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Calling your bank – do you miss the ‘human’ touch?

With 24-hour access to your bank accounts via online and telephone banking, it’s never been easier to manage your money. So why does calling your bank sometimes leave you tearing your hair out?

Automated telephone systems aren’t always a bad thing. For example, if you simply want to check your balance, they come in very handy.

But every now and then, you’ll have a question about your bank account that can’t be answered by a computer. Unfortunately, trying to get through to a human being can feel like a bit of a battle against a barrage of recorded options, none of which seem to include, ‘speak to an adviser’.

Frustration with automation

My brother recently called NatWest to order a new card and found it was a frustrating experience. After entering his customer number three times (it wasn’t recognised on the first two attempts), he had to wade through five more options before getting the option to speak to someone.

When he eventually got through to an adviser they were polite and helpful, but this was overshadowed by the length of time it took him to get through in the first place. And he’s not alone. In response to Richard Wilson’s guest Conversation on automated services, commenter Wavechange said:

‘There is nothing more annoying than going through all the button pressing when you know that you need to speak to a human being. All service providers should offer this option at the start.’

Despite the growing trend for automation across a wide range of services, not all banks have succumbed. First Direct is often praised for how quickly it deals with incoming calls; something which has no doubt contributed to its number one ranking in the Which? customer satisfaction scores for bank accounts.

Less doesn’t equal more

It could be argued that automated systems are a necessary evil for the bigger banks due to the high volume of calls they receive. But at a time when public confidence in the banking system has hit rock bottom, the least banks could do is make themselves more accessible to their customers.

Simplifying the impersonal call menus would be a big step in the right direction. When you call your bank, would you prefer to speak to somebody immediately? Or do you find automated systems useful for the most part?

What do you think about automated customer service helplines?

I don't like them (63%, 185 Votes)

It depends on the individual helpline (35%, 104 Votes)

I like them (2%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 305

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I think a bit of both is fine, as long as when you get through to a human you can understand them!


The barrier that companies create to speaking to a human is largely caused by other customers whose first option is to use the phone instead of trying first online or another automated method, whether this be out of laziness, stupidity or selfishness. This means that the rest of us have to go through an unreasonable number of menu options when we really do need to speak to a human. If I am phoning to do something that doesn’t require a human, I wouldn’t be phoning. I wish those people would think about the costs they are incurring for companies before making unnecessary calls to humans, as their actions unnecessarily increase the prices paid by the rest of us.


This actually hadn’t occurred to me, nfh, but I can see where you’re coming from. Ultimately what I want from a bank is super-efficient online banking and the ability to do as much as possible online (and this includes emailing/secure messaging the customer services team if I need to). As a general rule I don’t like being on the phone to companies anyway – I always prefer to have a written record of correspondence, not to mention the fact that it can sometimes be really expensive. However it is sometimes necessary to call, and I think I agree with nfh here – I will only ever phone if I know that I definitely need to speak to a real person, and in this case the automated options serve no purpose other than to make my phone bill that bit higher.


Nikki, you make a very good point about e-mail and secure messaging. I would much prefer to deal with all companies by this method, as it creates a written record and it doesn’t prevent me from getting on with something else at the same time. One emerging trend is online chat whereby you interactively use instant messaging with a representative of the company via the company’s own messaging system. It combines the best of both worlds in that it combines the instant response you expect from a phone call with the written record that can be so useful if something later goes wrong. The best companies e-mail you a transcript of the chat at the end of the session. There is no reason why this trend shouldn’t spread to banking.


I know nothing about smartphones but am thinking about getting one.

As I experience intermittent deafness, something that could make one particularly attractive to me is a facitlity (in the strict meaning of the term) that converts any stressful “if…press 1” etc spiel into a succession of instant touchscreen menus that I could tap through. I would want one with a “Human contact” icon at any stage.

Does such a thing exist? If not, from what has been said already in this conversation, it would seem to be of benefit to the banks to finance its development.


We agree that making customers jump through hoops to speak to someone isn’t great customer service. We always try to answer calls in under 20 seconds, in fact our average response time is 7 seconds at the moment. We know it’s our Telephone Representatives that make first direct , they’re the ones who deserve thanks for our number one Which? ranking.


I see you are using an 0845 number. That’s fine for those whose tariff includes calls to these numbers. A geographical number could help the others.


Its good to see some other Customer Services departments copying FD’s policy of allowing their reps to be “normal”, chatting with the customers, apparently not following a script and still being efficient.

I just wish banks etc would have an option for general queries which don’t require security.