Will Banks Get it Right?

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    [Editor’s note: The following post was shared with us by colleague Rene A. Henry, author, journalist, and business expert]

    Major banks should thank Congress for replacing them at the bottom of the list the American public least trusts and respects. But it seems whatever they continue to do, most can’t seem to get it right.

    The CEOs and governing boards obviously are hoping the American public will forget how many banks altered legal documents, forged signatures, manipulated Libor, piled hidden fees on their customers, deceived borrowers with subprime mortgages, and when they got into financial trouble, asked Congress to use $700 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out.

    Just following the rules of basic common sense and good old fashioned common courtesy, it translates into customer service. But customer service is an oxymoron to most in the banking and financial service business.

    I did not expect the CEO of a major bank to deliberately mislead or deceive me.

    I was concerned whether or not an email was legitimate or a phishing scam and could not find any contact in security at Bank of America so I wrote CEO Brian T. Moynihan and asked that it be forwarded to someone in security. I also wrote him that I was an author and journalist and would like to be in contact with the bank’s public relations department.

    I did not expect Moynihan to see my letter but I did expect his gate keeper – they prefer to be called executive assistants – to “listen” and read my letter and forward a copy to security and notify someone in PR. When I finally got a response it was from someone with the title of “customer advocate” who said she worked in the office of the president. This individual was based in Newark, Delaware, some 400 miles from Moynihan’s office in Charlotte, N.C.

    Why did Bank of America lie to me? Why not just have the individual who responded just let me know that my letter was forwarded to her and she is responding to help me anyway she could? I would have had more respect for the bank if I had been told the truth and showed it was concerned and wanted to help.

    This must be a common practice with bank CEOs who seem to act more like greedy Henry F. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore, who was George Bailey’s nemesis in the 1946 movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart played the role of Bailey. A couple of years ago I wrote John G. Stumpf, president and CEO of Wells Fargo in San Francisco, and had a response from a young man in Des Moines, Iowa who claimed to be in Stumpf’s office. I wonder if the two have even met.

    Once I’ve been lied to, I never know when a person or company is ever telling the truth. We do need more bankers like Jimmy Stewart’s Bailey. Where I find such bankers is at the base of the pyramid, my local bank. In my latest book about customer service, I praise my Madison Park branch of Wells Fargo and my mortgage banker and his team, for their extraordinary customer service. Normally customer service leadership starts at the top.

    Everyone has a horror story to tell about a bank. One of the most egregious is one told by Seattle Times staff columnist Danny Westneat about Marion Dohoney, an 85-year-old woman who had been a customer of one bank for 62 years, and now was going to be charged $25 a month to continue doing business there. Her first and only checking account was with First National Bank that became Seafirst which was taken over by Bank of America. “Nothing will get you pining for the old days like a form letter from your megalith bank saying they plan to start charging you $300 a year for the privilege of keeping your money there,” was the way Westneat quoted Dohoney in his column.

    Maybe to get customer service from some banks these days you need to use the power of social media. My good friend Marvin was given the total runaround by TD Bank in New Jersey – first at the branch, then from their 800 numbers and finally from the TD website. So he then asked for help from his son, a prominent award-winning author and journalist. His son posted this on the bank’s Twitter site: “After receiving inaccurately printed checks from #TD Bank_US, my father was forced to bring in my mother’s death certificate to correct.”

    The son immediately received calls from the Bergen County regional manager and the local bank’s manager who corrected the problem. That evening, my friend received a large basket of fruit with the apologies of the branch manager. While very appreciative, Marv said the next time he has a complaint that will be posted on Twitter he’ll let them know he’s in need of caviar and blinis!

    CEOs and especially their gate keepers need to spend more time with their employees in local branch offices to truly understand customer service. And we need more George Baileys running our banks.

    Rene A. Henry is an author and journalist who lives in Seattle. His latest book, “Customer Service: the cornerstone of success,” should be a must read for any senior executive and his summary of basic rules should be adopted as company policy. He writes on a variety of subjects and many are posted on his website, www.renehenry.com.