While we wait for guidance about Commonwealth Bank’s future
strategy – apparently on its way next month – let’s look at a key
aspect of the
“Which new bank” program, CBA’s restructuring program that centred on
heavy investment in customer relationship management systems.

Two years ago, the
bank’s group executive, premium financial services, Michael Katz, said
CommSee was a vital part of the “Which new bank” transformation process
announced in mid 2003.

Yesterday, in his first half-yearly profit announcement, CBA’s new CEO,
Ralph Norris, spoke highly of the new platform, an in-house built
customer “front end”. CommSee provides bank staff with a single view of
the customer’s accounts and bank interactions – eliminating the need to
jump from system to system to get simple tasks done.

Norris praised the project as “outstanding” indicating it was
implemented early and on budget and has been well accepted by staff. He
indicated the system is delivering cost savings, improved accuracy
and has the potential to improve cross selling – delivering relevant
product offers as opposed to “product flogging”.

However, in his next statement, he indicated disappointment with recent
customer service scores, which whilst improving, remain weak. So, it
seems the bank’s needs have been met but customers still aren’t happy.

When questioned about customers’ issues, Norris yesterday listed their
three key concerns as queues in branches, a “single point of contact”,
and customers wanting better pricing of products. How capable is
CommSee of meeting those requirements? And how well is that capability
being used?

On the issue of queues in branches, CommSee might help marginally to
speed up processing of transactions, but probably more important is the
addition of 1,000 additional front line staff, presumably made possible
via back office efficiency gains achieved through the new system and
other associated process improvements.

On the second issue of a single point of contact, CommSee is certainly
a step in that direction if you want to ask questions about your
existing accounts, but there is a key aspect it does not seem to
address, at least not yet.

Contacting the call centre to apply for anything more than one product,
say a credit card, a personal loan and a mortgage, will require
completion of individual applications for each. Whether online, over
the phone or via the mail, all of these applications will start from
scratch and ask for much of the same information, even if you are an
existing customer. In other words, even with CommSee, Commonwealth Bank
appears to treat customers seeking additional assistance as if the bank
does not know them.

As for better pricing of products, it appears that CommSee can do little, as fees or rates are commercial decisions.