How Not to Treat a Customer

I would like to connect this post to Robert’s “Consistently Great Service is Consistently Great for Business!” – representing the dark (reverse) side of this very true statement.

I’ve been a customer of this online bank for 15 years. In a distant past, they offered great interest rates on savings accounts; then after the 2008 crisis things deteriorated, and a more recent tax policy decision in Italy definitely deleted any advantage of that kind.

Still, I kept a secondary checking account which I occasionally access online, while my wife uses the debit card linked to it (sounds pretty common, I guess smiley). Her 6-7 year old online credentials are buried in a file cabinet at home, and I lack the willingness and patience to dig them out.

This bank has never shined at customer service: by design, you CANNOT send a customer support email, you can only call, and the call center is incredibly hard to get a hold of. Terrible as it may seem, you won’t really care until you need them.

This year, in the spring, my wife gets a letter with a new debit card attached, saying it must be activated online by the 30th of June, and it will replace her old card. The moment I realize that deadline is close, we’re away from home and – as just said – we would have trouble finding her credentials anyway; so there’s no way to meet it. However unlikely that the bank will turn off the old card without giving us a chance to activate the new one, I still want a clarification. I can’t send an email, so I try calling. After 25 minutes of music I give up: my patience is over.

Since it’s not the first time I am unable to talk to these people, I decide to empty my account. I click on the phone app and it won’t work until I update it, which I cannot do from where I am. I am furious. I use my PC to access online banking and I move 95% of my funds to my main bank.

Back in Torino, I decide that I want to visit their only branch to see if things change in-person. This is the same branch where I had a ridiculous kiosk-based check deposit experience a few years back: their IUA (image quality assurance) capability was a lady who took your check and examined all fields to be filled in, before you accessed the kiosk. The kiosk required your online credentials and could NOT be used with your (THEIR) card. The kiosk imaged the check and asked you to confirm the presence of the endorsement on the rear image, while displaying the wrong half, where there was none. A disaster for someone who knows about checks – but I had only one check to deposit; so I basically laughed about it back then.

Seven years later I’m back in the same branch, which has gotten nicer: roomy, elegant and modern – you may think “here’s the customer channel they invested in!”. WRONG.

I tell the clerk my savings account is generating a loss – he says the interest rates are low, and there’s nothing they can do. So I ask him to close it – he struggles 15 minutes with their intranet and fails. He says I can do it online, and I can email him if I have problems.

I tell him about my frustration with their letters, call center and app, and he admits “he knows they have some communications issues”. Before I leave, I ask him whether they noticed that due to those “communications issues” I have nearly emptied my account, and no one from the bank has even called me to ask why. He answers “Sorry, we don’t see account flows from here… someone might have visibility from the central office”. My jaw drops to the floor.

From my PC I try to close the savings account as he had suggested, and it fails again – says I should call their contact center – the one that never answers. So I send an email to my guy – and he doesn’t answer. I call him on his cell phone… they’ve been facing some IT issues, I should try again on Monday. On Monday I try again and it still fails, as it continues to fail for the whole week. When I call him again to ask for explanations, his phone is off – he’s on vacation. Can this get any worse? 

So back to Robert’s TAKEAWAYS

  • A customer's opinion of you and your company is largely based on emotion. This bank gives me nasty emotions, and I’m already spreading the word. And bad word of mouth can be devastating.
  • Good customer service is the status quo. A "WOW" factor makes it a marketing tool. This bank has forgotten the bare status quo, long ago. And their relevance is decreasing rapidly. I’ve already heard of two other colleagues who have used them, became disgusted and moved on.
  • Most buying decisions are made via word-of-mouth referrals. See point 1!
  • Customer service is a powerful marketing tool, not merely a cost of doing business. This mentality can profoundly impact your bottom line. Did anyone ever tell them?
  • When dealing with your customers, provide them with the courtesy of listening before you respond or form an opinion. By design, they make it extremely difficult for their customers to be listened to. Preventing a question is worse than not providing an answer. Does this reveal a dirty conscience?
  • A Personal Touch – Never miss an opportunity to create a memorable moment for customers or business relationships through some form of personal touch. This is definitely not on their radar screen. Actually the basic principles of customer service aren’t either.

Francesco Grasso
Corporate Marketing Manager, Panini