Imagine that it's less than a week until Christmas and only a few days until Hanukah. Not wanting to run up your credit cards, you decide to stop at a bank ATM to get some cash to complete your holiday shopping. You punch in the amount of cash you want and a receipt prints out confirming your transaction, but no cash is dispensed. You take your receipt into the bank to get your cash, but you're told, "Sorry, there's nothing we can do about it." The bank employee you speak to not only doesn't seem surprised at what occurred, but expresses no concern and takes no action to remedy the situation.
You ask to speak with the branch manager. Unfortunately, the manager has the same attitude, and tells you that the bank is unable to give you your cash, and that you'll have to contact your bank to lodge a complaint, at which time an investigation will be launched and if it is determined that the ATM has a surplus of cash equalling your deposit, the money will be returned to your account. This could take up to 10 days.
While you are engaged in this discussion with the bank employee and branch manager, other customers are entering the bank making the same complaint and receiving the same response - and the same "so what" attitude. You're furious. You request the branch manager's card and are told that she 'doesn't have one.' You request that someone from the bank give you something in writing indicating that you came into the bank on this day and at this time and advised that the ATM failed to dispense your cash. The bank manager refuses again. All the while, other customers are continuing to encounter difficulties with the ATM. Many are visibly upset or crying, obviously counting on the money for their holiday shopping.
The above is a true story that I overheard this weekend, and although the bank in question was not this customer's regular bank, it's a large, well-known bank (and not one of the banks currently in trouble).
Banks, like law practices, are service businesses. Did these customers receive good service or have a good experience at this bank? How did you feel reading this story? How do you think you would have reacted to this kind of treatment? What do you think the chances are that these customers told others about their bad experience at the bank? (Obviously at least one did, because that's how I heard about it).
The person who told this story was understandably upset at the loss of her money a few days before the holidays, when she needed the cash for holiday shopping. And she noticed that many of the other customers were also understandably visibly upset that this had occurred. But what she kept repeating was how SHOCKED AND APPALLED she was at the attitude of the bank employees and bank manager, and their failure to take any action to prevent further problems or to make their customers feel better. Since they did not seem surprised at what occurred, it is likely that this was a recurring problem - another bad sign.
While it may be true that the bank could not just take the customers' word for it that the ATM failed to dispense the cash requested, there are certainly many things the bank could have done to provide better service to these customers (and to avoid the bad-mouthing that is obviously occurring now). The bank could (and should) have done one or more of the following:
Give the customers a letter saying that they were in the bank on December 17, 2008 at 2:00 pm and that the customer advised that the ATM did not dispense the cash as indicated on the ATM receipt (the bank is only acknowledging the customer's complaint, NOT the validity of the complaint);
Immediately investigate the ATM to determine whether there was a problem;
Immediately take the ATM down so that no further customers could be harmed by the loss of their money;
Immediately place a sign on the ATM indicating that it is out of order;
Express sympathy, care and concern for the bank's customers, rather than displaying an uncaring and nonchalant attitude, PARTICULARLY AT THIS TIME OF YEAR;
Offer to allow customers to call their banks from the branch to immediately report the problem;
Provide each of the customers with a bank employee's business card with the manager's name and phone number (assuming the manager really didn't have her own card) - or write this information on a piece of paper;
Validate the customers' concerns and express empathy and understanding - treat customers as if they are important to the business.
What can you learn from this story of customer (dis)service? While some elements of this experience were beyond the bank's control (the malfunctioning ATM), the experience of the customers was markedly different because of the attitude of the bank's employees and their approach to the elements that were under their control.