Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Customer service

I’ve had a very strange experience dealing with Citizens Bank. Someone else wrote a check for $1600 on their account, and Citizens Bank decided to take that money out of my account instead of the correct account. The check image on the statement shows a different account number on that check, so this is a rather obvious bank error.

I’ve spoken to three people at Citizens Bank about this. All three say that this is clearly an error, that Citizens Bank will fix this in a couple of days now that I’ve pointed it out to them, and that Citizens Bank will reverse the low-balance monthly fees that this caused on my account. One person who claimed he was calling from the Chairman’s Office to apologize implied that I must know the person who the check was written to, either failing to comprehend the error or accusing me of attempting to defraud the bank in a truly bizarre manner. Another person first tried to claim that the low-balance monthly fee was still my responsibility, not caused by the Citizens Bank error. And all three said that they could not possibly put the $1600 bank in my account immediately. None seemed at all surprised by the error, or particularly concerned about it.

If I were working for Citizens Bank, I hope I would take a different approach. First, apologize profusely, and say that this error is extremely rare and unacceptable. Second, correct the error immediately. Third, assure the customer that the bank will take care of any fees caused by this error. Fourth, assure the customer that the bank will confirm all of this in writing on the next business day, and ask the customer whether they would prefer to receive that confirmation by mail, fax, or email. That seems like the bare minimum. Going beyond that, I’d like to see the bank offer to waive the fee to mail printed statements on this account, since any sense of trust the customer might have towards Citizens Bank has clearly been misplaced violated. Having a reverse fee schedule for this sort of bank error would improve the sense that the bank is operating in good faith—if they want to charge me $9.99 for not having as much money as they would like in my account for a month, they could pay me $9.99 for having wrongly taken money out of my account. Assign a specific person to take full and direct responsibility for seeing that the error is corrected, and give the customer that person’s contact information. And finally, ask the customer whether there is anything else the bank can do to keep the customer’s business.

And Citizens Bank, if you really want to convey a sense of competence and restore trust, stop calling your customers and asking for their account numbers, social security numbers, or birth dates. That just shows that you neither understand nor care about helping your customers keep their personal information any more secure than you keep their money.


Michael said...

Update: 24 hours after Citizens Bank acknowledged the error, they still have not put the money back into my account.

irilyth said...

I continue to be amazed that I periodically get e-mail from financial institutions (banks, credit card companies, etc) including a "click here to log in" link, typically accompanied by a "click here if you have concerns about phishing and want to verify that this is a legitimate message" link. They appear to be legitimate messages with legitimate links from the actual institution, but come on.

Michael said...

Update #2: Citizens Bank did restore the money, credited the monthly fees, and made a truly incompetent effort to find out what happened and how to make it less likely to occur in the future. Their conclusion was that it "probably" wouldn't happen again.

I understand how my usual bank, a tiny privately-run outfit with three branches, could fail to understand basic security. But Citizens Bank, owned by Royal Bank of Scotland? The credit card companies who, as irilyth points out, train customers to trust incoming email? How can they be so stupid?

But as long as we're forced to give our social security number out to dozens of companies to be stored in their databases while simultaneously using it as a secret key to identity verification, the entire system is clearly broken.