Posted by Phildo |

So let me begin by apologizing for my hiatus. I'd give you a reason or this or that or the other, but let's just say that I'm back.

What atrocity, what outrage against mankind has brought me forth from the shadows? A recent customer service experience with the lovely bank known as Wachovia.

Let me begin by saying that I have been a Wachovia customer for about four years now, having switched over from Bank of America due to their heinous policies (O! The irony!) regarding overdrafts, deposits, etc. I have generally not had many issues, but that's because I'm not a power-banker. I don't do much with my money other than deposit it and on occasion spend it. Simple, right?

Fast-forward to October 28th, in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine. October has been a little tight on the old wallet due to some outstanding car repairs that needed to be made. And by outstanding I mean "wonderful" not "past due." Though I suppose both apply. I knew that my car insurance payment was going to post on that date and that I needed to put some cash in that day so that I could make sure that I don't overdraft my checking and get assessed an overdraft charge. I arrived at my local Wachovia branch at approximately 2:53 pm to make my cash deposit, understanding that cash deposits post the same day, hence my decision to step foot in a brick-and-mortar facility.

On a side note, I HATE going to banks. Do you? Some people hate going to the doctor, or the dentist or whatever. Me? I'm fine with all that mumbo jumbo, but banks drive me absolutely nuts. Everything from the Holiday Inn lobby decor to the sloppy area where the tellers work, it just irks me. So for me to step foot in a bank means that I've got some im-po-tent buid-ness to take care of.

Susie Q. takes my cash deposit, swipes my debit card to pull up my account, and hands me a receipt. Wonderful. Transaction completed at 2:58 pm.

"Thank you for banking Wachovia and have a nice day."

"No, thank you for using broken English. Thank me for banking with Wachovia. The last time I looked, prepositions were not on the latest missing child mailer. There are no amber alerts for the word 'with'."

On we go. Slumber comes to me later that day and I awaken on the 29th to find...Oh! How lovely! My account has overdrafted! Seventy dollars in overdraft fees have been assessed to my account! Pip pip cheerio, gov'nah, a spot of the old fuckey-doo!

I am the last person to complain about service. Having worked in service industries my whole life (particularly in the luxury segment), I understand what it feels like to have someone berate you about something you have absolutely nothing to do with. Conversely, I also understand that a few scarce drops of empathy and understanding can go a long way with an upset customer. I dial up my local Wachovia branch manager, who does a wonderful job of agreeing with me about how ridiculous it is and tells me to call the 1-800 number to get this issue resolved. And that's the first hiccup.

As a branch manager, what exactly do you do? Banks have always seemed very particular that certain things can only be accomplished by your branch manager. Canceling your account, for example, is something that must be done by your branch (we'll get into how I know that in just a moment). So, as a multi-billion dollar organization, merging with a large bank like Wells Fargo, you'd think that somewhere along the line they've worked on problem resolution skills, right? Wrong. I ask the branch manager why she can't simply remove the fees, since she seems equally appalled. She proceeds to tell me that the bank's hierarchy limits which functions a certain person can perform (reference: can only cancel account at your home branch) and that is just not one of them. If I am a branch manager for a bank, I feel pretty impotent at this point. I have an upset customer and I have to tell them to call a 1-800 number, instead of having my organization back me up in my decision to make a customer happy. Hmm. Limp.

I proceeded to call the 1-800 number and spoke to a gentleman who was EXTREMELY unhelpful in his response. No empathy, no "Yes sir, I can clearly see that you were making a deposit to prevent this very thing from happening." Instead I am quoted the policy. After 2 pm, all cash deposits do not post until the next business day. Simply wanting to understand this policy, I asked for the reasoning. What is different from 2:01 pm from 1:59 pm? Does cash become more difficult to handle after 2? Is it heavier? Or was this policy created by some clever pen-pusher who made his fortune by inventing a policy that results in millions of dollars in overdraft charges each year with this very same policy?

According to Business Week (I can't find the link but will continue to look), between 2005 and 2009, the banking industry made approximately 39 billion dollars off of overdraft fees alone! So you're telling me that my $70 is even a drop in that bucket? Ouch!

There is no reason for the policy, the gentleman proceeded to again quote me the policy and state that there was nothing he could do. I absolutely hate taking this step, but I asked to speak to his supervisor or manager. He told me that he was a supervisor. I asked him who supervises him. He said that he did not have an immediate superior. Really? You are the CEO of the company? How noble of you to answer customer service calls and then be a complete dick! Well played, sir. Well played. I expressed my amazement that he was his own boss in a company that seems to adhere very strictly to a corporate hierarchy and asked to speak to a fellow supervisor in his stead. I was gleefully connected.

The second gentleman, who shall remain nameless in all accounts of this tale except in my letter to the President of Wachovia, started out with an equally amazing response. When asked if the previous person had a direct supervisor, this man stated that indeed, "I am his supervisor." I asked what position the previous gentleman held and the supervisor told me that he was not actually a supervisor. Ouch. Points to the first guy for trying to say the buck stops with him (even though he did so in the completely wrong vein of response). But minus about 3 million points for the supervisor giving away his colleague's lie. I explained my situation again, realizing that by now it had been committed to memory as though lines from a play. I was in the midst of being quoted their 2 pm cash cancellation policy and how he would be willing to waive 10% of the fees (that's seven dollars, folks) when I postulated the following question:

"So you're telling me that you are willing to lose my business and that of my family and any friends who are willing to listen to me over $63?"

"Well, no sir. We are already making a generous concession by allowing the 10% refund. To leave our bank would be disadvantageous to you."'

Either he just threatened to whack me, or he just told me that I'm wrong. The problem with me, though, is that I am exceedingly clever. I decided to use my wits to ensnare him in a trap of his own creation. I asked him if he noted the time of my deposit. He saw that I had deposited the money at 2:58 pm. Confirmed. I asked him if he could see that my deposit was sizeable and certainly enough to cover the charges that went through at close-of-business on the 28th. He did. I asked him if the bank teller deposited the money that day or if she kept it on her person until the 29th and then deposited it. No, the money was accepted and deposited on the 28th by the teller. Instinct led the gentleman to start droning on about their 2pm deposit policy but passion overtook me and caused me to interrupt.

"In my business, a person has until 12 noon on the date of their arrival to cancel a reservation. If someone calls me at 12:58 pm and tells me they are not going to be able to make their reservation due to an unforseen circumstance, am I going to penalize them for that? Policy dictates that I must, but business savvy dictates that I would stand to gain more by showing my willingness to meet this person halfway and allow an exception to policy, thereby making it more likely that I will retain their business over the rest of their lifetime." I explained that in my business, a lost guest can equate to $125k in lost revenue. I went on to add that while I certainly do not know the statistic for a bank losing their customer, I am sure that sixty three dollars is not worth losing my business for the rest of my life. If he is concerned that I will proceed to abuse the system, why not make a note on my profile that I was granted this concession and then state that in the future I must follow whatever ridiculous procedure has been set forth by the big-bad-bank?

I have set the stage for this gentleman to be my hero. Save me, Don Miguel, saaave me! As you might expect, he drops the ball royally. For the third time in the call now, I am being quoted the 2pm deposit policy. I interrupt one last time to ask if this gentleman is prepared to be held accountable for allowing my business to go to another bank. Not only my business, in fact, but the business of my family and friends and anyone else who is willing to hear my tale. He states that his position exists to ensure that policy is adhered to and if he makes this exception for one person, he makes it for all. Ouch. Another mistake.

Nevermind that the customer is always right. Frankly, the customer is almost never right. But a smart businessman knows that in order to syphon my money from me over the course of my 85 year life, you give me a little nugget every now and then to keep me interested. There are no nuggets here.

I ask one final time for clarification: "You are prepared to lose my business over sixty three dollars?"

"Sir that decision is up to you. Please be advised that you cannot cancel your account over the phone, you will need to do that at your home branch location."

I informed him of my decision to move my money to another bank and close all accounts with Wachovia. I politely asked him for his name and an address with whom I may file a formal complaint (the last chance that he has to realize that ultimately he is probably going to be reprimanded for making a customer irate and turn the situation around), and he provides me with the address. I disconnect the call.

Folks, I could understand his position if I was being blatantly irresponsible with my money. I really could. But to penalize me for clearly trying to do the right thing is just plain-old bad business.

After hanging up, I decided to try one last tactic that has gotten results from people who file complaints with my business: call someone who has absolutely nothing to do with what you are complaining about and demand resolution. More often than not that person just wants you out of their hair. If they don't care, they transfer you to go and deal with someone just like the people you're complaining about. If they are smart, they give you what you want and wonder how in the world you got in touch with them.

I called Wachovia's 1-800 number again, this time under the pretense that I was looking to take out a loan for my small business. Enter small business loans consultant. I confess my deception to the chirpy voice of someone who is definitely groomed for sales, and she responds with genuine empathy and surprise. "Oh my. That would upset me, too." After listening to my complaint and empathizing with me, she asks if I will hold on the line while she pulls up the corporate standard to see if there is a workaround. Hmph! This is new! Why can you pull up a corporate standard to check for a workaround but the previous two oafs cannot? She comes back on the line noting that an exception can be made if the deposit is made within 1 hour of the cutoff time, depending on the circumstances.

Interesting. Piranhas are circling the waters around the two "supervisors" I spoke to before.

She says she would be so upset if she were me, and asks if I mind holding while she double checks with her leader to see if it's okay to waive both overdraft charges. After holding less than 20 seconds she comes back with the unanimous verdict of Not Guilty. The funds are instantly refunded to my account. I of course admonished her with praise for her helpfulness and asked for her full name so that I may note how helpful she was in my letter to the president of her organization. She gleefully does so and proceeds to give me a different address than the other person did, noting that she doesn't know where his address will put my letter, but that the one she provided me with will go straight to the office of the president. I thank her a few more times and hang up to see my new corrected balance on wachovia.com.

After ruminating over the subject for awhile and thinking about how ridiculous it is for an organization to offer inconsistent resolution across the board, I decided to place a quick call to a business contact I have with Wachovia, who, for reasons you shall see momentarily, will remain nameless. I asked my contact why there is a break in continuity between what the "customer service" representative was able to provide me with and what the small business loan consultant was able to provide me with. Under penalty of death, I was sworn to never repeat that these words came from his mouth...

He went on to tell me that the individuals I spoke to in the "refund" department are subject to different disciplinary actions than other employees within the organization. They are actually reprimanded for refunding money back to the customer. Any other department is not subject to this. Except local branches and their employees. Interesting, no? Wachovia seems to have stripped empowerment from the ladies and gentlemen who are manning the front lines and given it instead to the people that most customers would never think to call.

I plan to write a letter to the corporate headquarters of Wachovia and to copy the President, Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Customer Relations. How they handle their response will ultimately decide whether or not I continue to bank with Wachovia.

I sincerely hope that anyone reading this who operates their own business, or who fights the tough battles working as customer service representatives, will realize that sometimes it's easier to just say "Yes." Ultimately if a customer is passionate enough to complain to you, it's just as likely that they will complain to someone higher up than you until they get what they want. Somewhere up the line, a person within your company will realize that it costs less to resolve it now than lose a customer. Conversely, make sure you track that data. I can tell you firsthand that people regularly abuse this system to get what they want even when they are in the wrong. Customer service is about caring. Caring means putting yourself in the other person's shoes and understanding how they must feel. And when you do that, you'll see what it will take to make them happy. And ultimately, that's what you're there to do.

Until next time, don't think too hard (especially if you work for Wachovia).