputer from IBM (NYSE: IBM). Called “Watson”, it will be the size of eight refrigerators and provide cloud-based technology that will change the way company interacts with its customers.

The computer will ‘learn’ from its mistakes within a second and the hope is that it will revolutionise the way customer service, marketing and sales are done. Alex Boorman, from business intelligence and market researcher RFi, said “From a bank perspective, its gives them the opportunity to know their customer better, as a consequence of that, cross-sell more effectively” and serve the purpose of  “deepening relationships”.

Foolish takeaway

Recently, ANZ’s local reputation has taken a beating, particularly from cutting jobs and withholding interest rates in the face of record-making profits. Also, despite having grand plans to invest and expand overseas, Australian and New Zealand markets still represent approximately 80% of current revenue.

Many companies are beginning to realise that customer service is vital for retention — and that customer service starts with staff on the phone and in the bank. We’ve already seen Commonwealth Bank (ASX: CBA) push advertisement of its local call centres and service jobs and, in recent months, Telstra’s (ASX: TLS) shifting focus to reward staff who provide good customer service.

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Motley Fool contributor Owen Raszkiewicz owns shares in ANZ. 

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