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Why we all feel comfortable with cash.

Why we all feel comfortable with cash

Are people ever likely to give up on cash or is the cashless society destined, like the paperless office, always to remain just around the corner?

In Volume 145, Issue1397 of Accountancy, Meall argues that electronic money will inevitably replace notes and coins - even for purchasing small, everyday items - because of a combination of advances in smart-card and smart-phone technology. Transport for London's successful Oyster e-payment system for fares on public transport in the UK capital is an example of this technology in action.

In contrast, James Woudhuysen, professor of forecasting and innovation at De Montford University, Leicester, claims in a report for ATM provider Bank Machine that Britain is unlikely ever to evolve into a cashless society.

Part of the reason, he says, is that it will never be commercially viable to install card-reader systems at small-scale events such as car-boot sales and local fetes. People would find it harder to shop at small, independent traders rather than faceless supermarkets. The absence of cash would also hit charity collections, office whip-rounds and even children's pocket money.

Perhaps the crucial consideration, though, is that the consumer would have to have a high level of confidence in any e-payment system designed to replace cash. So far, that does not seem to exist. A survey by market analyst YouGov showed that 70% of consumers questioned believed that fraud would probably rise following the introduction of contactless cards.

People feel comfortable with cash - and after the recent banking crisis, who could blame them for wanting to keep more of it under the mattress for a rainy day?

If banks have a hard task ahead to regain the trust of their customers, they could do worse than follow the example of First Direct, the UK bank and division of HSBC.

In Volume 35, Issue 11 of Quality World, Russell reports that the bank, which has no branch network but relies on a custom-built UK call centre, has established impressive levels of customer service partly through the intensive training its staff receive.

All new employees attend an induction programme, which blends classroom and e-learning. To complement this, they have the chance to spend time with their team in a live role - which the bank calls the "rookie" period. This helps new employees to transfer the knowledge and skills they have picked up into a live environment.

First Direct employees can subsequently study at their workplace for a foundation degree on the subject of contact centres. Huddersfield University Business School delivers the coursework each week at the bank's Leeds headquarters. The firm subsidises the course, which costs employees only £100 a year. First Direct staff who successfully complete the foundation degree can go on to study for a full honours degree in business studies.

Other factors that help First Direct to provide good customer service include daily e-mail surveys of customers who have called that day, monthly postal surveys of new customers who have bought products, and monthly telephone calls to assess customer satisfaction with complaint handling.

The company also tries to generate a high level of employee involvement in order to increase commitment to the business. An intranet question time enables staff to put forward queries to be answered by senior management and gives the opportunity to make suggestions. In addition, there is a "chat shop" in which employees can raise issues surrounding working life at the company.

Such initiatives helped First Direct to scoop the prize for top call centre in the UK for customer service, in a recent benchmarking exercise conducted by independent market research company GfK NOP. With one in three customers joining the bank on personal recommendation, First Direct is clearly doing something right.