Of service and tellers

March 1, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I was – for the last time – treated horribly by Regions Bank.  I’ll spare you the grizzly details, but suffice it to say, they made a mistake that I was going to have to pay (dearly) for … and they bullymade it abundantly clear that they really could care less.  In calling them, I may as well have been barking at the moon.  (You know that feeling of complete and utter helplessness? That feeling you get when you’re so angry, you can hardly speak?)

I was just a little guy, after all …  so, if I followed through on the threat to close my accounts, who cares – right?  Now, from a business perspective, I wished I’d had the clarity at the time to remind them where their paycheck came from.  I,after all, was the revenue (customers’ money being what they invest, charge interest on, etc. to make their own profit,  obviously)!  They, the employee, were the overhead!

Was this how they’d want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot?  Did they care if I, as I promised I would, told everyone who’d listen, for years to follow, how awful my experience with Regions Bank was?  The answer was an emphatic ‘no’ on both accounts.

After taking several days to digest it all, I’ve discovered the lesson to be learned here.

To these Regions support personnel, I’m a nobody.  A stranger with no immediate impact on their daily lives.  They can pass me right over and no one will know the better.

Or could they? The truth is, you never, ever know who you’re dealing with.  That, and the fact that it’s just the right thing to do, is one of the many reasons to just … well, treat people right.

I’m a literary publicist.  I work with authors, agents and media.  One of my authors just so happens to be a best-selling business author.  Said author just so happened to be in town last week to discuss ideas for/the contents of his next book.  The subject matter?  Customer service.  I told him of my experience with Regions.  And it’s possible that, in next year’s book – to be seen by untold thousands of potential customers, trade publications for hundreds of different little-guy-stands-up-to-bullyindustries throughout the world, media of every variety, etc. – Regions Bank and the way that customer service representative treated this “nobody”, will be cited as the perfect example of how NOT to treat your customers (how’s that for sweet justice? Striking a blow for the little guy?).   So, when they thought I’d simply hang up the phone and call my brother-in-law or my carpool pal before cooling off and just letting it go … they sold me a bit short.

Now – would this cause Regions Bank to close its doors? Of course not.  Could it cause a couple of hundred people who’d been considering opening an account with them to decide otherwise? Absolutely.  And, a few thousand dollars a month from each of them, over the course of 8,9,10 years … is a very, very substantial sum of money.

To their credit, after I called a senior VP at their headquarters, he returned my call.  He replaced my money.  He even sent a nice letter, apologizing for my troubles.  But, should I have had to call a senior VP at their headquarters to receive service? No.  The bank – which, to me, is represented by my only contact with them, the customer service representatives and tellers – should be empowered to take care of me and should have enthusiastically done so.  They could have, perhaps, made a believer out of me.

panhandlerI think you see where this is going, from a spiritual perspective.  We – as the body of Christ … as the church – have been empowered to take care of  those in need.    We shouldn’t put them off, thinking instead, “let God deal with it … I’d rather not bother.  He, or someone/anyone else, will take care of them.”  “The least of these” shouldn’t have to call headquarters and appeal to the senior VP of the universe for the most basic of needs … to complete the most trivial transactions.

After all, like the bank, He’s provided the means, already – and He’s empowered an army of  “tellers” and customer service representatives, to deliver them.

Bottom line? I came to Regions Bank with a problem … which, an astute business person would have seen, instead, as an opportunity.   They failed miserably to deliver and lost me forever.  We, as Christ-followers, must be more astute business people.  We’ve got to see the problems and troubled people we encounter daily as opportunities.  Opportunities to lend a hand, lift someone up, make someone’s day, give someone hope. We, like anyone in any customer service interaction, never know who we’re dealing with … what kind of trouble they may be in … how close to the edge they may be … how badly, despite their outward appearance or the size of their bank account, they need to know Jesus Christ.  If we handle it better than Regions did, enthusiastically answering the call when it comes in … we just might make a believer of someone.



  1. excellent my friend!!! I LOVE it

  2. I really like the lessons you took away from this experience. Rather than just focusing on how YOU have been wronged, you’ve made an application for how you (and the rest of us) should be treating others.

    Personally, I have stopped holding companies accountable for the behaviors of their employees. I know this goes against old-school customer service statements like “the customer is always right,” but my experience in dealing with customers and employees is that both are independent personalities within the situation. Companies have lost the power to completely meld an employee’s behavior to the company’s will (or mission statement). While it’s easy to bemoan that fact when you’re on the wrong side of a bad customer service experience, I like the lack of conformity overall. Please don’t send me back to the conformist consistency of the 1950s!

    Now, I don’t disagree that it can be difficult to get good customer service anywhere you visit or shop, but I do sometime wonder why we’re all still expecting it instead of merely being delighted when we surprisingly receive it.

    And you have to admit that good customer service rarely leads to a blog post, an animated story to friends, or even a rise in blood pressure. Life would be waaay more boring without the adventure of a little disadvantage and mis-handling!

    • Hmm. Interesting take, Lisa … I’ll respectfully disagree, but interesting!

      I’m just of the opinion that I, as a customer, can take my business anywhere I like … and that, if you want me to give it to YOU and to make your business more profitable, you can at least pay me common courtesies. You can CARE when you’re holding MY money hostage or when you’ve wronged me (especially in a way that effects whether or not I’m buying groceries that week). And, as I said – it’s just the right thing to do …. treat people well and with respect, that is.

      I’m just bothered by the fact that people – especially in THIS economic environment – who HAVE jobs, could care so little about how they perform them or whether or not they’re chasing customers away from their business … which for all they know, could be teetering on the edge. Customers are, as Scott McKain says in his new book Collapse of Distinction, not disappearing … they’re just having to be infinitely more discriminating about where, when and with whom they spend what little money they have. If businesses expect them to spend it with them, they should care enough to make sure their most basic needs are tended to and that they feel wanted.

      Now, if I’d bene browsing in some random store in the mall and had not been helped, no big deal. I was just browsing anyway. But, with a bank – when you’re dealing with people’s mortgage payments, grocery money and life’s savings … well, you better believe it’s a big deal. And they need to understand that. And, again, care.

      Guess I’m old-fashioned. I don’t think it’s too much to expect to be treated with respect – both as a customer and (more importantly) as a person.

      While I can’t force others to conform, as I said in my blog, all I can do is take away from it the way in which I, as a Christ-follower, should treat others with needs and problems that I’ve been equipped to help with.

      • I know that I am in the minority in my opinions on this topic, but my reason for commenting was to represent another way of possibly looking at the situation, one that may lead to much less stress (especially if the end result is a positive one, as in your case).

        I have also been a recipient of really great customer service over the years, so I’m thankful overall. When I do receive bad customer service, I truy to go into a conversation with customer service employees calmly and respectfully, in part because of my own empathy for their position and situation. Usually, you’re not talking to the person who made the mistake (and I could rant about that, to be sure — I’m not a fan of the call center philosophy), and sometimes there really isn’t much they can do to fix it. Last Thanksgiving our suitcase got lost for four days by the airline, and no matter how often I called, they just couldn’t tell me where the bag was. The call center was not in the US. There was truly no way they could force someone to find our suitcase and bring it to us, especially during the busiest time of the year. We had to accept that fact and move on to controlling things we could control (i.e., our outlook on the matter).

        Unfortunately, I think our country has created a culture where people don’t see equal value in all levels of work, and I think that is sometimes the result of employers not showing respect to their entry-level workers by paying them a living wage. To me, working in a call center for minimum wage would be a very challenging environment to “brighten the corner” in. I think our culture tells people that you can have it all, you can pursue the American dream, and you might even get really, really famous and rich, and so people who are working in a non-dream-job feel like they’re just waiting for their ship to come in, but don’t necessarily see that their own efforts affect the outcome. They are waiting for something magical to happen. Or they’re jaded because something magical never did.

        Maybe that customer call center employee is the “little guy” after all…

        Thanks for your great thoughts.

  3. The message is great. I am pretty sure I don’t want to make you mad though:)We should turn you loose on the whole banking fiasco.

    Keep writing!

    • Thanks, Mike! I’ll keep writin’, if you’ll keep readin’.

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