Monday, February 7, 2011

Opinion: Client versus Customer – The Great RBC Makeover

I don't know about you, but I want to be a client.

This has been stuck in my craw for a while now. Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has recently started a significant change in the way they will be delivering banking services with the launch of their new "retail store" concept. The bank at the corner of Oxford and Quinpool in Halifax is currently undergoing the transformation. 

For images of the new RBCs, go to the link at the bottom of this post. The exterior of their concept store looks like something that would be at home in Dartmouth Crossing, sort of like a FutureShop. In the interior shots client service representatives are conspicuous by their absence. I suppose they would just clutter up the space. And there’s not a teller window in sight. Is that where you want to bank? Personally, I prefer my banks boring and my bankers stodgy. I want "numbers nerds."

According to that site, RBC's objective is to change the experience of a client from one of "banking" to more of a "shopping" experience designed to "support customers' life events." (Huh? - D) "Customer" options will be self-, assisted- and full-service, in descending order I assume. I don't know how knowledgeable you are about the ins and outs of financial instruments, but I'm not. Would the normal off-the-street "customer" have enough wherewithal to make self-beneficial, informed financial decisions about much more than a transfer, deposit or withdrawal? 

Note the use of the word "customer". That's RBC's usage, not mine. Think— when was the last time you heard a bank call its clients "customers"? It appears to be a fundamental shift in RBC's idea of their relationship to their clients.

Merriam-Webster Online defines: 
  • a "customer" as "one that purchases a commodity or service"; 
  • "client", on the other hand, is "1. one that is under the protection of another; 2. a person who engages the professional advice or services of another <a lawyer's clients>."
This is not a fine distinction. On the one hand a "client" assumes that the organization of which they are the client are representing their interests. A "customer" is merely one who purchases an item/commodity and, except for any stated or implied warranty, does not necessarily have an ongoing relationship with the vendor.

I know this distinction from professional experience. 
Let me give you an analogy. As a communication designer I work on a daily basis for my "clients." The basic tenet of the client relationship is that I am there as "wise counsel" for my clients (whether they listen to me or not…); I service them with my expertise. I offer every single one my best advice for their goals based on my education and experience. If the client already understood what they needed, they wouldn't need me.

A graphic design "customer" would be the type of person that buys business cards out of a machine at an airport. Choose your logo, choose your typeface, choose your design and away you go. No discussion about what your organization does, what your audience needs to know, or your overall goals. 

I suggest to you that all effective banking solutions need a significant level of individual tailoring.
I can't imagine "self-serve" banking offers the level of counsel or support most clients want and need. Often the client doesn't understand the possible myriad solutions to the issues they face. If they don't know the answer, how will they know to ask for the right kind of help?

If one thinks in Machiavellian ways, it seems that RBC is abrogating responsibility in the client relationship and devolving it to one where benefit onus is on the person purchasing their commodities/services. In truth, it's probably the case that RBC is trying to maximize profits by minimizing client contact. Hence the use of the word "customer". You can assume that word was not chosen lightly by its marketing team. 

I, for one, wish to remain a client, purchasing services from those who I trust and know offer a high level of individual attention as a standard feature, not as an option on a touch screen monitor.

We are not all the same like paper cutouts, and do not deserve to be treated as such.



When did it actually occur that banks lost their raison d'être? Weren't bankers supposed to guard our money, invest it to make profit, and for that use give us a portion of that profit back as "interest"?

Slowly over several years service fees and other charges have become our financial sector's life blood, sucking on clients like vampires until they're nearly dead.

When did they stop realizing it is a privilege that we entrust our money with them so they can fatten their pockets, and give us back a few pennies in return?


For an article about the RBC Retail Store concept go to

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