Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Customer relationship lesson: For want of a penny

I've been a loyal customer of a local credit union for nearly 20 years now. In light of the government-funded shenanigans at the Too Big To Fail banks, I'm even more committed to keeping my money local in my own quixotic attempt to starve The Beast. And an experience yesterday underscored my beliefs that you get better service from a bank you have a relationship with.

In addition to our primary checking account, I keep a small emergency business fund at this bank, right at the limit which avoids the monthly service fee. A few months ago, they raised the limit by $500, and dutifully, I added $500 to my account.
The problem was that my average account balance still came just under the limit for the month—and by deducting the $10, it put me under the limit for the following month by $0.01. Yes, a penny. That, of course, resulted in another $10 charge that put me further under the limit. You can see where this was headed.

So, I called and pleaded my case that it seemed pretty cruel for a 1-penny shortfall to result in a cascade of $10 charges, and reminded him that we've been long-term customers and keep a fairly large overall sum at their bank. The customer service agent stuck to his guns at first, and there was a bit of back-and-forth.

Ultimately he asked what I wanted as a solution; I said I didn't even care about the original charge, that all I was interested in was the $10.01 which would put me back above the line. He put me on hold and came back with more than I asked for: They wiped both charges. Based on past experience, I am confident that there's no way in hell Wells Fargo or Citi would have done that.

The customer service lesson here is that asking your client what they want is often the fastest route to resolving a problem. The fact that the credit union actually gave me more than I asked for, well, that was just icing on the relationship cake.


  1. Glad it turned out in your favor!

  2. Went on our first visit to a prospective new banking client today. I will certainly bring this example to them when I ask them just how they plan to stand out among all the rest of the banks in Hooterville. Good for you...for asking them to do the right thing and for sharing your story!

  3. @Anon, thanks :)

    @adchick, I think there is a HUGE opportunity for local banks right now based on the disgust for the national brands. I could envision a testimonial-based campaign with personal stories for people like me for whom the bank "fixed small things quickly." Bounced checks, replacing lost ATM cards, pre-emptively calling to suggest a better type of account for your needs/balances, those types of things.

  4. It sounds so simple when you state it like that - and yet I think in all the apologies I've gotten from various customer service snafus over the years, not once has a business just asked me what I wanted. And really, that question alone shows more sincerity than all the apologies in the world.

  5. @Valerie, that is the problem, isn't it? As a friend of mine commented on Facebook, about 95% of people in the world would be reasonable in what they'd ask for...the companies would need to deal with the unreasonable 5% as needed. But as it stands, many companies assume we're all out to take advantage of them.

    Like the credit union above, Costco is an example of a company that has earned my loyalty with their "no-questions-asked" returns policy.

  6. Jake,
    I am also a loyal customer a community bank, and I love them for exactly the kind of thing you are talking about here. Not only do they do everything they say they will, they go above and beyond. Almost as important as customer service - to me - is the fact that I know the name of the family that owns the bank and that they are active members of a local community. (Mine is an actual bank, not a credit union.)

    Hooray for small, community-minded businesses that provide excellent customer service!

  7. Hey Dava, good to hear from you, and glad to hear you're supporting (and enjoying the benefits of) a home-grown financial institution. I figure we need as many people as we can fit on the bandwagon!