A Banking Story – The Ten Day Hold

grouchy receptionistI’ve just had an unpleasant experience with my bank.

Interesting. I called it “My” Bank. Why did I do that? Merely because its the institution I’ve used for several years?

I remember why I chose this bank to begin with. I’d just moved to a new community to take a job with a company which required direct deposit of all payroll checks.

I chose this bank because it was directly across the street from my office.

Not because they offered free checking (they didn’t), or for the vast number of their ATMs (which they didn’t have in this community). I didn’t even choose them because they were “big enough to handle my needs but small enough to care.” The bank in question was owned by one of the biggest bank holding companies in the U.S., and since then they’ve been acquired by an even bigger company.

(Side question: “My” bank changed owners two years ago. Are they still mine? Probably. I haven’t noticed any significant changes other than the signage.)

Nope. All of the reasons banks put in their ads about why I should choose them meant nothing to me. I chose by location, and accepted everything which came with the package: the hours of operation, the fees, the interest rates… all of it. After I went into business for myself as a marketing consultant I opened a business account with the same bank.

Flash forward with me.

A couple of weeks ago, I, an otherwise satisfied customer, closed out a brokerage account and deposited the funds into “My” bank account. I hadn’t brought a deposit ticket with me, so I had to ask the teller for a blank deposit slip and to look up my checking account number.

I was told there would be a minimum ten day hold on this check, so that it could clear the issuing bank. Knowing this to be standard policy for many banks around the country, I merely nodded, took my deposit receipt, and left for my office.

On the eleventh day I called to ask about my deposit. I was told the hold on my check was for ten “business days.” Oh. Business days. OK. Because of the weekends, another four calendar days, I guess.

On the fifth day following, also known as the eleventh business day – called by most people the seventeenth day after – I checked my balance online and found the check had still not been credited to my account. I started looking for the bank’s phone number. It took far more effort than it should have to locate the national 800 number for the bank holding company.

I spoke to Rita in customer service. “Rita,” I asked, “what’s the point of requiring me to punch my account number into the phone, if you’re just going to ask me to repeat it when you come on the line?” Rita had no answer, other than their system couldn’t transfer the number with the call.

I asked that she explain why the funds from my former brokerage account had not been credited to my checking account. Rita assured me that the hold up was the fault of the issuing bank. I politely suggested that wasn’t likely, but that I would follow up with the brokerage.

The brokerage house didn’t leave me on hold.

Nor did their system drop my account number when transferring me to a human in account service. Ron looked up the check, and assured me that it had cleared their bank three days after it had been issued (in other words, two days after I deposited the check).

Some serious Google searching for another few minutes and I finally located a number for the local branch, which I dialed. I got the branch manager’s voice mail, hit “zero,” and was transferred to the receptionist. After checking, she told me that my funds would be available the following day.

“Why are those funds not available now?” I wanted to know. I was told that until midnight, they wouldn’t know how much money they’d received in the transfer from the other bank. (No, I am not making this up). “You’re a bank. You don’t know how much money people are sending you?” I asked, incredulously. Again, I was told my funds would be available after midnight.

So, the following morning I logged on to the bank’s on-line banking service to find the deposit had been made into my business account, rather than my personal account. I assumed a trip to the branch was in order.

Picture this layout:

bank lobbyWalking through the door puts the tellers on the left, the office cubicles on the right, a waiting area with couches and coffee on the back wall, and the receptionist desk in the middle of the big open area.

I approached the receptionist, who was busy ignoring me and curtly answering questions on the phone. I recognized her voice (and attitude) from the day before. The receptionist explained even though the customer had personally brought a check to the bank yesterday morning, that didn’t immediately put funds into her account. Her deposit wasn’t counted until midnight, and the check she was attempting to cover had been presented for payment yesterday afternoon. (Again, I’m not making this up).

Finally, when she asked how she might help me, I dragged a chair from an adjacent desk and settled in. I showed her both checkbooks. I explained that the deposit had been made in the wrong account, and asked her to make it right.

As she silently whacked the keys on her terminal an older woman, using a cane to steady herself, walked to the desk and asked, “Miss, can you tell me how much longer it will be?” The receptionist stated in a cold, professional voice, “I’ve told them you’re out here.” The older woman said “We’ve been waiting forty minutes. My friend gave me a ride, and she has another appointment soon.”

Without making eye contact the receptionist said “I don’t know what to tell you,” and went back to ignoring the woman.

When my transfer was complete, and the new receipts printed, I left. The older woman was looking at her watch. The receptionist was avoiding eye contact with the gentleman who’d been waiting his turn to speak to her.

I’m trying to decide whether to call the branch manager.

On the one hand, if I was the manager and didn’t know of poor customer service, I’d appreciate having it pointed out. On the other hand, this woman’s desk is in full view (and earshot) of six teller windows and four loan officer cubicles. I suspect all of the other employees have seen this behavior regularly. If that’s the case, why doesn’t the manager already know?

Should I call? Do I care? Will I move my accounts?

Truthfully, I don’t believe that the next bank will be any different.

What’s the difference between Bank of America and Sun Bank? Between Wachovia and Chase? Between Fifth Third and Wells Fargo? Can anyone articulate even a slight difference?

I can’t, and I’m paid to find and exploit those differences.

Bank advertising is so homogeneous we could probably exchange logos and no one would notice. (Except maybe for WaMu. Their ads are much more memorable. They don’t offer anything their competitors don’t, however. In the end they only have more clever advertising).

We can’t find the differences because there aren’t any. They all keep the same hours, pay the same interest rates, charge the same interest rates, offer the same free checking, and have coffee in the lobby. They all have the same automated tellers and charge the same fees for using someone else’s automated teller. All are “big enough to serve me and small enough to care.”

I should hope so. Who’d do business with a bank that can’t even reach the minimum criteria for entering the game. Telling me that you’re just like everyone else in your industry effectively makes you invisible.

I suspect many people choose banks as I did: they pick the one on the closest corner. And if that is the case, the only way any bank will gain market share will be to build on more corners.

Of course, the capital outlay required for this strategy will severely cut into operational profit, and the shareholders will probably revolt.

If I’m right, people don’t change banks because they perceive any advantage in the new bank. They only change when they’re upset enough to refuse to do business with the current institution. Advertising under these circumstances can only try to attract the attention of someone who’s getting ready to abandon her current bank.

That person is likely to choose the next bank based on location and convenience.

Isn’t it time for concierge banking?

Isn’t it time for someone to open a bank that caters to the needs, perhaps even to the whims of the customers? Wouldn’t you be willing to accept a lower interest rate on your savings in order to have a bank call and say “If you can get a deposit to us before midnight tonight, we won’t have to bounce this check?”

That only happens to me a couple of times a decade, but I’d be intensely loyal to a bank that cared that much about me.

Because when all of your competitors are pretty much the same, its not your advertising that drives market share. Its the way you do business.

I’ll be reinvesting the funds from my brokerage account. None of my investments will be in bank stocks.

And I still haven’t decided whether to call the branch manager about the receptionist. What’s your opinion? Should I bother?

Can massive amounts of advertising draw in more customers than service drives away? An important decision when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about matching the reality of your operation with the message you’re projecting? Drop Chuck a note at ChuckMcKay@FishingforCustomers.com. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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Dear Doctor – How Do Your Patients Rate YOU?

Originally published December, 2007

Dear Doctor:

For a single, brief instant I was your patient.

I’m new in the community and needed to have my diabetic prescriptions renewed.

I didn’t mind that I had to wait five weeks for the first appointment. I like that your practice is that busy. It implies that you’re in demand.

I appreciated the reminder phone call yesterday, confirming the appointment and suggesting that I arrive 15 minutes early to handle any necessary paperwork.

Perhaps you remember that my appointment was for 10am. Since I didn’t know what the traffic would be like, or how difficult your office would be to find, I left for your office at 9am, and arrived at 9:30. After checking in and completing your new patient forms I sat patiently waiting to be called.

I wasn’t upset when 10am passed and no one had called my name.

I wasn’t really upset at 10:15.

By 10:30 I was becoming annoyed. I asked your receptionist if it was going to be much longer. Without even looking up she told me she didn’t know, but they’d call me as soon as they were ready for me.

By 10:45 I should have walked out, but I needed my prescriptions. I didn’t have five weeks left to start this process with another doctor.

I Waited

At 11:02 a nurse called my name. She weighed me, took my blood pressure, confirmed the meds I’m taking, and showed me to an exam room. She closed the door upon her exit, and I sat alone there until you finally walked in at 11:36.

Instead of making eye contact you looked at the chart, and introduced yourself. No apology. No recognition of my inconvenience. In fact, you didn’t look up at all until I asked what had caused you to be running 97 minutes behind on your first 120 minutes of operation.

As you looked into my ears and mouth you told me that you couldn’t anticipate how long each patient would need your attention.

I wondered why not? You’ve been in business for at least 90 days. It seems to me that tallying the number of patients you see, the number of hours you’re open, and dividing one by the other should get you in the ballpark.

Perhaps you recall, Doctor, indignantly telling me that you haven’t been able to take a lunch in the last two months? That you worked straight through your scheduled 90 minute mid-day break to take care of the patients waiting to see you?

If, in every one of the last 60 days it took an extra hour and a half to catch up on half a day’s appointments, then you obviously are scheduling them too close together. This accomplishes nothing but to really make your patients cranky.

Not as cranky as you appeared, though, when you handed me the scrip I’d come in for. (That was when I explained that by working through lunch you were only making my point).

And We Arrived at the Critical Moment

Do you remember when you angrily demanded to know if I understood how much it costs to have your staff standing around waiting on patients, and that you still had student loans to pay off?

That was the exact moment when our doctor/patient relationship ended.

Oh, you’re probably not aware of it. I took the sheet with your charges to the clerk and paid on my way out. But, the relationship has definitely ended. I decided that long before I arrived back at my office at 12:29, very angry to have wasted half a day to simply renew the prescriptions I’ve been taking for years.

You see, whether you realize it or not, you’re a consultant.

People hire you for the expert advice you give them when they have health care concerns. Many other people are consultants, too. Insurance agents, hair dressers, and Realtors come to mind.

They call people who purchase their services “customers,” while yours are known as “patients,” but it’s pretty much the same relationship.

I wouldn’t have waited an hour and a half beyond a firm appointment for any of them. I wouldn’t have expected them to wait on me were the tables turned. But with you and a great many of your colleagues, this is business as usual.

You Keep Your Productivity High by Insuring That Mine is Low

That, and your total disrespect for me as your customer are the reasons I won’t be back.

So, as I tell you goodbye, let me leave you with two thoughts:

1.Your accountant has been counting your inactive patient files as assets of your practice.

He’s kidding himself.

If he ever sat in your waiting room he’d understand why you have such a large percentage of inactive patients.

2.People like me, the well-paid executives who can afford your services, don’t normally make a scene as we leave.

We simply determine that you’re not worth the investment of any further time.

So, when you find yourself squeezed between managed care and deadbeat patients, remember that I’m in my peak earning years, my time is valuable to me, and I’d have gladly paid more for express service.

Remind yourself, too, that I am a great source of word-of-mouth. Unfortunately, in your case, it won’t be favorable. I will, however, get a massive amount of satisfaction repeating this story. I’ll be telling it for years. When you advertise your practice, how many gross ratings points will you have to purchase just to neutralize me?

One of these days one of your colleagues is going to figure this out. He’s going to appear on television with a simple message:

I’m Doctor Johnson, the business person’s doctor. I’m not one of the lower priced doctors in town – in fact, I’m probably one of the most expensive. But, if you’re accepted as my patient (and not everyone is) I promise you’ll never wait more than 15 minutes for your appointment. Come see me. Doctor Johnson, the business person’s doctor, at the corner of Main and Second Street for your convenience.

He’s going to make a fortune on people like me. Something to consider when you’re fishing for patients.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Need some help seeing your service from your customer’s point of view? Drop Chuck a note at ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com and start a conversation.  Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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