Banks are learning an important lesson. It’s a lesson that many businesses have known for years. It’s the age old lesson that the customer is always right. Customer service is an incredibly important part of any service industry, including the banking industry.
I think that this is a lesson that banks forgot in the past because they were a necessary service. Customers had limited choices in where to keep their money. If a bank teller was rude or short with a customer, most times the customer would suck it up.
But recently, this attitude has changed. Banks are becoming more receptive to their customers. Customer service is beginning to have real meaning for the banking industry. As customers are realizing that they have an abundance of choices from online banking to credit unions, banks have begun to pay more attention to their customer service.
I’ve notice this recently in my dealings with my own bank and my own personal experience.
A Tale of Two Banks
A Bank of the Past
Back in 2005, before the financial crisis, when banks were flush with customers and the real estate market was churning business for them, I had an opportunity to interact with my bank’s customer service department. This is an experience I won’t forget.
It was just about a month before my wedding. My wife to be and I were in all out hectic mode with all the planning when disaster struck. I had a house fire while we were away for the weekend. It wasn’t a total loss, but there was interior damage and we had to deal with contractors, insurance companies, and we were forced to live in a hotel for the month before the wedding.
Cash flow was a huge issue because of all the different sources of incoming and outgoing cash. See, when a disaster occurs, you need to hire contractors to do the repairs. You pay the contractors out of your account, the insurance company pays you. On top of that we had wedding expenses and we had to pay for the hotel and wait for a reimbursement from the insurance company. And we weren’t living in our own home so our mail and bills had to be forwarded to our hotel. We had tens of thousands of dollars going in and leaving our bank accounts in rapid succession.
Well, we found ourselves getting into an overdraft situation where a bill might get overdrawn and then the insurance company would reimburse us within hours or a few days. The problem is that it caused hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees.
I called up my bank to try and explain the situation and see if they would waive the fees considering the unusual circumstance. Afterall, I was a longstanding member of the bank and had no issues in the past. I earned a good salary and they could certainly understand that this was a very unique situation. At the very least, I thought they might sympathize with someone who was a month from getting married and burned out of house and home.
I had no such luck. The customer service person very curtly told me that I should have been more responsible and kept better track of my finances. Nope, there was nothing they would do and their manager supported that decision.
In the end, I had to eat the fees. But I moved on. I got married. Rebuilt the house. And as soon as I could, I closed my account with that bank and found another bank.
That was back in 2005.
The Banks of Today (with Good Customer Service)
These days the story is much different. The banking industry has taken a turn for the better.
I’ve had an opportunity to call my bank’s customer service department earlier this year. I had a slight glitch in an automatic payment that caused an overdraft fee.
The person on the line was kind and polite. I gave a very short explanation and asked if they could do anything for me. He quickly said, “No problem.” and waived the fee. It saved me some money and more importantly garnered a lot of goodwill.
I had the same great experience when I called up my bank with questions about my home loan. The person was polite and offered to help me any way they could. They offered to refer me to a specialist to give me extra assistance.
I think of these good experiences fondly. It’s the way a customer should be treated and I think the banks are really taking notice that it’s good practice to keep their customers happy.
These days there are a lot of banking options available. Online banks are becoming more popular. There are options such as credit unions that offer special rates and fees. In addition, with some of the large failures during the financial crisis, banks have learned that they are not indestructible.
I’ve noticed that my local banks are paying more mind to helping the customer. They’ve designed the interior to be more welcoming and friendly. They have a happier atmosphere and they are more willing to help. They are more willing to offer options to aid their customers.
In turn, this focus on customer service has made me a more loyal customer. I have more of a mind to follow the advise of my bank teller when I need help selecting a bank account. I am more likely to trust my loan advisor from my bank when they discuss various loan options with me. And when I think of a place to put my money, I’m much more likely to think of my local bank first.
This is an important lesson in any business. Customer service is important. Good customer service will lead to loyalty and good will. A bank that provides me good customer service will keep me as a long time customer.