IT always amazes me that despite the record profits banks regularly make here in Saudi Arabia, most of them still offer terrible service to their customers.
Many observers have blamed plunging levels of customer satisfaction at banks on Saudization, which is held responsible for having replaced efficient Indian and Yemeni tellers with what are perceived as slow and lazy Saudi ones.
To some extent this is true, but one bank, Samba, has proven that a 100 percent Saudi workforce can be super efficient and professional. My own experience with that bank has confirmed the bank’s reputation. The last time I visited my branch to get a six-month printout of my account’s activity, I didn’t even have the chance to sit down and wait to be attended to. Instead, a young, smiling Saudi man immediately approached me and asked if he could help me. Within 10 minutes I had the printout in my hand and was leaving the bank.
Contrast that to my former bank, the Saudi British Bank. I still had a credit card from them that I originally got in the 1990s. I had a running balance on it and this month I paid it off completely and asked the bank for a clearance letter. That was on April 15. The teller informed me he could not help me with that, that I had to ask customer service downstairs. No problem, I thought innocently. After getting a number to wait for an agent, I sat for around 10 minutes before an employee came up to me and informed me that I had to call the bank’s toll-free 800 number and request the letter from headquarters in Riyadh. Branches are not allowed to issue such letters on their own, he told me.
Fair enough, I thought, not realizing what a nightmare it is to deal with that bank’s 800 number. When I got home it took me 2 hours and around seven calls before I was able to speak to an agent and request the letter because the number was constantly engaged.
“No problem, we will send the letter to the branch of your choice in two days time,” said the agent.
I waited until Wednesday, a good four days later, before going to the Tahlia Street branch to get my letter. But, oh how naïve I was to think it would be ready, let alone in Jeddah.
After taking another number and waiting 15 minutes for an agent, I was finally told that they had no letter for me yet and that I had to call the 800 number again and ask them if the letter was coming! In short, I was supposed to do their work for them!
I declined to call and insisted that they do so. When even they couldn’t get through I asked to see the bank manager. He was very nice and gave me green tea to drink as his staff kept trying, in vain, to talk to someone in Riyadh. It seems that SABB branch computers are not linked to HQ in Riyadh, so they couldn’t even check online for me.
An hour and a half later I left the bank with a promise of a call by the end of business on Wednesday. No such call came and I still don’t have my letter.
Many colleagues have experienced similar frustrations at SABB, and we all find it strange since HSBC, which has a 40 percent stake in SABB, is an excellent bank in India and the Philippines.
In fact, when I lived briefly in Makati in 2001, I opened a bank account at HSBC and was happy with their super-efficient phone banking service. Whenever I called, it took no more than three rings for an operator to answer.
My only question now is: If HSBC can be so professional and efficient abroad, why not here? It’s a question that many people in the Kingdom would like answered honestly.****