Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sure Money Talks, But It Depends On Who's Pulling The Strings

I thought I would revisit the theme of customer service today by sharing with you two incidents involving a business and the government that I experienced this week.

The Business

Late last month I decided to refinance my home equity loan so that I could come up with a down payment for a new/used car (which I ultimately bought this past Friday). So after sending in the requested paperwork (W-2's and paycheck stubs) the previous week, I decided to inquire about the status of it. It was already conditionally approved and all I wanted to know was either a closing date or what additional information was needed.

I called up TD Bank, which is where my loan is through, to find out the status. For the next three days, I got the following answers to my query:

1} It's not my department.
2} I'm sorry.
3} It's still being worked on.
4} I'll send an e-mail to the proper department and they will get back to you.

No matter who I spoke to, be it a worker bee or their supervisor (I tried the bank branch that our family has their accounts with, but that person got stonewalled as well), no one would give me an answer. As a matter of fact, the closest I got to an answer was a supervisor telling me that it was being worked on as we spoke about.

Eventually, after spending another four hours getting the run around and getting apologized to, I wound up yanking my application. But wait, it gets better. I called the next day to see if I could get the information that I had mailed in back.

I then proceeded to spend the next five minutes having a nasty argument with the customer service rep who was trying to tell me that it takes about three weeks to move from conditionally approved to approved (among other things). Two issues quickly emerged from this argument: one, she wasn't listening to what I was saying, which was that someone was already entering my info in the system; and two, she wasn't catching my increasing vitriolic tone. So I told her to shut up for a minute so that I could speak. She got offended by that comment (really?), so I escalated my anger and about thirty seconds later, dropped the proverbial F bomb and ended the conversation.

I'm sure at this point that I'll probably become a case history on how not to handle an irate customer. For those who do customer service and might be reading this, I offer this suggestion: give the person a solid answer to their question. Go that extra mile and give them what they want, even if it means bending the rules in order to do it.

The Government

There are only two government entities that I will bend over backwards and grovel for: Motor Vehicles and the IRS.

Since things have been quiet on the home front with my car/driver's license, let's concentrate with the IRS.

This past Friday (3/23) I went to the bank to get some money and when I had gotten my passbook back, I noticed an odd deposit posted. I inquired to the teller, who told me it was from the U.S. Treasury. I said, "That amount doesn't sound right." So I made a beeline back to the house in order to dig out my tax return and check what I had written down.

Turns out there was a $1550 discrepancy between what I had written down and what was given. Extremely worried that I did something really not right with my return, I called the IRS about it. After getting a computer generated explanation as to why, which was what I wrote down for a number for my daughter did not match up with their records, I decided to continue with my phone call and talk to a customer service rep to see how I might be able to fix the error and expedite the fixing of the error in whatever method they'd deem necessary.

So when I got put on hold, the friendly voice said, "Your estimated wait time is more than 15 minutes."

I said to myself, "No big thing."

Little did I know how much of a wait beyond those 15 minutes would await me.

Like times 3.

Yes, I was on hold for 45 minutes before I got to talk to a customer service rep about my particular issue. Now normally, I would of long ago gone absolutely nuclear if I had spent more than ten minutes on hold. However, since this was about three-quarters of my legitimate tax refund, I was more than willing to spend the entire evening on hold in order to jump through whatever hoop they wanted me to jump through.

Turns out that there wasn't that much of a hoop to jump through. I gave them the appropriate number, confirmed a few important details and after a grand total of 57 minutes and 7 seconds, I had the rest of my tax refund.

Which I'll see in about three to four weeks.

Oh, and out of that 57 minutes and 7 seconds, I was on hold for about 52 of those minutes.

And I will say with genuine sincerity that the person I'd talked to on the phone was extremely helpful and polite throughout the entire encounter.

So there you have it, two unique customer service experiences from the private and public sector. Who would've thought that one my better customer service experiences would come from an entity that developed a reputation of mediocre customer service?

Certainly not me.


  1. I hope they at least played nice music on the phone line while you were on hold all that time!

  2. Wow, man. What a run around that was. sorry to hear it.

  3. I think you've had your share of bad customer service this week. I'm glad you finally got someone nice on the phone.

  4. Sorry about your Experience #1. I hope and try for all I'm worth to not entangle with business/banks/gov't/corporations with any problems. Life's just plain easier that way.

  5. Debra: They played a little classical pop for the entire time I was on hold.

    Believe it or not, I'm one of the few people who can actually tolerate classical music, whether its played by adults or little childrens.

    Charles: It was, and in my opinion, completely unnecessary.

    Interestingly enough, when I had to call the bank for other business, the experience was a polar opposite of this: competent, friendly and I was off the phone within four minutes.

    M: Absolutely!

    Thing is, it takes a lot of stupid to piss me off, especially on the telephone, and especially if you're a CSR and can't do your job correctly.

    Lynn: I try like hell to go above and beyond when it comes to customer service on the telephone, simply because it's part and parcel of what I do for a living.

    I have a tendency to get better than average customer service, simply because not only am I willing to play the game, but I'm willing to play by their rules and then some.

    Joanne: I normally don't either, simply because I've dealt with those particular entities on a daily basis at work.

    I try my best to play by whatever rules a particular entity employs.

    Less stress, which more often than not, equals brand loyalty.

  6. You were on hold for 52 minutes! Damn life is way too short to waste it waiting on the phone like that. Just think of all the fun things you could have done in that 52 minutes. :D Okay maybe don't, otherwise you'll get even more fed up!

  7. They both sucked. If they can't get within a couple minutes of the estimated wait time...pull the system. I know several call centers that will do that.

  8. Joe: Like I said, I probably would've gone nuclear if this was a normal entity, but this was money that I really needed (tax refund that is).

    However, I did accomplish a few things while waiting.

    1) charged my phone.
    2) re-read my tax return.
    3) had four different conversations with my brother-in-law and my wife.
    4) did some deep knee bends.

    Bearman: Yes, they both did suck.

    And I did ask the CSR when he had finally came online if it was really busy that day, and he said it came in spurts.

    As for other times that I was on hold, those entities were pretty much within a couple of minutes of the estimated wait time.

  9. Sometimes (not always) I long for the good old days when you went in person to places and saw a real live person and made eye contact and actually had face to put with a name...sigh...

    Hope you had great weekend, G. I'm glad the tax refund thing got straightened out and glad you got vehicle in spite of the bank. :)

  10. Talon: You usually can do that now. However, most businesses make it wickedly difficult and time consuming in order to accomplish that particular task.

    Thanks. While I may have the car, I plan on taking another crack at refinancing through my bank, 'cause I really do need to free up some money somewhere.

  11. Oh man, just reading these stories made my blood pressure rise!

    I hate when banks give you the run-around. They pretty much have me in a corner, what with having total control over all my money. I get angry quickly when they seem to be trying to use that to manipulate me.

    The longest I ever stayed on hold was with the Ontario government's free dial-a-nurse's-advice health hotline. They kept me stewing for 90 minutes before telling me that the burst blood vessel in my eye was nothing to worry about. It just looked really, really gross.

  12. S.R.: But wait, the bank story has a new twist.

    When I'd called my bank to refinance the loan, I was told that because I wasn't on the title, I couldn't apply for the loan, my mother had to.

    And because she didn't want to have that kind of loan against her, I decided to take a crack at the bank again.

    And believe it or not, they want to stick me with the same loan processor that created all the grief for me in the first place.

    90 minutes?? Holy cow!

  13. Thanks for visiting my blog!

    At least you had a bit of mellower music...last time I was on hold (for close to 20 minutes) I was subjected to hard rock......sometimes sounding scratchy other times ripping through my eardrum!

  14. Carol: You're more than welcome.

    I can tolerate most music (muzak) when I'm put on hold.

    The only that I can't deal with is country pop. Country pop makes me gag.


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