The rapidly increasing globalization has resulted for banking industry to become more competitive emphasizing on excellence in customer service for their sustained growth in business. Customer grievances and complaints are common in banking organization, this is because banks belong to service sector and it is nearly impossible to satisfy each and every customer, but at the same time banks can minimize customers’ complaints with effective functioning and their dedication to serve in the interests of customers. Being a service provider organization, customer satisfaction and service should be a prime motive of CitiBank. As one of its principles in CitiBank charter says that the bank commitment to provide efficient and prompt services is not only attract new clients, but retain existing ones. The aim of this paper is to minimize instances of customer grievances and complaints in CitiBank through address of review mechanism and proper service delivery and to ensure prompt redress of customer grievances and complaints. 

This paper analyzes the extent of increased complaints in Citibank operations in Dubai, UAE. The study shows that numbers of complaints have increased tremendously during the last two years and are maximal in almost all branches of Citibank in UAE. The complaints are related to deposit, credit cards, remittance, interest rates and housing loans. The present study examines the several factors and reasons behind these customers’ complaints from the perspective of customer satisfaction with different methods.

Citibank UAE

Citibank is a subsidiary of famous Citigroup supported by strong financial brands, products and services having a network of more than 110 million customers, 6 million internet relationships and worldwide presence in more than 105 nations. Citibank launched its operations in UAE in 1987 in an extremely competitive environment offering comprehensive packages of superior quality financial products and services targeting middle and affluent segments of the society. Citibank has perceived its image as the launcher of innovated financial products leveraging its global expertise. It was the first foreign bank in the UAE to introduce e-commerce business solutions such as:

  1. ATMs- Automated Teller Machines;
  2. CitiPhone for 24 hours Phone Banking Service;
  3. CitiAlert for GSM notifications service;
  4. CitiDirect for Corporate Internet Banking Service;
  5. Citibank Online for Retail Internet Banking Service, and
  6. E-Card for Internet Shopping Card.

During the year 2001, its number of retail customers increased to 160,000, providing services mainly through six branches, CitiPhone and six ATMs. Given the UAE Central Bank restrictions on increasing the number of additional branches, being an international bank, Citibank’s e-commerce strategy remains focused on remote channels of distribution, primarily Internet Banking Solutions. Despite several improvements, in the last decade the resentment among Citibank customers over the services claims made by Citibank branches all over UAE is increasing rapidly. This has resulted in losing its clientele by the banks to other foreign and national banks in UAE. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the extent of complaints in CitiBank group in UAE and compares it with the national banks of UAE so as to arrive at a clear understanding of customer dissatisfaction and this comparison will further lead to evaluate the performance of Citibank for recommending alternative measures and recommendations.

The numbers of complaints observed in a survey conducted relate to credit cards, deposit, loans, interest charges and housing loans. The presented study describes complaints during 2009 to 2012 and this paper intends to present solution to these complaints from customers’ perspective.

Introduction

The CitiBank excellence in customer care and service are the most significant tool for its sustained business growth. Undoubtedly, customer complaints have become part and parcel of the business life in the corporate world. This applies more for banks because they are in a servicing sector; moreover, service organizations dealing with customers are always bombarded with numerous complaints. As a service organization, customer satisfaction by providing efficient services should be the prime motive of any bank. The CitiBank understands that offering efficient and prompt service is necessary not only to increase new clientele, but also to retain existing customers. However, at several instances it fails to minimize the customer grievances and complaints through effective service delivery and review mechanism and prompt redresses of customers. The review mechanism helps in identifying shortfalls in product features and service delivery. The dissatisfaction of customer can ruin the image and position of a bank as such policy of a CitiBank on grievance should address as follows: 

  1. Customers always should be treated fairly by bank officials.
  2. Complaints should be brought in notice of a senior manager with courtesy and on time.
  3. Bank should inform customers about avenues to address their grievances/complaints and their rights to alternative solutions, if they are not satisfied from the bank services.
  4. Bank should treat all grievances fairly and effectively as unattended complaints can damage the bank’s reputation and business.
  5. The bank officials should work fairly and have a good attitude, without any prejudice to the customer’s interest.

In order to build bank’s system more effective and meaningful, a structured system needs integration in CitiBank System. Such mechanism would assure that the redresses are just and fair. The mandatory guidelines should be available at all Citibank branches for all officials ensuring a better customer service and awareness in the bank. Usually, complaints from customers arise because of the attitudinal aspects of staff while dealing with customers, inadequacy of the arrangements/functions made available to customers or gaps in standard of services rendered and actual services expected from bank. The customer possess the right to lodge complaints in case he/she does not receive satisfaction with the services provided by the bank, and file his complaints in written, orally form or by telephone.

Standing Committee on Customer Service in CitiBank –Dubai

The Chairman/Chief General Manager of the CitiBank chaired the standing committee on customer service and complaints. This committee includes two to three non executive members selected from the public as members. The committee works on following principles and guidelines:

1)It assesses the quality of customer service received from various branches and also reviews comments about customer service.

2)The committee has a responsibility to ensure that all regulations pertaining to customer service are adhered by the bank. For ensuring this practice, committee directs all functional heads/divisional managers to comply with the necessary complaints information monthly.

3)The committee considers unresolved grievances/complaints referred to it by divisional head, and offer advice related to non compliance of customer complaints.

4)The standing committee submits its report on its performance and achievements to board of directors at quarterly intervals.

Mandatory Requirements

It is mandatory for the CitiBank branch to provide:

  1. All necessary arrangements for receiving suggestions and complaints.
  2. The name, contact number and address of nodal officer attending customers’ complaints.
  3. Code of conduct of the bank to ensure fair practice towards customers. 

Resolution of Grievances

The CitiBank branch manager holds responsibility for resolving grievances/complaints. He is responsible for ensuring successful dissolution of such complaints that are received at the various branches. It is his prime duty to ensure that complaints are solved in ethical manner to the satisfaction of the customer. In case customer is not satisfied, then it is necessary to provide alternate measures to de-escalate the issues. If the complaint is beyond the capacity of the branch manager, then he may refer the case to the divisional office for the further action. Similarly, if the divisional office also finds difficulty to resolve the case, such an issue should be referred to the nodal officer.

Time Frame

The complaints depict a weak spot in the banking operations; therefore, complaints received need a thorough analysis from all possible angles. The bank should acknowledge the complaints within a week and after evaluation of the case, the bank is liable to explain why they need extra time to respond or resolving the complaint. For retaining the clientele, it is necessary for the manager to solve the complaints within specified time frames specified in CitiBank complaints and grievances manual. Communication of the bank’s position on any issue with regard to the customer is a vital concern. Complaints received that demand extra time for examination, must be acknowledged promptly.

Interaction with Customers

The CitiBank recognizes that it is possible to appreciate customer requirements/grievances/expectations through personal interaction with customers by bank officials. Structured customer meetings will provide a message to the customer that the bank values their suggestions and care about their concerns and do all the necessary work for improvement in the customer service. Most of the complaints occur on account of deficit of awareness in customers regarding bank services and such interaction will enable the customers appreciate attitude of bank and banking services better. Simultaneously, for the bank the recommendations from customers would be a valuable for revising its financial products to meet customer expectations (Goyal & Thakur, 2008).

Sensitizing Banking Officials on Handling Complaints

Officials need a comprehensive training on handling complaints issues since the bank deals with people with different background and opinion that may result in friction. With an open mindedness and a smiling face, the officials should be able to win the trust of customer and it becomes the duty of the public relation officer to make sure that internal machinery for handling grievances/complaints operates effectively and smoothly at all levels (Uppal, 2007).

Secondary Research using Professional and Scholarly Journals

Literature Review

There have been numerous studies and researches conducted in the past regarding how to extend better services to customers, which is also in the bank interests. Jain and Jain (2006) examine those national banks in UAE, which do not have monopoly licenses need to be merged with foreign and public sector banks. However, national banks, which realized that the UAE government was no longer supporting them, started designing several strategies for growth and survival. In this study, the researcher aims to examine on increased complaints of CitiBank customers in the past few years and compares with other national banks in UAE. Customer satisfaction plays a vital role in the banking sector as satisfaction relates with complaints and grievances. No complaints from customers mean that customers are satisfied with bank services.

Customer satisfaction has always been the subject of research and has been measured and defined in several ways (Oliver, 1997). Customer satisfaction defines the customer’s fulfillment response to a consumption of a product or service. Customer dissatisfaction gives rise to complaints and causes unpleasantness to the customer (Buttle, 2004) and evaluation of this crucial factor is significant for banking industry as they are dealing with customers all the time. Customer would feel satisfaction if the result of the services meets expectations and when the quality of service exceeds the anticipations, the bank has ultimately won a delighted customer. The crucial challenge for CitiBanks all over UAE will be in the area of customer satisfaction, competition and technology. They should continuously invent new products and services as well as the successful means of offering these products to the customers what consequently lead to the success of product that would finally result in no complaints from the customers. Dhar and Jain (2004) analyzed how computerization has impacted the banking preference and habits of UAE citizens, and which factors affect these preferences. Uppal (2007) studied Citibank  awareness of several e-channels used by them and suggested some measures for ensuring e-banking more efficient, which could provide e-banking with satisfied customers, but the prime obstacle in accepting e-channels is the lack of awareness in customers that result in customer complaints. This paper recommends some appropriate measures to make banking services more efficient in the future that will bring the transformation in CitiBanks of UAE. 

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Parasuraman, Berry & Zeithaml (1991) examined various aspects of customer complaints in nationalized and foreign sector banks. Their study concludes that satisfaction of customer is an invaluable asset for modern banking organizations, offering unmatched competitive edge that in turn assists in building a long term relationship with the customers. The appropriate approach to customer retention is to resolve their problems in time with sincere efforts by delivering a high level of customer satisfaction that ultimately result in strong customer loyalty. Bennett (1996) asserted that customer behavior is unpredictable, impulsive, and intolerant and it may become worse if his complaints are not resolved. A customer can damage the reputation of bank by his words of mouth publicity. The study examined five dimensions and ten factors of customer compliant for both national and foreign bank sector in UAE. In this study, Jain and Jain (2006) found that that the UAE banking sector has undergone tremendous changes due to economic growth, liberalization and globalization since 1991. This change has brought awareness in UAE citizens towards better financial products and superior services provided by other foreign banks all over the world and if CitiBank promises to offer some financial products it is their responsibility to ensure that customer do not receive any complaint and harassment with regard to product since customer has agreed to invest money to buy that financial product. There has been a critical surge in retail banking sector of UAE. The survey conducted by CitiBank based on 150 customers in Sharjah and Dubai revealed the several types of services offered by other banks, the level of satisfaction, variety of services, expectations from these services and level of segmentation among the services provided. This survey helped CitiBank in evaluating their position with regard to customer satisfaction and complaints and enabled it to design strategies appropriate for clients. Mishra and Jain (2007) argued customer management in UAE banks, according to them, the management aim is to target the customer with a view to obtain customer insight and offer value added products and services, but the banks’ responsibility does not end here by offering the products to their clients rather begins in terms of after sales service. Technology has provided a big tool for the banks to reach people in any part of the world at any time with tailored products, thereby moving towards the concept of zero customer complaints. It is the efficiency of the bank how effectively they launch the product so that customer can be satisfied. The management must struggle to deliver proper service to each customer; as such, this may be emotional, situational or functional for long term customers retaining and business management in banks. Anderson (1993) concluded that when a product or good service is extended to a client, a loyal client would work as an ambassador to the bank and assist growth of business. Negating customer complaint is the base for business expansion because of stiff competition prevailing in the banking sector. Further, Gremler and Brown (1997) examined that rural customers in the UAE are not fully aware of financial products and services of CitiBank and also unaware of its rules and regulations as well as procedures. In the process of buying these products without any proper knowledge rural customers land up with complaints and accuse banks of their incompatibility. The survival of the banking industry in UAE depends upon customer service. The findings from literature conclude that banking sector is active in UAE, because of technological advancement and hence banks should avail this opportunity to become stronger organizations in providing essential services to the satisfaction of the customer. 

The Aims and Objectives of Primary Research

1)To examine the number of complaints made by Citibank customers.

2)To analyze the nature of complaints with respect to different areas.

3)To find the satisfaction level of customers with interpersonal relationship at CitiBank in UAE.

4)To find the customer satisfaction with regard to complaint handling at CitiBank.

5)To identify other key areas with the service provision mechanisms that have similar bearing on customer retention.

Research Instrument

This study uses descriptive research in order to understand the perceptions of different customers towards banking sector, and pattern of their behavior by studying their demographics. This is the most popular technique of research, commonly used in survey and most beneficial in explaining the characteristics of consumer behavior (Kothari, 1990). In this study, researcher studied the nature and number of complaints made by customers. The study adopted following methods:

  1. Questionnaire method;
  2.  Direct interaction with the customers and
  3. Data collection.

Data Collection

Questionnaire

A detailed questionnaire comprising of major services provided by CitiBank was prepared and vital areas of complaints that customers usually encounter included in questionnaire. The questionnaire involved services such as deposits, remittance, credit cards, loans, housing loans, interest charges, pension, failure on commission, notes and coins, and direct selling. The questionnaire was distributed to 110 customers with the assistance of Public Relation Officer of CitiBank during banking hours and respondents were asked to fill in questionnaire. Considering the ethics of research, the anonymity of respondents was maintained for preserving their privacy and relations with bank. There were responses of 40 customers out of 110 distributed questionnaire and these respondents also agreed to be interviewed personally.

Findings and Analysis

In this survey this research implements a Likert scale, which is a psychometric scale usually implemented in researches that employ questionnaire. It is one of the most widely accepted approaches to scale responses so that the term is interchangeable with rating scale.

1) Are you satisfied with the overall services of Citibank?

Most of the respondents were not satisfied with over all services of CitiBank. Among 40 interviewed, 25 persons showed total dissatisfaction, whereas 10 customers depicted satisfaction as they stated bank has improved their services. The response of 3 respondents was poor bank services and 2 preferred to remain neutral as they consider all banks at the same level with regard to services.

2) Why are the prime reasons for deterioration in Citibank services?

On an issue of deterioration in Citibank services 29 customers reported that bank does not treat all complaints fairly and efficiently and customers are not fully acquainted of avenues to resolve their grievances/complaints and were totally dissatisfied. Whereas, 7 respondents stated satisfaction and said complaints raised by clients are usually dealt on time and with due courtesy.  Here again 5 customers were neutral and did not show much interest in deterioration.

3) In event of such complaints, would you recommend your friends to avail CitiBank  services?

With regard to recommendation, 21 strongly disagreed to recommend to their relatives and friends, 6 clients agreed for recommendations as for they felt they should not be prejudice. The response of 3 customers was neutral while 10 respondents agreed in case bank improves its services.

4) Are you satisfied with interest rates offered by CitiBank?

The findings concerning interest rates on deposits indicated that 30 participants are not at all satisfied with interests’ rates as they feel national banks in UAE offer more lucrative interests on deposits whereas 6 customers showed satisfaction as they consider that additional interest rates of 1 to 1,5% is not significant to them since with these deposits they are able to achieve additional services such as loans on cars and housing. The response of 4 customers showed total satisfaction towards interest rates and there were no neutral case in such.

5) What is the position of Citibank with regard to overseas remittance?

The remittance factor was the most crucial to 18 participants and they rated bank services extremely poor. They complained that the bank these days take much time in remittance of money from aboard than earlier. Further, 8 respondents rated poor services of the bank. The response of 5 customers showed excellent services, while 9 persons rated good services.

6) Where does CitiBank lack in Credit Card facilities?

There was total dissatisfaction over credit cards among 24 respondents. The respondents stated that the bank often overcharge interests on their credit cards and do not  send them monthly statements leading to unpleasantness with bank officials on their non-cooperation. The bank staff when approached showed their ignorance, helplessness and inability to solve their case. Despite points not included at due time, 8 customers showed satisfaction. They regarded Citibank credit services still better than others. The response of 4 customers remained neutral while another 4 respondents appreciated credit card services.

7) Will you prefer to secure housing and car loans from Citibank?

On the issue of housing loans, 21 participants stated that although bank does not take much time in processing loan applications, but their documentations and formalities are difficult to meet their requirements and they regarded the bank services extremely poor. Further, 15 respondents stated national banks are more trustworthy in processing their housing loan applications though their interest rates is higher than CitiBank and they do not demand time consuming documentation and they also rated bank services poor. Only 4 respondents showed satisfaction towards housing and car loans facilities.

8) Are you satisfied with pension fund scheme offered by CitiBank?

The pension fund is the area in which all 40 participants said that national banks are much appreciable as they have direct interaction with government bodies. As such the researcher could evaluate CitiBank services extremely poor with regard to pension fund.

9) Are you satisfied with current/savings accounts and recurring deposit schemes of Citibanks?

This was one of the crucial areas of customer complaints as the most prominent businessmen hold current/business/savings accounts with this bank. On the issue of current accounts, 28 participants complained extremely inefficient services of the bank. They stated that bank often does not send monthly statements and on online banking their credit balance is often misleading. The response of 6 persons was efficient whereas 4 customers remained neutral and did not like to comment.

10)   Are customers fully acquainted of avenues to escalate their grievances /complaints and their rights to alternative solutions?

Almost 30 customers rated bank response extremely poor. They stated that in event of complaint they do not know the avenues to escalate their grievances and bank does not provide them customer complaint manual for redress. The response of another 4 persons was also poor. Only 6 customers showed satisfaction with regard to this complaint.

Primary Research by conducting interviews with CitiBank Officials

For my research I approached three key officials of CitiBank Dubai: Shah Rukh Khan (Public Relation Officer), Mohamed Zardari (Deputy Manager) and Vikram Pandit (a member of staff). The three key areas were covered with them in the interview and these are the basic questions discussed:

1) Do you fully inform the avenues to your customers to escalate their grievances/complaints and acquaint them their rights to alternative solutions?

2) Do you agree that there is an inadequacy of the arrangements/functions made available to the clients or there exist a wide gap in quality of services expected and actual rendered services?

3) Does bank hold regular meetings with customers for redress of complaints and provide complaints/suggestion box for receiving suggestions and complaints and how long do banks take in resolving such complaints?

The Public Relation Officer, Shah Rukh Khan, stated that the customer has full right to register complaint if he/she is not satisfied. The customer can forward complaint in written and orally form, or over telephone. The bank always tries to resolve complaint in three days but the delays do occur in some cases as the customers do not provide all data at first instant and this also causes a gap between services rendered and expected by customers. The PRO further stated that bank quarterly holds meetings with customers, but in such meetings attendance of customers is remarkably poor.

Then during the interview with Deputy Manager, Mohamed Zardari, he stated that the bank has a well-formed process for receiving, logging and resolving any customer grievances and also perform a Root Cause Analysis so as to make sure that whole staff is acquainted of the incidence hence that a similar error does not occur in future. The CitiBank head office offers both online and class room training on customer service to all its branches on a regular basis and the RCAs as well as complaints are disseminated to all CitiBanks. The training essentials in customer service are evaluated and escalated for individual banks by the respective managers. Finally, Vikram Pandit, an employee, stated that we put our all efforts in resolving customer complaints and sincerely attend their grievances but most of times customers are also not well aware of the banking system and buy the financial products ignorantly without sufficient knowledge that causes friction among staff and customers. Moreover, the staff totally depends upon the senior managers and their promptness in taking action against the issues forwarded to them.

Recommendations and Strategies to Mitigate Complaints

1. All CitiBank branches should constitute customer service cell.

2. Appoint designated officials and nodal officers to handle grievances and complaints.

3. Nodal and designated officers should hold monthly meetings with customers.

4. The staff should be trained, polite, and honest in handling the complaints.

5. Understanding experience of customer and its implication: the experience shows that there exist multiple layers of customer experience within a bank. The banks provide customers through management of lower order satisfaction and also the higher order loyalty. The failure in doing so generally leads to sub optimal customers. For ensuring this, the bank must improve interaction with customers by holding regular meetings for redress of their problems.

6. Appreciating that external or internal process audits are not alternatives in measuring the reliability and accuracy of service delivery: some CitiBanks adopt the external mystery customer mechanism. It is difficult to understand that such initiative generally benchmark delivery against intentions. Although the delivery may be as per intention, there can be a problem with delivering customers. Hence, banks must implement a careful mix of process audits and VOC (voice of customer) studies such as loyalty studies/customer satisfaction.

7. Maintaining the link between tangible business outcome and superior customer experience such as customer retention: the customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and different customer experiences establish the fact that there is weaker bondage between customer satisfaction and business outcomes, which result in several complaints from customers. While at the same time, loyalty of customer highly correlates with business outcome. This study also shows that loyal customer will likely to stay with the bank and avail the facility of more products and services in case of no complaints. Moreover, customer complaints is one of the prime factors influencing customer loyalty, but only an appropriate mix of all aspects of customer loyalty goes towards changing business outcomes that will favor the bank in the long run.

8. Adopting effective implementation of internal customer profile and history data: Bank should make best use of extensive customer information not merely for selling and detecting fraud, but to gain customer insights. The best appropriate method is storing the complaints data in its data base as this will give an opportunity to compare with the previous resolved complaints and a thorough analysis as to why such complaints have occurred again.

Conclusion

This paper determines that nowadays maximum complaints are consistently increasing because of increased customers’ expectations, and as such, they adversely affect customers’ satisfaction and performance. The complaints observed relate to deposits, credit cards, housing loans, interest rates, remittance and loans. It is necessary for the bank to eliminate these complaints so that customer receives satisfaction. Each and every branch of CitiBank should setup a customer care center to mitigate the complaints of the customers. These days’ national banks in UAE have shown tremendous improvement towards customers’ attitude and in resolving their grievances as they realize the presence of several foreign banks can affect their business, as well as increased cut throat competition. The customer service in banking industry means to satisfy the requirements of customers in the right manner and at the right time with reliability, accuracy, high speed service, and appropriate facilities and techniques for effective customer service.

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