THE NEW GLOBAL WE.

Bank of America Customer Service Issue – Update

Posted in Big Thought, Business, New, People, Reviews by Harsha on September 4, 2008

Someone has been listening at the Bank of America corporation.

Last night, I got a call from Tara ***** (last name blanked out to protect identity), from the Executive Relations and Office of the Chairman. She read my blog after receiving the email from the PR/Communications team and called me to profusely apologize for the issue. She said that the 0% APR reinstatement and the $39 fee are unrelated, i.e., just because the 0% was reinstated, it doesn’t mean that the $39 fee cannot be refunded. She also said that the representatives (the one that threw me off the line and the other who would only give me 1/2 fee off because he was not “authorized” to refund the whole fee) AND the manager who never called me back, will be coached. Apparently, representatives are permitted to refund this fee.

Not only did Bank of America refund the other half of the fee, but it also has extended a $50 Amazon gift card as an apology for the inconvenience. Of course, Tara also made sure that I understood that I will need to make payments after the 22nd, which believe me, I will not forget! And if I do forget and end up committing the same mistake, then shame on me.

Here are some take-aways from this situation and I think it applies to both small and large businesses:

1. People generally at the top (either as pure managers or as owner/managers) care about what others say.

2. Everything is radically transparent: Information on LinkedIn helped me contact Bank’s Communications team

3. Don’t be a brat when trying to solve a problem – remember the person at the other end is just like you.

4. The web is POWERFUL!

I say the take-aways are similar for large and small companies because I faced a similar situation a month ago. A client of my employer’s wanted us to make good on a consulting engagement that was not completed as promised. While they had approved the work after it was done, they soon realized that it was actually incomplete. Now, I could have hemmed and hawed like a colleague of mine did when she heard this news, but my focus was crystal clear – we have to do what it takes to satisfy this client because it is about the overall relationship. It is never about this one transaction so while in the short run we lost some money, in the mid to long term, we have generated extremely positive brand recognition.

So, thank you Tara for the pleasant call last night and acknowledging that there was no logic behind what transpired. You are the right person to call in such situations because you could have been nonchalant about it, but you were not. You said the right things and hopefully learned a little from this situation as well. Please feel free to send in a comment on the issue.

A hearty thank you for everyone who commented on the previous posts – I believe in the power of us.

Advertisements

Bank of America Customer Service Tragedy

Posted in Big Thought, Business, People, Reviews by Harsha on August 27, 2008

I thought about writing this post for quite a while. The incident is still fresh in memory – it happened just last week. But I think the Bank has had an acceptable window of opportunity to respond and they still have not.

First up, as a generally creative but grounded-in-processes kinda fellow, I really appreciate how complicated it is for a large organizations to work well. I’ve never been in one, but as a pioneer in most of the stuff I’ve done at my current small business gig, I can imagine how much planning and management goes into developing a customer service process at a bank. Think about the meetings that managers would have had in the past and in the present as well, about what happens when a customer calls into the 800 line. Now that process must adhere to their internal Service Level Standards (SLA) where they might say that 98% of issues must be resolved in one call, or something to that effect.

They must also deal with a myriad of types of calls, all being funneled through the same system and routed accordingly. The complexity amazes me. So whenever I call into any such organization with an issue or complaint, I generally approach it with as much respect as I can. I am never that irate caller who will jump down the throat of a poor little representative. I adopt a much more consultative approach.

But all that got thrown out the window when I called into Bank of America last week.

Here is some history on the problem, without going into too much detail: I opened a 0% APR American Express card with Bank of America less than a year ago and transferred a large loan balance to it and have been paying it off $1000 a month. The statement closes every 22nd and the minimum is due by the following 11th. I’ve always made this payment well in advance of the 11th deadline. This time, I ended up making it even before the 22nd statement close so basically my payment got tagged to the previous month.

When I called to clarify this, I was rudely informed by the representative that it is my fault for ‘paying late’ and that I will lose the promotional 0% APR. Then I asked her to check with her supervisor and she came back a little while later saying that they have decided to reinstate the 0% APR as a courtesy. I was delighted and thanked her and realized after I hung up that I had not asked about the $39 late fee. To me, it makes sense to roll it back because they ‘forgave’ the ‘late payment’ by reinstating my 0% APR, so why should I pay the late fee? Mind you, I absolutely agree and understand a late fee for late payments – no argument there.

When I called back, I said that if the Bank has rolled back the 0% APR because I am forgiven for the ‘late’ payment, then why would I pay a late fee? The representative talking to me couldn’t for the life of her understand my logic. So we started arguing back and forth and she said the same thing repeatedly and so did I – classic stalemate situation. So I asked her to connect me to her supervisor. What she did next was appalling – she actually threw me off the line and I ended up at the beginning of the call where you give the machine your card details to find the best route for the call. You’d think I would have given up, but I did not.

When the next representative came on the line (now I’m angry and my voice is louder) I told him about the way in which I got bumped off the previous call and said that I realize none of this is his fault but, come on! getting kicked out is just unacceptable! Since I was angry, after hearing why I called, he offered to cut my fee down to half but no more because representatives are not authorized to do so. In fact, he said that he was not even supposed to offer me half off on the fee, but was doing it because I was upset. I was unable to wrap my head around the fact that half of the fee was being refunded as a ‘courtesy’ but the other half wouldn’t be. So I asked him if he was being half courteous and half rude. Of course, such rhetorical questions only incite the flames of anger, and it did. We started arguing and I said that if he could roll back half my fee while not technically supposed to, then why not roll back the entire fee? Why partially commit the crime? And so on and on we went… Finally I said to him that half off was not acceptable and asked him to connect me to his supervisor. Thankfully he did. I left a message, in a super angry mode, hoping to evoke a response, but I have none so far.

My issue is NOT with the $39 fee. My issue is with the LOGIC of this whole situation. First of all, I did not make a ‘late’ payment. I ended up making two payments in the same month, a day early. In this tough economic environment, I am making multi-thousand dollar payments on-time (except this once), have a checking and savings account with Bank of America and am poised to buy a home next year. Despite all this and the threat of me switching to Discover (which is flooding my mailbox with offers), I am unable to fathom why the fee and worse still, why half the fee? If there was ANY logic to this, and I was indeed a payment too late, then for sure, I will not argue if the Bank starts charging me a high APR and fine me $39.

But when they have reinstated the 0% as a courtesy, why should they charge me $39 or even half of that? A pissed off customer with options is the worst kind of customer. Or am I too small for a large Bank like Bank of America to give a rats ass about? To add insult to injury, they are yet to respond to me.

Check out Bank of America Sucks. I am not that mad at the Bank – all I want is my fee refunded because it is illogical to charge it in the first place. Will someone from the Bank PLEASE respond?

Hospitality

Posted in New by Harsha on November 30, 2007

I probably stayed in more hotels this past holiday week than all of 2007. So I was able to get a crash course in hospitality.

The #1 question that kept popping up in my head was “Why are you in this job?” No, it is not rhetorical but a genuine one question to understand why that person across the desk is in this business. If one choses to work at a hotel, is it just because one needs a job, or because one wants to work in hospitality?

If you work at a hotel, then you’re in the business of being hospitable. Dictionary.com says hospitality is “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers” or “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way”

The fundamental tenet of a hospitality job is being friendly to strangers, not just people you know, but mostly plain and simple strangers – people you don’t know or wouldn’t generally care about. Now you’ve got to care. How many times have you seen hotel employees laughing and chitchatting with their coworkers but then put on their game face (trying to be “professional”) when you walked up to the counter.

More often than not, people behind the counter are there because they need a job. This is a major problem for hotels that want to hire people who love hospitality. Service roles are the toughest gigs out there – try being nice to people on an 8-10 hour schedule, day-in and day-out. It is the hardest role and at the same time, so many people seem totally wrong for the job. You’d ask “how in the world did they hire that person for this job?”

The solution can be simple. One of the fundamental problems that I observed in tough situations in hospitality or other service roles is the assumption that the service provider (hotel clerk, cashier etc) kind-of expects you to know the routine (like checking into the hotel, payment methods at a store etc). They obviously know the process really well due to repetition so it frustrates them when you walk in and fumble around or ask questions. Your questions may be and are probably completely valid, but it “irritates” them to no end because the process is simple to them yet you don’t seem to get it. How silly are you?!

This is a training problem. This assumption needs to be systematically exorcised from the minds of service providers. The front desk team obviously know the check-in procedure really well. You won’t if you’re not a frequent traveler. Most “silly questions” come from your ignorance on these things.

Hospitality means you want to be with people. You’re the cat that is cat friendly. You either like dealing with these people problems or you don’t. However, I feel that all of us are service providers (think of a marketing manager dealing with the engineering team). So all of us need people skills and the ones that don’t automatically will fall off in the wayside and that is the process of natural selection at work and life.

So to reiterate this problem and tying it with my people experiments, the next time you’re interacting with a service provider (waitress, hotel clerk, bellboy etc), keep this post in mind. This is not a complex problem so when I tell you that the solution is that simple, you’ll probably disagree with me. Humans value complex solutions more than simple ones – come on, the problem of “bad customer service” is universal and yet the solution lies within you and is just a matter of empathy? That is ludicrous!! I don’t mean to sound “new age” or offer you alternative treatment for what you believe is a complex situation that warrants a good ol’ walloping on the wrongdoer’s backside. This is the reality of the experiments that I run almost daily. This is the result of those attempts at understanding how I can improve the situation for myself. Simple.

Name Experiment – 2

Posted in New, Roadtrip by Harsha on November 28, 2007

This is always an interesting experiment for me. To address someone by name and see the reaction. We all lead fairly anonymous lives already, so a little recognition seems to go a long way. And it did seem to go so for Dante.

Dante is a bellboy we met while staying at the Hilton in the Historic District in Savannah, GA on our recent road trip. We checked in at around 9pm after a 6 hour drive from Atlanta. As we pulled up to the curb, no one came out immediately to greet us (I’m going to review each place we stayed in later posts).

Then this guy walks out of the hotel pretty casually, has a “yeah, whatever” look and demeanor about him. In a lazy tone, he asked if we’re checking in, the room number and if we wanted to self park or use his services – all short and I-don’t-care-for-your-reply type of questions. Believe me, after a long drive, the last thing you want is someone (who works in the hospitality business) to not care. My wife was livid, but I kept my cool as usual. I tried a couple of jokes with him, no luck. I handed off the keys to him with a tip, and checked in at the front desk. He was doing double duty as the valet and bellboy so he brought our luggage upstairs (with the same attitude at the door).

As he was exiting the hotel room after dropping off our luggage, I walked out with him and asked him for his name. Then I tipped him again and thanked him for helping us. I can tell you, I sensed an instant change in his attitude. Not that he was jumping for joy but it was the tipping point and it was clearly visible to me.

Next day, in the morning as we went down to have him pull our car out, guess what happens? I get a warm handshake from him and cheerfully says, “Let me get your car out for you Mr. Raghavan”. This is after a grueling 8 hour night shift – if you’ve never worked at night, then you will never know how lousy and horrible one feels the next morning.

This experiment is the most interesting and rewarding of experiments that I run. The pay off is instant and usually, exactly opposite of the initial treatment. Sure, I could have made a scene, complained to the manager at the desk only to make his already tough life more miserable. Yet, I took a minute out to empathize, assumed he was doing a good job and tipped him. However, the flip side is it might enforce his broken view of the world even more and not help at all. But that is a risk, I am willing to take. 9 out of 10 times, it goes my way. I am willing to pay that “1 time fee” for the happiness I get 9 other times.

This is a relevant lesson in all walks of business and life. If you want to get your way with someone, then I believe that this is the only route. Either that or you’ve got mafia backing. It does not matter to me if Dante remains positive after he serves me, selfishly I say because I have no control over that aspect of his life. I can only control how he decides to deal with me. Nothing else.

I personally like to deal with a tough situation without blowing my top, because I’ve found that I am paralyzed when I get angry (read my post on Cortisol) and am ineffective. My fight or flight instinct is mostly flight (relevant today as calmly dealing with the situation). We can get our way either by being a total jerk or by being empathetic – I choose the latter. True, there may be cases when the person needs a good dose, but then again, who are we to judge someone else, when that is reserved for their last day on earth? It may also be the case that the person is just a “bad” person (is that even possible?) and nothing can be done about them. I feel that we jump to this conclusion at the very first hint of an initial attitude like Dante’s and the reality is totally different when compared to your view of that person.

To be honest, I am still learning how to execute this experiment perfectly. Most times, I find myself not making eye-contact when I say the server’s name. It is an ongoing process that needs sharpening on my end. But I love this experiment dearly and don’t even think that I will grow weary of it’s results. It is also one of the very first experiments I ran.