First Direct Bank Decided to Always Be Available: A Case Study

This post was originally written in 2018 and updated in 2022.

In today’s instant gratification age, customers expect service to be faster and more responsive than ever. So it may be surprising that a bank that started in the late 1980s is leading the way in the UK. But their holistic approach to being there for customers is a winning strategy, no matter the decade.

First Direct Bank began in October 1989 (a tough time to start a bank, right?) with one singular purpose in mind: to bash the rules of banking—especially those around convenience and getting help when you need it.  A bank without branches, they support customers by phone, Internet and mobile.  In what they do, and how they built First Direct, they have abolished hours where they are not available, people who don’t have time to speak, upselling, long lines, those red ropes, and queuing.  In short, they built how the bank works (and when it works) for customer convenience, not its own.

Focus on Customer Convenience, not the Bank’s

First Direct never closes. They are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And EVERY time you call, when the phone rings on their end, it goes right to a human being who picks up the phone. And here’s the lovely kicker: there is no robot or phone tree or ‘triaging’ system that sorts out the reason you called, then sends you off.  You don’t have to punch in your numbers first then be dispatched.  You call, and a human being answers that is ready to help. Full stop.

The reason First Direct went in this direction is that is what their best customers told them, “Kibosh the interactive voice response and get me to a real person.”  And so they did. First Direct also knows that queuing, whether you’re standing in line waiting to see a teller or on the phone listening to a recording is devaluing.  It says, “Our time is more important than yours.”

In listening to their best customers, @firstdirect learned they wanted to speak to a real person immediately. So the bank made it happen. Learn more in this case study. #CX Click To Tweet

Hire Well, Train Well, Empower Your Front Line

All this is well and good…but you’ve got to be greeted by someone who wants to help, is trained to help, and CAN help to make any of this matter.  Whoever takes your call has your back, because First Direct gives them permission to. And here’s why: they focus on to recruiting people from caring professions (healthcare, hospitality, etc.) using a character and values based vetting process.

Forty percent of new employees are recruited to the company by existing staff. And only about one in a hundred who start the recruiting process finish it. With all that in place, they turn over trust to those folks answering the phone.  Every person who answers that phone is trusted to change processes, procedure and policies that make customers’ lives difficult.

Be Where Your Customers Are

First Direct’s is equally as swift, personal and helpful in mobile, social and Internet interactions. An early adopter to realizing the customers’ were using Twitter to ask for help, they were the first UK Bank with a Twitter account. Even in these social media interactions, First Direct imparts a human touch.  Most tweets back to customers are signed off with the initials of the employee responding and catch a glimpse of who they are on their Twitter banner so there’s a face to go with that Tweet.

The Impact of Always Being Available?

Ninety-two percent of First Direct customers say they would recommend the bank to someone else. Their customers have become the engine that fuels their growth, and also vote for them to receive accolades and awards.  A few of the many are:  British Bank Awards 2017 – Best British Bank, Moneyfacts Online Banking Provider of the Year, British Bank Awards 2017 – Most Recommended Bank. In fact, in the most recent UK Customer Satisfaction Index, First Direct was the most highly rated organization for customer satisfaction—across all industries—with a score of 86.7 (out of 100).

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