If You Hate Your Bank Then I Have Bad News For You

I read a lot of other personal finance blogs, as I think getting different voices, opinions and thoughts on various items is great.  I have quite a few (see my blog roll) that I love and others that I read in passing.  One topic I see time and again are posts that tie back to complaints about banks.

Bank of America seems to take the brunt of bloggers ire, but it seems like many banks catch the rancor.  The complaints seem to boil down to a few common themes:

  • High fees
  • Poor customer service
  • Complaints about banks having taken bailout money

If you’ve complained about banks or get fired up about banks, I have bad news for you: You’re wasting your time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m normally a big advocate for complaining when you aren’t getting good service or good value for your money, so it might seem like my advice is being overly dismissive or favoring the banks, but I assure you it’s not.  What it is simple truth.

Here are a few things that the average (or even the above average) person needs to realize about the banks, and I’ll start with the bottom bullet out of the items above and then move to more general terms:

  • The bailout is old news – While it might anger people that banks took bailout money from the government (and if you read the comments of just about any article written about the banking industry in Seeking Alpha, it certainly is), the fact is that the banks have moved on.  While you might be aghast to this day about the audacity of the banks having taken this money, I guarantee that there is not one single meeting being called, one single resource being dedicated, or any amount of money spent at the banks to deal with this issue.  Why? Because it’s in the past.  The banks took the money, most paid it back, and they’ve moved on.  Any and all resources are being dedicated to things that the bank is doing today or plans on doing tomorrow.  They probably cared a lot about the bailouts from 2008 through 2010, but they no longer care, and they never will again.
  • The banks don’t care if you like them – Many people harken to the old days where you had bankers that, if things are to be believed, acted like George Bailey in ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ where he cared about each person he did business with, and not only cared about them, but made personal sacrifices to ensure that his customers could depend on the bank.  Folks, this doesn’t exist any more.  To expect that is silly.  These are corporations and they are responsible to deliver profits.  Banks get a lot of ire, but the fact is, that any publicly traded company is driven by the same responsibility.  Banks appear more greedy because they deal directly with money, but it’s true of any industry.
  • Most customers do not make banks money – You’ve heard of the 80-20 rule, and in many businesses, there is a variation of this where 80% of the profit is derived from 20% of the customers.  I think this is even more skewed in banking.  The simple truth is that your checking account with an average balance of $1,000 is not adding much to the bottom line, so when they raise your fees, and you threaten to leave, this does not present a problem for the bank.
  • They know it’s harder to leave – Say you’re one of the people that does start looking around and decide that you’re going to leave, banks know that it’s harder to do so than ever.  Before, you could just throw away your checkbook, walk into a bank, and walk out with your money in hand.  Now, you have to change your direct deposit.  If you pay bills from your bank, you have to change all those over.  It’s a harrowing process and banks know that most people don’t want to do it and won’t do it if given a choice.
  • They know it won’t matter – So you’ve decided you’re so mad that you’re going to leave the bank, and you do.  You change your direct deposit, update your bill pay, switch over your bank cards, the whole nine yards.  You sit back, triumphantly having shown the bank that you’re not going to be stuck with their latest fee or have to carry their new required balance.  Want to know how long that’s going to last?  Probably as long as it takes to go to the mailbox and get the notification from your new bank, the one that tells you that they’re implementing the same fees or something similar that will result in the same thing.   Even credit unions, once considered the safe haven from fees, have implemented more stringent requirements that result in many of the same fees, balance requirements or otherwise.

So, is it hopeless?  Are we just supposed to bend over and take it?

No, I would never agree with that.  I don’t think you just roll over and take it, but you can do a few things:

  • Understand your requirements – Many people pay fees because they don’t know they don’t have to.  If your bank starts charging you $8 per month, you might be able to waive that by increasing your balance by a few hundred dollars a month or by implementing direct deposit.  Before just accepting, first make sure you understand.
  • Rely less on banks – The bank where we do most of our banking is primarily a pass-through.  The money gets deposited, bills get paid, and the rest (less enough of a cushion to keep the minimum balance requirement intact) goes elsewhere.  We don’t have a savings account there.  We don’t invest there.  We don’t have our health savings account there.  What he have is basic.
  • Focus your customer service time elsewhere – As I indicated above, unless your name is Mark Cuban (and if Mark Cuban is reading this blog, well how awesome would that be) than the bank really doesn’t care if you complain.  While it might make sense to write on their Facebook wall or Twitter page or something like that, you might realize that your time would be better spent trying to get improved customer service elsewhere.  At a place where, if you left as a customer, it could impact their bottom line.

I don’t think we should take poor customer service from banks, but I think we would be wise to understand the limitations that we have as customers, and how we can best approach the issues that we have to do what we can to mitigate the things that make us see red.

What do you think?  Is it a better use of time to complain about banks or should we minimize the impact and be more pro-active to work around the issues we have, understanding that banks don’t have motivation to make customers ‘happy’?

Great Products Plus Great Customer Service Equals A Resounding Success

It’s so much easier to write a blog entry about a complaint than it is to share a good story, but when a company steps up to address a problem in a way that thoroughly satisfies a customer, they deserve to hear the kudos associated with that.  Today’s story is about North Face.

I fought North Face for a long time.  It seemed everybody I knew or didn’t know was wearing a North Face jacket.  For years, I was willing to stick it out with knock offs, figuring I was wiser and more financially responsible than anybody who would have wasted their money on those coats.

Then I tried one one.  My wife got me in a moment of weakness and handed me this ‘winter coat’ that was half the thickness of the one I was used to wearing.  I wondered how this could keep anybody warm.  Then, I put it on and was instantly to the point where I almost passed out from the immediate warmth.

(Hey, we were indoors, after all)

I decided to give it a try and asked for one for Christmas last year.  I liked the coat I got but I actually wanted a warmer one, so I traded it for a ‘better’ model using some gift money to cover the difference.

Loved it.

Earlier this year, my wife and I found a seasonal store that was selling everything they had at 40% before they closed for the year, including fall jackets.  We both found coats that we loved, and we both used gift money that we had not yet spent to pay for our coats.

All was well until a couple of weeks later when Mrs. Beagle called and said that one of the zippers on the pockets had broken.  She was disappointed.  I came home and took a look and sure enough, the zipper was only attached to one side and there was no way to reattach it.

My wife looked online and found that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that they would repair coats for the lifetime of the coat.  They did specify that the repairs would be within reason, meaning you couldn’t trash the coat and then send it off to them expecting them to fix it.

The bad news was that you had to pay to send the coat in.  On top of that, they highly suggested that the shipment be insured and that you pay to have signature verification on the package.  When I looked at the USPS website for their pricing, I estimated that this would be roughly $15.  In fairness, they do pay for the costs associated with returning the coat to you.

Now, we saved $45 on the coat (give or take) with the great price we got, so I was not really excited to give up a third of that to pay for a repair on a coat that was less than a month old and had probably been worn less than half a dozen times.

So, I contacted their customer service department (via e-mail), explained the situation, and they agreed to send us a shipping label so that the cost would be covered.

It was easy as can be.  I printed the label, we packed the box, had FedEx grab it, and we had it back within a week and a half, with a repaired zipper.

I love when companies step up and take ownership in situations where it makes sense for them to do so.  All too often, you hear of stories where a company wants to argue their point, all for a little cost.  I see their point in that they just can’t bend over backwards to address every complaint, but at the same time, they have to strike a balance between saving a buck and the lost sales that could result from turning a customer away.

North Face seems to have that down pat.  I’m very pleased to be a North Face customer.  Hats off for a great experience.

Have you had a great customer service experience lately?

WalMart: Save A Few Pennies, Waste A Lot Of Time

The night before a recent camping trip, there were a couple of last minute things I wanted to get.  You’ll find out in an upcoming post, but one of the things that jumped out that I really wanted was an awning stabilizer kit.

I knew that Wal Mart had these, so I set off to the store right after the kids went to bed.

I figured it’d be a quick trip.

Man, I forgot all about what Wal Mart stands for.

Yes, you might pay less.  But, it WILL take you twice as long.

For some reason, the WalMart by our house prides itself on long lines.  I’m not sure why, but you can never get to a register without waiting at least 15 minutes.  No matter what time of day, that’s the story.

That’s precisely why we rarely shop there.  We could probably save money on groceries and household goods, but especially if we were to have kids in tow, there’s no way I would subject them to ridiculously long lines of 30 minutes or more (which is probably more common during grocery shopping times).  I mean, if I’m getting impatient by myself, I can’t imagine it would be very good for a 3 year old and a 1 year old, neither of whom have exactly exhibited skills relating to patience thus far.

They have a ‘Speedy’ checkout area with six registers.

Two problems:

  1. They are limited to 20 items or less.  Twenty items in a shopping cart, for those who even bother respecting the rules, isn’t exactly a quick ring.  Most stores have 10 or 15 item limits.
  2. Out of the six lanes they have dedicated to this purpose, exactly one was open.  Still, it was slower waiting in the ten person line here versus one of the six or seven people lines that were open in the no-limit registers.

After waiting and waiting and finally getting to the front of the line, it became apparent that WalMart just doesn’t get it.  Someone (maybe a manager, but presumably just a runner) sauntered over and asked the poor cashier (who in his credit was actually working very quickly) if he needed change.

The cashier looked at him incredulously and said something along the lines of ‘No, but I could use some help here.’

The other guy looked around like he was seeing it for the first time.  And I’m pretty sure, given his ‘go-getter’ attitude, his message back was probably ‘No, didn’t need any change’ never even mentioning that reinforcements had been asked for.

How does WalMart stay in business when their customer service is awful and most of their stores look dirty two days after they’re brand new? 

A Tale Of Two Customer Service Experiences

I believe that customer loyalty is something that should not be given lightly by consumers, but should be cherished by a business when it is rewarded.  A loyal customer is not only to give repeat business time and again, they will likely tell friends, family, and even complete strangers to go do business with the place that they have grown to love so much.

With this said, I thought it was worth it to share stories about two businesses which have had our loyalty for years, but with dramatically different outcomes.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…and so was this jewelry store….

While we’ve shopped at other jewelry stores, Store “J” has always been our go-to store of choice for our jewelry needs.  We don’t buy that much jewelry, but when we do, Store “J” is always given our first look and has ended up with probably 90% or more of our jewelry purchases.

Our first major purchase was a big one.  The engagement ring and wedding band were purchased as a set back in 2006.  My wedding ring was also purchased at the same store.

When we got married, my wife was surprised when my gift to her was a nice set of diamond earrings, purchased of course at Store “J”.

A Pandora bracelet found its way into our home from Store “J” when they started to take off, and a few charms have been purchased along the way.

I gave my wife a ring and a necklace, respectively, at the birth of each of our children.

None of these were overly extravagant, and over the course of seven years or so, it’s about one purchase per year.  The point is that we always looked to Store “J” first.  We always talked about Store “J” and recommended them for our jewelry needs.

So, we were disappointed when we had a very negative experience.  There are several locations near us.  One has always been stellar, but we when we needed to drop our jewelry off for their semi-annual inspection (required by the extended coverage plans that we purchased on many items), we decided to drop them off at a different location.  When we went in, people were busy, but we still had to wait several minutes before anybody could even look over at us to acknowledge that we were in the store.

Other people walked in after us, and when the salespeople started finishing up with their current customers, it seemed that people that came in after us were helped first.

Finally, someone from the back, where the lab and cleaning area is located, came out and asked what we needed.  My wife explained what we were there for at which point the woman that was helping did not say anything, but basically held her hand out to take the jewelry…mmm…kay.

Usually the process of writing up the jewelry takes about ten minutes.  This time it took over half an hour.  The woman went through our paperwork, and even though everything was clearly there, she acted as if we were missing stuff, then would get annoyed with my wife when it was pointed out that the information was right there.  As if my wife was being the rude one.

My wife had a couple of questions and the answers she got were short, abrupt, and made to seem almost as if she was in the wrong for even asking.  Long and short, the experience was horrible.

I wrote a letter to their customer service center, outlining the experience and our dissatisfaction.  I indicated that although we always got great service at the store we usually go to, that any store with the Store “J” name should be expected to deliver the same great service.

I got a response three days later.  They did apologize and that was it.  I thought a nice touch would have been a phone call or e-mail from the store manager, but nothing of the sort came through.

We walked away still happy with our product, but a good portion of the loyalty built up over seven years was erased with that experience.  Now, if friends and family ask, instead of glowing reviews, they’ll be told to avoid that particular location, and you can bet that if we buy jewelry from somewhere else and have a great experience, then Store “J” may fall right off the map.

Girls love handbags, too….

Vera Bradley came into our sights over the same weekend.  For those who don’t know what Vera Bradley is, they make handbags, wallets, duffel bags, and other assorted ‘carrying things’.  Most have patterns of flowers or other designs in bright, colorful layouts.  My wife has been a fan for as long as I’ve known her.

The stuff isn’t cheap, but it usually lasts a long time, and I love it because, if I’m ever at a loss for a gift idea, I can just pick up a Vera bag or accessory, and I’m all set.

Before our daughter was born, my wife wanted a Vera Bradley diaper bag.  She got one and it worked pretty well…until it didn’t.  With everything my wife has, she never once had a problem with a bag, until the zipper started to go on the diaper bag.  Basically, the clasp started to come apart making it harder and harder to unzip until the last piece of the clasp came out altogether.

My wife called explaining what had happened.  Even though the bag was almost a year old, they told her to come into the store.  She did.  They looked at it, and even thought it was well past the normal return time allowed, and even though the bag was being sold now at a less price (as it was last years ‘model’), they took the bag back and offered her a full credit toward a new one.  Which she got and she loved.

If my wife didn’t love Vera Bradley enough before, it went up about tenfold after that experience, and if she didn’t talk about Vera before to anybody that would listen, well, anybody that mentions the diaper bag or any other Vera bag is going to get a glowing recommendation.

Two businesses had our loyalty.  Both had issues arise.  They handled it in two separate ways, and now one is on the outs, while the other is at or near the top of the list.

Both keep track of our purchase history. Store “J” and Vera Bradley both could look up what we’ve purchased over the years.  Both likely did when we started our requests.  Seeing the loyalty developed meant something to Vera Bradley, but a similar sense of importance was not conveyed by Store “J”.

Store “J” got made to look even worse, and Vera Bradley was made to look like more of the superstar, simply by the fact that both of these experiences took place on the same weekend.  Because there was such a contrast, Store “J” came out smelling that much worse and Vera came out smelling like roses.

Have you ever had a company that you’ve been loyal to completely knock it out of the water or fall flat on their face?