Businesses Are Built On Relations Over Lifetime

Businesses Are Built On Relations Over Lifetime

A customer delight story which shows the way in which customer service department should funtion.

Zoe Wright
Success shouldn't go to your head and failure shouldn't go to your heart...

A large consumer bank, a tightly wound kid, and a heartwarming (I hope) story about customer service with a truly personal touch.

Seafirst was Washington's largest bank in the 1980s and 1990s, and the first bank I established a relationship with (a savings account at the age of 11). It was acquired by Bank of America in 1983, but allowed to maintain its high standard of customer service independent of its parent.

It was 1992, and I had recently gotten my first credit card, a Seafirst VISA with a whopping $500 limit. I had not used the card much, because I had been raised with the idea that credit cards were super dangerous, especially in the hands of sheltered young lass such as myself.

I may have been sheltered, but I was also extremely financially cautious. The idea of having any type of debt - never mind credit card debt - was unthinkable to me. The debit card had yet to be invented, and I vowed to never use the card at all until the bank informed me they would have to charge me a fee unless I charged a certain amount on the card each year.

Ok, fine. I felt compelled to keep the damn thing because I needed to start building a credit history. Besides, nobody told me I could avoid interest (and debt) simply by paying off my balance every month.

So I started using it, and fell in love with the convenience of it, as well as the cool feeling I got when I slapped my card down to pay for stuff. Imagine my horror when I carelessly let a billing period go by without remembering to pay off the bill. I was mortified (OMG, my perfect credit is ruined!) and called them in a panic, asking if there was any way to rectify the situation.

They could have said, "Tough titties, you forgot to pay the bill and now you'll have to incur the late charge + interest," which is something Bank of America would have done. Instead, the customer service person (whose name was Bill, I still remember this) talked me down, promised he would take the late charge off, and then asked me, "Would you like me to call you a few days before your bill is due so you don't forget next time?"

I said yes. He did every month for almost a year. I still forgot to pay one other time, and he gracefully took that late charge off as well. I ended up writing Bill -- and the customer service department in general -- a glowing letter. I did not mention the personal calls because I did not want Bill to get in trouble, but I inferred it.

The customer service department manager actually wrote me a letter in return, saying something to the effect of, "People are quick to write a letter when something goes wrong, but not when something goes right." He then told me he circulated the letter among his staff, which made me feel good.

Alas, I have not had occasion to write a bank a letter of praise in a long time. But I do write them whenever I feel it's warranted (as well as when I need to bitch; there's nothing like a snail mail letter, cc'd to management, to soften up customer service). Granted, Seafirst lost out on a few bucks, and a bit of their time, but they would have made a customer for life had they stuck around.

First an organization establishes a relationship and then nurtures it. Most of the organizations today fail to do the latter. 

Contributed by: Zoe Wright; Image:

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