Tuesday, October 20, 2009

BoA Constriction

I woke up this morning at 5am to a text sent to me from Bank of America. Thinking it was my loving boyfriend, who sends me random love messages at odd hours, I opened my phone elatedly, only to feel my heart drop when I read the cold, unloving, non-specific bank statement.

Bank of America free text alert! To avoid a service interruption on your account, please call ***-***-**** before 9pm today. To end alerts reply ****.

I mean, fuck, at least it was free! Stupidly, I cracked open Lil' Mac to inspect what exactly was wrong with my accounts now. I had a sinking feeling it had something to do with overdraft fees, as most of my banking problems seem to lately. Lo and behold, I was right; my balance was at a negative-something. WTF. Worry and panic ensued, which then led to crying, which then led to anger at myself for not having gotten after these assholes in the first place. I should not be suffering at 5am like that. No person should. We all work too damn hard to be shaking in our own warm beds, worried that the repo-man is idling just around the corner.

The last couple of times I've called customer service to get assistance in reversing these atrocious banking fees (a whopping $35 PER overdraft charge), I've gotten the cold shoulder. One woman sounded as though she could not care if that last measly $20 was my only grocery money for the week. "I swear to you lady, I cannot afford a Coach bag. I just want to make my car payment." The second guy was more pleasant to deal with, but simply stated that he could not help me because the fees were "valid", a term I'd also heard from Lady Freeze (aforementioned banker).

The fees were valid? What does that even mean? Oh, I get it. I screwed up; therefore, you reserve the right to screw me even more? Thanks. I don't have any money in the first place, and nevertheless, you are taking what I don't have. How is this not backwards? What happened to a bank supporting its customers and helping them work out the kinks? What is going on that customer service has just fallen by the wayside? I hate to pull the "I sign your paychecks" card, but, uh, I kind of do. You have a job because I am your customer, and because my tax dollars have helped bailout your place of business.

I'm not spitting fire for the sake of burning myself either. I do understand how customer service works; I've worked in retail and food service since I was 15. The number one correction or tip I would have to give customer service representatives right now is "Know Your Customer", and if you don't, you'd better learn.

For example, I currently work at literary giant Barnes & Noble. Having been an employee on and off since 2006, I've become one of the more highly trained employees in my current store and I get shuffled between the main customer service desk, kids department, music, cash-wrap, and café. Essentially, I am paid to assist customers and I firmly believe this is my priority, not the selling of memberships. Not only am I paid to assist my customers, but because of my operational soundness, it is my job to anticipate what my my customer needs. Granted, I do not always succeed; everything comes with a rate of failure. Regardless, I try my best.

How does one anticipate their customers' needs? Well, by keeping your eyes and ears open. Example: One particular scenario I always encounter in the café setting is a mom and her antsy children. Each sticky, grabby-hands child wants a cookie, and poor harrowed mom just wants her GD caffeine fix. Add a potential crier in there, or a terrible toddler, and you've got yourself some good family fun. Mom orders her latte, reprimands the kids, orders a cookie or two, goes back to reprimanding the kids. My automatice response, "Do you need these in separate bags?" Sounds stupid, yeah? I cannot even tell you how many mothers I've made happy by asking that one question. "Oh yes, please!" and "How did you know?!" are among the responses I've received.

If there is one thing I've learned in my years of customer service (and babysitting), it is that kids are selfish and moms stress about bringing their selfish children to public places. Does this slow down the line slightly? Yes. Am I being wasteful by using an extra bag? Perhaps. But if I can make everyone's day a little brighter by preventing little Johnny from going ape-shit and destroying everyone's eardrums with his sonic wail, I'll go with that. At this point, you may be wondering why I've digressed. I haven't, I assure you.

Back to this idea about "Knowing Your Customer"... The same goes for banks, and bankers. Yes, you wear business casual, and you stand behind bullet proof glass, or sit at a desk that houses your numerous Banker of the Year awards, but it does not mean you are above anyone. Essentially, you are helping people manage their livelihood. Our capitalist nation thrives on the consistent flow of money from one hand to the next, and you, bankers, are the people who manage that. So, when a frustrated customer sits across from you, pleading for some understanding, I ask you for empathy. You can see that person's account history and activity. If you see that there is one deposit going in per week for no more than $200 dollars, or that they have nothing in savings, you may want to ask that person if they are under financial hardship. Ignoring the issue does not lessen its severity or the effect it has on a person. You, bankers, are the ones who have the information regarding hidden fees, overdraft protection, credit limits and policies; therefore, you are the ones charged with divulging this essential information to your customers.

I cannot truly expect to be an exception to the rule. However, I do truly feel that many of these institutions keep their customers in the dark because it is that much easier for them to turn you away. I understand that there are 50,000 others looking for the same retribution. However, I find it looks terrible when you see your bank getting a multi-million/billion dollar government--issued bail-out, when just the day before they denied you a basic satisfactory customer service experience. "Satisfactory" doesn't even have to mean that I get money returned to me. I simply want to deal with a human who empathizes with my situation. The stone cold faces and voices leave me ashamed for even asking in the first place.

I am so fed up with getting run around by these people. I just want to encounter someone with an honest, empathetic approach to dealing with people. I'm trying so hard... I'm a good person in a bad spot, like so many other Americans to this day. What are we going to do, if we cannot rely on anyone but ourselves? My humanitarian side just may be the death of me. Emerson, were you right? Do we walk alone?

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