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BANKS NEED TO IMPROVE THEIR CUSTOMER SERVICE

As a bank customer, I'm generally easy to please. The service I receive doesn't have to be excellent, or even perfect, for me to stay with a bank. Like many customers, I settle for satisfactory service, as long as I trust the bank to accurately process my transactions and the employees to be knowledgeable in the services they provide.

I have, in the past, even accepted certain mistakes as long as they were corrected easily and quickly, with a simple phone call or visit to the branch. When this is no longer possible, due to either poor customer service or uneducated bank employees, that trust ceases to exist.

On a Thursday afternoon, I visited my bank to withdraw $60 in cash from the ATM. The ATM was down, so I completed my transaction with a bank teller instead. "John" was polite and friendly, and even made small talk while processing my withdrawal.

A week later, I accessed my account online while balancing my checkbook, and found not one, but two listings for a withdrawal of $60 for that Thursday. I live from paycheck to paycheck. After paying a few bills and making several purchases over the course of the week, my checkbook balance was a mere $37.43 -- not enough to support a $60 bank error, plus the inevitable overdraft fee I would be charged if I did not correct the error.

So, I called the customer service number on the back of my ATM card. Six months earlier, when the bank had made a similar mistake, withdrawing an extra $50 from my account due to a printer malfunction, I was able to correct the matter by calling customer service. But this time, I was told I would have to go into a branch to fill out a form and have it notarized.

A little annoyed, I immediately left for the bank. I explained my situation again, this time to "Brian," who seemed puzzled and did not know what to do. I explained to him what the customer service representative had told me, and Brian located the form. However, there was no notary on duty.

I then stepped aside while another employee called nearby bank branches to locate a notary. After a few unsuccessful calls, a notary was located at another branch. Brian gave me a copy of my transaction history and said he hoped I could make it there before the bank closed, but did not offer an apology for the inconvenience.

At the other branch, I explained my situation (for the third time) to the teller, and then waited for the notary. When the notary, "Paul," was available, I explained my situation for the fourth time.

Paul informed me there was no need to fill out a form. The bank should have just credited my account for the $60. He made a phone call to confirm this, and assured me that the error would be corrected the next morning. He also gave me a phone number to call if I did not receive a call confirming the correction had been made.

The next day, I received a phone call from "John," who informed me the money would be available immediately. He apologized for his original error. It was nice to get the apology, but it was a little late.

Here is my advice for the bank: Spend more time and money on customer service, and less on implementing flashy rewards programs and the inclusion of well-known coffee shops into your branches. The customers won't miss these minor frivolities, but you will definitely miss their business.

JULIE L. KELLER lives in Lancaster.