Why is customer service so hard?

I closed a few bank accounts yesterday that were left over from my solo days. The accounts were in the bank where my parents and I have banked since 1968. Then, it was the local “Farmers and Merchants Bank,” but in the last twenty years it has gone through four ownership changes, becoming first Eagle Bank, then Landmark Bank, then Magna Bank, and now Union Planters. The beautiful downtown building is nearly empty, with two tellers and a bank manager in the space that once housed almost fifty employees.

While I was closing my accounts, a woman in her mid-forties came in and asked the teller if she could cash a check for a hundred dollars. She said she was from out of town and visiting her mother-in-law, who was too ill to come to the bank herself. The teller told her that unless she had an account there, “bank policy” said she couldn’t cash the check. When the woman said her mother-in-law banked there, but was too ill to come herself, the teller apologized but told her she would have to go elsewhere. I observed the exchange while sitting with the bank’s manager, who watched the entire episode unfold but did nothing.

All afternoon, I tried to answer the question, “How many accounts will this bank lose over a single $100 check?” Certainly the mother-in-law’s account. If the ailing woman has any family in town, those accounts too will likely move elsewhere. Friends, family, and neighbors may move their accounts as well. I know I’m glad to have severed my relationship with the bank.

All for a hundred bucks. As for Union Planters, are its policies so inflexible that they can’t accommodate the visiting relative of an ailing customer? Are the managerial employees of this bank so afraid of breaking the “rules” that they are willing to jeopardize thousands of dollars in deposits? Do the employees get any customer service training at all?

How many little interactions like this do you have with your clients or customers? How many times has a “firm policy” kept you or your employees from doing what is right? I was almost sick when I saw how upset this woman was when she left the bank. I hope I don’t have clients leaving my office with the same feeling.

11 Responses to Why is customer service so hard?
  1. Buzz Bruggeman
    August 31, 2004 | 9:36 am

    I recently had a simlar problem with Bank of America. One of my clients got a large check in a deal, low 6 figures. He E-Mailed me his account number, asked me to immediately deposit the check in his account. I drove to BOA, tried to deposit it in the drive through, they refused since I wasn’t an account holder and didn’t have a deposit slip, made me go inside. Once inside I got in the line for BOA account holders (assuming stupidly that since he was an account holder that I was in the right line), got to the head of the line, and was told since I was not an account holder I had to get in the line for the non-account holders. That line had about 15 people in it, mostly poor and black just looking to cash their paychecks.

    Which I then did. Needless to say the whole exercise took about 30 minutes, just to put a check into their bank. As I walked out the door, I reminded myself of why I will not, not now nor ever be a customer of BOA.

  2. Moe Levine
    August 31, 2004 | 9:30 pm

    Being a customer of UP and Bank of America, I am glad that both banks enforce the rules. It substantially reduces my banking costs over time. I am not paying for this bad check, collection costs, etc. I am not paying for teller time, listening to the story, etc.

    Who ever cashs a check, today. That’s a 1.00 fee transaction at an ATM, with thousands of locations nationwide.

    Where do people get the idea they are entitled to free services such as cashing a check? My reaction might be different if the check was for Warren Buffett who is entitled to bank service, but not every t, d or h off the street

  3. Ajit Nathaniel
    September 3, 2004 | 4:05 am

    Well, I worked for a customer service (Technical Support) section of a prominent customer for a while. I joint up with romantic notions of being a problem solver and a “friend in need” a healer of all ills… fourteen months later, I’ve taken a total career change.

    A $ 40 Billion computer company cannot send out a $120 hard drive to a sweet old Lady in Georgia without “troubleshooting” which generally involves taking apart the computer and pulling out and reconnecting a bunch of cables.

    The statistics are that for every hundred people who are satisfied with the product, there are just two or three who face a problem.

    I donbe for good with the hypocrisy that is “Customer Experience”

  4. Lee McCoy
    September 3, 2004 | 1:06 pm

    I used to have a Farmers and Merchants bank account when I lived in Highland. My parents, now in their 70s, still have an account at whatever the nom du jour is for that institution.

    I actually worked there in the 80s when R.J. Hagist owned the entire company. His mother, I believe, had purchased the company for him so he would have something to do. My best friend’s father was R.J.’s Senior V.P., so I ended up spending a lot of time in the local banking circles.

    Back then, F&M was the epitome of small town banking and therefore, customer service. There was only one other bank in town at the time, and the two of them competed fiercely to provide the better customer service. The other bank’s name escapes me, but I understand it has undergone the same type of transformation.

    Now that I live in the “big city,” I no longer expect to find that kind of customer service. In fact, I rarely use “in person” banking services, because the ATM and online components serve me so well. But I do feel as though we have all lost something in the years since the heyday of Farmers & Merchants’ Bank–something we’ll never be able to get back.

  5. Jerrod Bishop
    September 10, 2004 | 12:00 pm

    Our primary bank account is with Wells Fargo in Washington State but we have moved to the midwest where there is a lack of Wells Fargo banks.

    We’ve kept our WF account because we have a substantial line of credit with them and our business accounts are with them also.

    I mention this only to illustrate that we don’t have a local banking institution that we currently use.

    I have a jar on my dresser where I empty my pocket change each night before going to bed. At the end of the month my daughter is allowed to collect the money and roll it. This sometimes amounts to quiet a bit of change and it’s not unusual for there to be $40 – $50 in change.

    My disgust came when we took it to a few local banks to exchange the rolled coins for bills and on one occasion a Certificate of Deposit. The standard reply was that they only accepted rolled coins from those that had accounts with them and that they would be more than happy to exchange the coins if we opened an account.

    I wasn’t asking them to take a risk by cashing a check that might bounce or asking them to do anything elaborate like a wire transfer. I simply wanted to exchange one Federally backed U.S. currency for another. The one bank that did offer to do it said there would be a %10 fee for the exchange.

    Well we still haven’t opened an account with any of these bloodsuckers but we do make a monthly trip to Texas to visit my wife’s ailing mother and we exchange the coins at the Wells Fargo’s down in Texas.

  6. Mark Merenda
    November 14, 2004 | 8:21 am

    I can’t remember where I read it, or who said it. I think it might have been Tom Watson of IBM. But the quote goes something like this: “No policy of this company is more imporant than the goal of that policy.”

  7. teresa
    December 4, 2004 | 5:05 pm

    well, I am a drive thru teller at Wachovia Bank, and let me tell you, I have GREAT customer service skills but NOTHING annoys me more than people that do not come prepared in the drive thru.. sure you are depositing, but there is a line of about 50 cars and you ask for a deposit slip, then a pen, then 5 minutes later tell me you forgot your account number, then you ask if I can sum the total of the checks, then you forget to sign for cash back, then you give me a little note with all the denominations you would like… so fine, I do it, but when the next customer pulls up, they look at me like I am slow, when I am the fastest teller in my branch.. Its not fair for those who come through the drive thru prepared.. But nothing, NOTHING annoys me more than when the non account holders come through the drivethru.. they dont have the right to use the drivethru and I am totally for that. They want the advantages of using the drivethru, but they dont want to step foot out the car.. And I also love the check cashing fee… why should I help you for free.. you are holding up the line for those who DO have an account with us, if you dont want to pay the fee, open an acccount or go to your bank!

  8. Shelby
    January 27, 2005 | 6:36 pm

    I found your site after googling on “union planters” and “sucks”. This bank essentially STOLE $210 from my account. They put a hold on all of my checking account money without telling me, just because I was depositing an out of state check. Then 7 transactions bounced, costing $30 each, even though I had plenty of money to pay my bills. The bank supervisor told me she refunded my money – LIAR! Now I can’t reach her because she’s always mysteriously unavailable, plus I can’t leave her a voice mail according to other bank staff. I guess I’m just a lowly personal checking account bank customer. I’ve talked to a dozen employees of this crappy bank, and no one wants to or can help me. So Union Planters can go to hell!!!

  9. george
    March 4, 2005 | 5:35 pm

    Heres another Union Planters fubar. This payday as I ponder if I want to stand in line to cash my paycheck at the beer store next door to my shop or save the $$ and goto to the bank(thugs) to save a few $$. Well as I hand over my id, cc and check Iam told since I dont have an account there that it was gonna COST me $5 to cash it!(on anything over $150) Well now lets think about this…Iam cashing a check written from this bank and they are gonna CHARGE me to cash it there. Their in competion with the Liquor stores on this deal. Needless to say I voiced my thoughts on this LOUDLY. Told them it BS a crock of $*&# and afew other words. It just doesnt make any sense to charge sum one to cash a check drawn on a accouant with them. Emmm betcha Ill never open a accouant with them. Union planters sucks balls!!!

  10. me again
    April 5, 2006 | 7:17 pm

    Good Lord!!! how in the world do you assume that you have the right to walk into a bank where you do not have an account in and request services like rolled coin exchange or check cashing and not be harged a dime!?! Who cares if the check was drawn off that bank…deposit into YOUR “GOOD” bank and shut UP!

  11. me again
    April 5, 2006 | 7:25 pm

    Good Lord!!! how in the world do you assume that you have the right to walk into a bank where you do not have an account in and request services like rolled coin exchange or check cashing and not be charged a dime!?! Who cares if the check was drawn off that bank…deposit into YOUR “GOOD” bank and shut UP! oh let me guess.. your bank will place a HOLD on it…hmm…maybe you should be mad at YOUR bank for placing holds on your deposits and forcing you to go to other banks to cash your checks.. which by the way banks only place holds on deposits if you have a bad history with them(bouncing checks, low minimum balance)otherwise your deposits are credited next day.. is it so hard to wait 24 hours and avoid going to the bank where its drawn off of? if they give you that “out of state check” line its B.S… I work at a bank and know thats just a lie. if youre a “good” customer..and the check is for half a million dollars, out of state and a personal check, your money is available the next business day..believe me

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