Efforts part of lenders' attempts to meet national standards, better serve clients
Banks are reacting to the digital era by improving customer service across their branches, adding staff training, sofas, and even libraries, hoping to win back a set of people who are increasingly comfortable doing their finances online.
When Han Xiaoqing walked into a subbranch of China Construction Bank located at Yaogang Road in Nantong, East China's Jiangsu province, she spent one second in the doorway wondering where she should go to open a new account.
Within an instant, a clerk came to her, before helping her finish the procedure step-by-step on a machine.
The 23-year-old, who usually relies on online bank services, said, "I didn't expect to receive such efficient service without waiting in line or asking for help."
Like Han, more customers in China are experiencing better services provided in banks, partly thanks to a new set of national standards for bank branch services.
Rolled out in 2016, the standards are bench marks upon which bank branches can evaluate their service quality. Branches can also apply for third-party evaluation, hoping to receive an authentication declaring they comply with all the basic requirements.
As of the end of 2018, more than 10,500 bank branches across China had received such authentication, with more than 2,000 branches additionally in progress, according to the China Financial Authentication, the country's major third-party institution granting the authentication.
"We applied for the authentication to identify and address weak links in our service management," said Li Xiaogang, deputy director of the department of branch services at CCB, the first bank to apply for the authentication.
"In retrospect, the process of getting the authentication has improved our service quality," Li said.
To get its authentication, the Nantong subbranch added some extra facilities for customers, like sofas, water dispensers and signs showing safety tips.
The bank clerks also received regular training, covering service theories and procedures, sign language, and courtesy. As a result, service efficiency has risen, with the average waiting time for a customer reducing from 25 minutes to 6.93 minutes, the branch said.
"During the authentication process, we provide bank branches with training, to help them set up customer-centric business models and systems of service quality management," said Nie Liqin, deputy general manager of the China Financial Authentication.
"We also encourage bank branches to go beyond the standards and devise featured services to cater for their target customers," Nie added.
For example, more than 14,000 branches of the CCB have set aside a special area for people working outdoors to have a rest, in line with the bank's development strategy of financial inclusion.
A subbranch of the Bank of Communications in Xidan, a business district in Beijing, is offering a free library to citizens. While the banks' other branches are providing different additional services in accordance with local customers' tastes, according to the subbranch.
The improvement in service quality management of offline branches could help commercial banks thrive in the digital era, said Liu Chunsheng, an associate professor of the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing.
"As digital finance has become increasingly prevailing, the number of customers going to offline bank branches has declined," Liu said. "However, offline branches are still indispensable for banks, partly because of their marketing and sales functions."
Liu noted how offline branches now focus more on customer acquisition and retention, as well as the sales of professional products where face-to-face consultation is needed, such as wealth management products and funds.
And that, he said, means offline bank branches need to provide higher-quality and more featured services.
Standards are also helpful for the development of online bank services, said Xing Guiwei, general manager of the department of information technology at the Bank of China.
Standards provide banks with a "shortcut" of expanding online businesses, Xing said. "By following the standards, we have developed our mobile bank services system that costs less, but boasts higher efficiency and better customer experience."
From 2012, the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, has formulated and released nearly 50 sets of standards that have covered every key area of mobile payment systems.
Such moves are part of the nation's broader efforts of using standards to enhance the quality and safety of financial services. As of the end of 2018, 65 national standards and 247 industry standards in total have worked as guidelines for various industries in the finance sector.
These standards are all recommended standards, said Li Wei, head of the technology department of PBOC, adding that: "We will step up rolling out compulsory national standards in areas related to the security of people's property."
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