The good old days of customer service

I was thinking yesterday about the good old days, when customer service was more than a hollow mantra and really meant just that… service for the customer because, after all, we need and use a service and like to be appreciated for supporting one service offering over another.

The old memory banks allowed me to remember a day in the 70′s when I was looking to buy my first car and I just didn’t have the money. I wanted a lemon yellow 1970 Karman Ghia that the local BMW dealer had taken in on a trade, and I had walked past the car… several times in fact… and decided this was the new mode of transportation for me. Now the Karman Ghia is not really a practical car, it’s low, it’s a bit cramped, it has two doors, an anemic 1500cc motor, a stick shift and a bad radio, but after learning to drive a stick through my days working at the pharmacy, I just knew it was for me and I had no trouble negotiating a sometimes slippery clutch. The dealer wasn’t interested in talking about financing and told me to speak to my banker.  I happily obliged. To my surprise, I met the bank manager who knew me, my deposit habits and current low bank balance, standing at the banks front door.  After hearing my plea, he told me to come back tomorrow to sign the papers and he would personally deliver the funds to the dealer.  I did and he did, and I got the car.

Now the real point is not about the car, actually it’s about customer service.   I drove that car many, many miles with the Beatles booming from the Eight Track. I even managed to jam the dog into the cavernous rear fold down seat/storage area and he was happy to go wherever, as long as we stayed clear of the vet. (How do dogs know that you are going to the vet? It must be a built in sensor).

The point is the customer service was person to person, a decision was made on the spot to help me out.  The bank made their 13% on my loan for the two years I had it.  It worked for both of us.

Flash forward to today and a discussion I had with a client who owes me for a service I helped her with.  She told me that the bank had put a hold on a few cheques she had deposited and within five days (business days) the funds would clear and I could get paid.  It didn’t matter that I could have used the funds today.  All that really mattered was the bank had a policy which we were both subject to and it was not up for discussion.

Now I have a little bit of experience working for the great Canadian banks and corporate giants we trust our meager earnings with.  If truth be told, the bank could release the funds the same day of deposit, but a few things click in.  The bank teller can’t make that decision (for fear of losing his/her job), the supervisor couldn’t overturn the hold (for fear of losing the prestigious position of supervisor and/or his/her job), and the manager couldn’t/wouldn’t release the funds because it’s part of his/her training to overcome objections and fall back on the tried true and trusted line, “it’s the bank’s policy…  sorry.”

My response was “crap,”  and I told my client so.  Who’s offering service to whom?  The bank now has full use of my client’s money to  invest over night and make a tidy profitable bit of interest on the financial markets.  After all, the bank knows your funds aren’t going anywhere…  for five business days.

When did we become just one’s and zeros?  I blame the IBM computerized bank terminal. It doesn’t care you’ve been a customer for a very long time, that your three or four digit account number you’ve had since Pearson was Prime Minister just doesn’t work anymore, or that you are recovering from heart surgery, or you just got married, or had a birthday… no… to the IBM machine you are just ones and zeros.

Truth be told, you are also being watched like a hamster in a cage, by a nefarious department that operates like black ops in the bank…  charting your deposit and spending habits, just in case you are part of the Medellin Cartel.  You just never know and the banks aren’t prepared to take that chance and mess up a perfectly good billion dollar profit year! Actually, the banks would prefer you didn’t bother them with your private and personal life.  They would prefer you to use an anonymous machine stuck outside the bank, limit your withdrawals, and still hold your funds like before, except this time there isn’t a staff member to ask for a second opinion.  It’s just business and the bank’s policy.  Sorry (well, we really aren’t sorry, just don’t bother us).

I read this week that the government and banks are working on a top secret plan to eliminate paper money all together.  You as the happy sheep customer (because they did give you a free pen and mug) would be assigned a chip card with all your personal information stored on a little piece of gold embedded in the card. You can have your paycheck direct deposited (you probably do already, minus the appropriate taxes and contribution) and all your needs can be taken care of by a “tap” of the card… gas… coffee… groceries… the cinema… clothing… rent.  Anything that needs paying can be done through the card, no need for that messy linen sheet we now call cash.

The banks and government have a convenient way to track your life and even calculate (on a running balance) your taxes owed. At tax time your return will self generate and a convenient withdrawal will be made from your account, after the appropriate funds have been held at the appropriate time.

Believe it, this future is already upon us, there’s just too much black market stuff going on and everyone deep down wants to pay their share, right? In fact, I’ve given up on the system we so desperately cling to which allows us to live our lives blissfully as we drive the same way to work, watch the same TV programs and wake up each day to do it all again. No, I won’t go back to that organized social confusion.  I’ve given up any hope that the good old days of customer service will ever return; because they can’t, we are too far down the rabbit hole. I must sound like my Dad (if only I knew what he sounded like) and I will try not to embarrass my children who luckily seem to be thinking for themselves. I will still continue to swim upstream, and feel better for it, just me being me actually.

Soon cash will be withdrawn from the bank account and there will be no room left to hide if you’re a non tax paying entrepreneur.  We are really nothing more than ones and zeros. I really don’t like bankers, but they are really, really good at saying no, with a smile and do come back again, we like to hold on to your money. Gone are the good old days of customer service.

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