How workplace culture impacts on customer service


Danny Harmer says that looking at her cv it could be argued that Metro Bank, her employer, was crazy to hire her if they wanted to offer something different from traditional banks.

Since leaving university, she has mostly worked in banks and building societies.

Danny, however, says that before she went into HR she had many customer-facing roles so she totally gets Metro Bank’s focus on customer experience and that workplace culture – how teams are built and how the people in the organisation operate – play a key role in that customer experience.

She was hired as HR Director, but her title has since changed to Chief People Officer. “We looked at the titles and what I do is people. It is much broader than traditional HR – it involves working with colleagues and also candidates, customers, suppliers, investors and the media,” says Danny, adding that she has found working at Metro Bank “liberating”.

She says the bank’s strength lies with having a clear, simple and positive vision – to create fans [customers] and grow. Shorter term goals can be hung off that long-term framework, she adds. The fact Metro Bank is a fairly recent addition to the UK banking world means it can build a new model from that framework. “Larger organisations can be more complex and confusing for people. Having a simple vision helps us make great decisions,” says Danny. It makes the bank question everything from the customer point of view, for instance, whether the traditional banks pulling out of high street branches is what customers really want. Metro Bank has stores in many high streets and offer long opening hours, including early mornings, evenings and weekends.

Workplace culture

Danny adds that the vision also informs workplace culture.  “How we treat our people is how they treat our customers,” she says. “Culture does matter a lot. In six years we have grown 10 fold from 300 employees to 3,500 and that culture enables people to do their best and to bring their whole self to work. Whatever part of the bank they work in, everyone understands what it is they are doing – to create fans. They also understand when they might need to ask for help – we call it ‘bumping things up’ – and it helps colleagues get things done for customers and each other”

She recounts one anecdote. She was at the opening of a new store in Watford recently. At one point she was sitting with a colleague in a cafe across the road from the store and a group of children were visiting the bank to learn how it worked as part of their Money Zone education programme. Danny heard her colleagues spontaneously start applauding the children as they came into the store. “I had a tear in my eye. You can’t train people for that. I was so proud of our people,” she says.

Although Metro Bank has a gender pay gap [Women’s mean hourly rate is 22.4% lower than men’s], it is much smaller than those of the more established banks. Danny says this is because it is a relatively young bank and doesn’t have the legacy issues of its more established competitors. Around 50% of its entry level hires are female and they tend to progress at roughly the same rate as men. Danny recognises, however, that there is still a big challenge sourcing a better gender mix of talent for the top level of the business, particularly in the more specialist roles.

“We are focusing on pulling our best people through and looking for a diverse mix,” says Danny. “We will give the job to the best person, but we have to make sure our recruiting managers have the right list to choose from.”

The bank is working out how to use its applicant tracking system to take the names off cvs to see what difference that makes. “The fact that we are growing is an opportunity to get this right and to nudge people in the right direction,” she adds.

Metro Bank also runs several internal leadership and development programmes from entry level upwards and aims to ensure the mix on these reflects its colleague and customer base.

From area manager to HR

Danny has three children aged 16, 14 and 12. She says she only got into HR because her boss in a previous company took a chance on her when she was eight months pregnant with her son 14 years ago. She was an area manager at the time and they asked her what she wanted to do. She said HR. She had always run her area based on a long term, strategic approach, thinking about  people inputs, including succession and resourcing planning, making sure she had talented people coming on board and developing that talent. It was a natural fit for HR. “If the focus is only on output and sales you are not building long term relationships or understanding what the customer wants,” she says.

Danny reduced to four days a week when she had her first child and was an area manager.  Since her second child she has been full time. She felt that, since she had never done an HR job, she needed to work full time to learn the ropes.

She and her husband tend to cover different ends of the day: she goes in earlier and gets home earlier; he goes in later and returns later. The couple are also fortunate enough to be able to employ a nanny. Danny says she was at a point in her career where she had a choice to make about whether to invest in a nanny to be able to continue working. “It was not an easy choice and I understand why others don’t choose it. It meant I was not really earning anything, but I saw it as an investment in my career,” she says.

Danny has also been mentoring working mums and she is interested in how women can help each other.

Metro Bank has a ‘women on work’  network and Danny spoke via Skype at one event with two other women in the leadership team. She says it was interesting how much they all agreed on how their children had inspired them in their careers. “I believe I am a better mum as a result of what I do at work,” she says, “and I feel working mums can be great role models, particularly for their daughters… as can stay at home parents.  It is most importantly about making choices you are happy with.”

*Metro Bank is one of’s Top Employers. Check out their profile here.

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