Simon Read: Santander deserves a second chance to get it right

Customer service has become a crucial battleground for banks. Still suffering from the negativity generated by their major role in the credit crunch and the subsequent recession, our high-street lenders know they need to improve the way they deal with customers to rebuild their tattered reputations.

The half-yearly complaints data published by the Financial Services Authority have become a fascinating barometer of how well the banks are doing in improving customer services.

To date the figures have told a sorry tale, with all the major banks attracting hundreds of thousands of complaints. Hopefully, now the scandal of missold payment protection insurance is behind us, the number of complaints will be slashed when the next figures are published in September.

From then we should start getting a real indication of how well or badly the banks are doing with their day-to-day banking customer services. The bank that still has the most to prove is Spanish-owned Santander, which has become renowned for its appalling service.

A main part of the reason is the problems arising from merging Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley. So it was good to hear new UK boss Ana Botin say this week that "Improving the service we offer is my top priority."

The first step in that process has been to return its call centres to the UK from India, following complaints from customers. The bank outsourced the centres in 2003 to Bangalore and Pune. They have now been returned to Glasgow, Leicester and Liverpool. Next up, the bank is promising to tackle frustrating queue delays.

Botin has asked for between two to three years to get customer service to an acceptable level. We should applaud the bank's attempts to get things right, but, by the same token, we must closely monitor its progress. The bank must show real and measureable improvement, not just a slick PR exercise.

I've been caught out by the savings rate scam. I opened a Platinum account with Lloyds some years ago, but only this week checked the interest rate it pays, to discover it's a pathetic 0.1 per cent. I've now switched accounts, but suggest you check your rate. Chances are you're being ripped off too.