From bad to good: a Finnish customer service experience

Today, I needed to open a bank account for a company in Helsinki. Because of a tight schedule, I decided to visit the bank on the morning to be able to accept wirings already during the same day. I took off to a local branch office of Danske Bank. The decision for opening the account in Danske Bank was made purely out of convenience. I already had my personal and another company's accounts there and I could manage the banking in all of these using a single sign-on. They also are much more accommodating to global operation than for example Nordea, who don't even agree to send new credit cards to a foreign address, but rather require you to visit their branch in person. I have personal experience on that and switched from Nordea to Danske for that very reason.

I was expecting to visit the bank, talk to the clerk, open the account and walk away. Turns out that I was being overly optimistic. As I wrote earlier, I started the experience by entering a local, suburban branch office of Danske Bank. The customer service representative there immediately makes it clear that they do not handle business accounts. I politely asked where they had a branch office that would take care of business accounts. The response was a blunt: "I have no idea. Ask from the reps in the other room." Somewhat surprised by the ignorance of the service rep, I went to another room and repeated my question. This time they had an idea: "You could try one of two branch offices - either Kaivokatu branch in downtown Helsinki or another branch in Tikkurila, Vantaa."

I decided to pay a visit to the downtown office, and took off. Once I got there, I went straight to the receptionist. Me: "Good morning. I'd like to open a bank account for a newly founded company." The receptionist: "We are very busy here and accept only customers who have booked their appointment in advance." Me: "Could you check your bookings calendar if you could squeeze me in? I'm in a hurry." The receptionist: "You'd be lucky to get an appointment for next Friday." Me: "To me, it feels like you are doing your best to avoid gaining a new customer. I said I'm in a hurry and need this done now." After a few more pleas, the receptionist gives in: "Let me find a rep who could try to book an earlier time." She walks to the back.

After a short while, the receptionist reappears and says I can work a time for appointment with the lady in room 4. I walk there and greet her - and immediately notice she has no clients to serve there. In my mind, I'm damning the Finnish customer service where receptionists can turn down customers while the clerks are just procrastinating in the offices. I sit down and my phone rings. Its my colleague Joona who's returning my call from earlier in the morning. I tell him that I'm sitting in front of a bank clerk who does not have time for me and my business and quickly end the call with promise to call back after I'm done with my business at the bank. The clerk not only heard what I said to Joona, but reacted to it in a way that ended up completely changing my experience. 

Suddenly there was a sense of urgency and I was a priority customer. The lady was very sweet and quickly figured out the fastest way to get the account opened: I should call to their business customer call center to open the accounts. She would scan my company documents and add them to my online bank as secure files that the call center folks could access to be able to complete the task without meeting me personally. The call center responded relatively quickly, and the lady whose room I was in emailed the documents to the call center person just to make sure the transaction does not get caught up with any extra bureaucracy.

Then the call center rep said that they have this process where they have to interview the business customer for at least 30 minutes. I said that I really needed to open the bank accounts as soon as possible, but if such interview was necessary I will do it. The clerk asked me one question after which she realizes how stupid it is to follow an archaic process with a customer that they already know and have done business with for years. She says: "Let's do a shortcut here: I will open the account for you now and fill the questionnaire by myself using the documents you provided and our previous knowledge of you. If I have any remaining questions, I will call you later, but let's not hinder this process any further." Me: "Thank you for making this smooth and quick." The call center rep: "You are welcome. Thanks for being our customer."

At the end, I had a smooth and enjoyable experience in opening the accounts, but I had to persist through a lot of suffering before I ended up there. How many customers would have quit and walked to another bank before that? What can we learn from this?