By EMEKA EJERE

First Bank of Nigeria Limited has always been one of Nigeria’s leading commercial banks with consistently good ratings in virtually all the banking indicators that measure customer satisfaction, especially crowd management.

But the story may not remain the same for the customers who visited the Rumukurushi branch of the tier 1 lender in Port Harcourt, the capital city of the oil-rich Rivers State between 12 noon and 2:00 pm on Wednesday, March 11.

As part of its weekly bank survey, the Across-The-Counter team of BusinessHallmark had stumbled into a state of total paralysis that lasted for about two hours at the bank’s branch following a public power outage that lasted for about two hours. The situation which saw some of the bank’s staff jumping from one place to another in search of a solution also left the customers confused and angry.

It was obvious that most of the stranded customers had always known a bank as a place that does not only always have a standby generating set but also an automatic power changeover to minimise the effect of a possible power failure on the banking activities. Even if they were by any reason to expect anything short of that standard, it certainly would not have been in a big city like Port Harcourt and for a bank like FBN.

It was therefore easy to understand why the customers bluntly refused to reason with some of the bank’s junior staff at the counter who tried to call for patience while assuring that serious efforts at restoring the light were on.

“Why will a bank depend on just public power supply, knowing how erratic public power is in Nigeria?,” an aggrieved customer who simply gave his name as Uche queried. “It is not even enough to have just one standby generator”, another customer argued preferring anonymity.  “So the fact that one or two standby generators were not in a good state to save the branch from this embarrassment means that the manager here needs to sit up.”

Counting their losses in terms of time, a customer said, “I have been here for over one hour”, and another one said, “I have been here for over 40 minutes.”

The fact that it was an Oil Mill Market day further complicated the issue for the branch both in terms of customer traffic and willingness to exercise patience. Many of the customers, findings revealed, were those who also wanted to engage in either buying or selling or both at the market.

Oil Mill is a popular Port Harcourt weekly market that brings people from far and near together every Wednesday for the purpose of both retail and wholesale buying and selling. The Rumukurushi branch of First Bank is located directly opposite the market.

Many argued that if there is any day that branch should take every precaution to avert an embarrassment of that magnitude it should be the Oil Mill Market day. For such people, only a height of laxity and lack of proactivity could explain that kind of situation on such a busy day.

It got so bad that some customers who needed to fill some forms started helping themselves with the tiny torches on their cell phones. When the leader of our team asked one of the customer service ladies what was actually going on, she simply replied, “The manager is down there, go and ask him.” But the manager was obviously too stressed up to answer such questions as he struggled to put an end to the avoidable problem.

The customer service lady’s response put a big question mark on the customer-friendliness of the branch. It also to a large extent vindicated some of the customers who had alleged that the branch cares less about the feelings of their customers.

Of course, waiting for the restoration of power became a lot more stressful as about 98 per cent of the customers on both up and down banking halls were standing owing to grossly insufficient seats. Needless to say, it resulted in very rowdy banking halls with even the security personnel struggling with a moral burden to direct a semblance of orderliness.

The light was eventually restored but the fact remains that none of the customers who witnessed the strange scenario will forget the experience in a hurry.  Expectedly, crowd management became more challenging with long queues as a result of the accumulation of customers many of whom would have left were there no such unexpected break.

However, a closer look at other aspects of the branch revealed that even if the power failure did not occur to expose an inability to maintain an optimally functional standby generating set, the branch would not still enjoy our favourable ratings the location advantage it has. That is not how to run a branch of a big bank that has many laurels to its credit.