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National City Bank -- A Customer Service "Don't"

If you landed on this page after a search on the search-engine-of-your-choice, welcome! This article was written by Glory Borgeson, an executive coach, author, and speaker. Schedule her to speak at your organization's next event!

There are customer service Do's and customer service Don'ts. This is a story about one such Don't that occurred at my own bank, where I've been a customer for over 20 years. Their change in policy toward customers isn't "wowing" me!

I've written a lot about great customer service and poor customer service -- the great customer service that makes you say, "Wow!" and the poor customer service that makes you say, "What in the world?"

I received two notices from my bank with several NSF checks on my personal checking account.

Per my records, I had plenty of cash in my checking account. So how could this be?

I had all deposit receipts since my last statement date. Upon reviewing them (which only show two digits of the bank account into which each deposit was made), I noticed that a deposit made on 7/25/08 was deposited to an account ending in two digits which correspond to my business checking account, not the personal checking account.

The check I deposited was written on the business checking account, made out to me personally.

So, either the teller deposited a check written on the business account (and intended to be deposited in the personal account) back into the business account. Or, I wrote out the deposit slip (which is a generic National City checking deposit slip) to deposit the check into the business account. Which would mean that a check written on the business account, paid to the order of me personally, was deposited into the business account (even though the check was not made payable to the business and I endorsed the check to be deposited into the personal account). "In and out of the business account" in one fell swoop.

It also means that, if I wrote the business account's bank account number on the deposit slip, that the teller didn't say to me, "Excuse me. Do you know that this check's bank account number is the same bank account number you're depositing the check into? Is that what you want to do?"

In which case I would have replied, "No, that's not what I intended. I want to deposit the check into my personal account."

That would have been one of those "above and beyond my expectations moments" of customer service that the bank employee would have fulfilled. That would have been an example of customer service at its best.

In fact, just a few years ago, there were two tellers at my bank's branch who would catch little things like that, point it out to the customer, and they would correct the entry right then and there.

Actually, back then, correcting little things like that when the customer was at the teller window would have "met expectations," not exceeded my expectations.

I've been banking at this bank for over 22 years. First, it was MidAmerica Bank; it was recently purchased by National City Bank.

My banking experience includes being an auditor many years ago for a major accounting firm, for which I audited several banks. Simple errors are very easy for tellers to catch. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to catch many types of errors, including transpositions, wrong dollar amounts, etc., while a customer is at the teller window. It only takes a little training, some common sense, and a focus on the customer.

When I received the bank's NSF notices, I gathered the deposit receipts since the last statement date, photocopied them, and headed over to the bank. A friendly personal banker who has helped me before was about to head out for lunch, but instead stopped to greet me. I hoped to meet with a banker who was not new to the business (I did not want a new banker for this situation). She immediately said she would help me and directed me to her desk.

As we talked about what happened, I told her that whether the teller made the error or I made the error, I would think that the teller would notice the bank account on which the check was drawn, the bank account to which the funds would be deposited, and would then comment that they were the same account (and she could have also mentioned the bank account number I wrote on the back of the check for the endorsement was the personal account). (As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that this is my expectation of regular customer service, not really my "above and beyond great customer service" expectation for a bank.)

The personal banker replied that they have been told more recently that speed is of the utmost importance. So they have machines read checks, deposits, and other papers; and they let the system make corrections to errors later. They do not want the tellers to make corrections when the customer is at the window. Just make the deposit quickly.

My first thought was, "It takes just as long to make a simple deposit today as it did 20 years ago, so where is the time savings?"

My second thought, that I said out loud, was, "So, the bank executives are more interested in a little speed than in making customers happy? They would rather tick off customers, such as sending them NSF notices, than make a correction on-the-spot, thereby making a customer happy and saving the customer a lot of time?"

She replied, "Well, yes."

The personal banker added (and this is my favorite part!), "That's how the bank makes money. From the fees. If we don't catch errors and make corrections, but let the errors go through, it creates fees such as NSF fees, and the bank makes a profit."

Whoa. That is customer service at its worst.

I reminded her that some day we're both going to be old ladies, making a lot more mistakes than we make today. And we're going to have to put our money in places that help us with our old-lady-errors, rather than penalize us for our old-lady-errors. She knew what I meant, but it was clearly out of her hands.

Depending on how they handle this situation, I may be changing banks. National City Bank's customer service policy doesn't give me the "warm fuzzies" of confidence.

I'll be looking for a bank whose tellers are directed to help the customers rather than let simple errors go through in order to charge the customers fees.

There are a few other features I'll look for in a bank as well, such as proximity to my home, where other branches are located, the hours they're open, and regular fees for both business and personal banking.

Customer service, however, will be "king."

Post Script

The P.S. to this story includes the fact that the bank decided to reverse all of the fees (although, when they reversed their fees, they didn't admit they made an error). It took 13 days for the bank to provide me with a copy of the deposit slip and a copy of the front and back of the business check. As it turns out, I filled out the deposit slip correctly, including the account number for my personal account. This means that, contrary to what the banker told me, the bank's system did not catch their error or correct their error later. If I had not contacted them, their error would not have been caught and I would have been paying their fees.

I have an appointment with a branch manager of another bank in town to discuss the possibility of switching my business. My decision will depend on their customer service policy, whether their tellers review and correct forms filled out by customers for anything out of the ordinary, and their overall treatment of errors, whether made by the bank or by the customer.

I appreciate your thoughts in response.

Glory Borgeson, President
2008 Borgeson Consulting, Inc.

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