Monday, June 28, 2010

An Open Letter to What Passes for a Customer Service Department at Bank of America

Executive Relations
Bank of America
P.O 513609
Los Angeles, CA 90051-9931

To whom it may concern:

We phoned several times trying to get an actual name attached to customer service at Bank of America, but apparently this is privileged information. Or perhaps there IS no real person attached to customer service at B of A. Based on our experiences, that would be my guess.

My husband and I are longtime Bank of America customers. We never chose B of A, but after our bank was bought out there was never any real reason to switch. Unfortunately, in the past year we have become so frustrated by the people and policies of B of A that we will be closing all of our accounts -- checking, savings and investment -- and switching to a credit union as soon as we can process the paperwork. This is entirely due to the lack of accountability and customer focus we've dealt with at your bank since you laid off our Premier Banking rep, Jennifer Gallando. (She was wonderful to deal with. If she were still with your company, there would be no reason for this letter.)

We are so frustrated with your complete lack of concern for your customers that not only will we be moving our money, we will be posting the following review online at every possible review site for your bank:

Like most people here, I wish they gave an option of 0 stars, because that's what B of A deserves. They are too big to care, and there is absolutely no incentive anywhere in their system that would cause employees to be concerned with how their actions affect customers. NOBODY should bank here. We're moving all our money to a credit union tomorrow.

We became B of A customers only because our smaller bank was bought out by them years ago and we never got around to switching. They were okay till the recession, when they laid off everybody who gave a damn.

Our experience over the last year is that at least once a month, our credit and/or debit cards will be rejected for no reason. (This has happened twice when my husband was with clients and numerous times otherwise.) This happens because a flawed computer algorithm flags normal transactions as "suspicious activity."

B of A's computers shut off cards for everyday activities like going to one restaurant for dinner and a second for drinks or dessert, or renewing an international professional membership. (The organization was located in Europe, but the transaction came from Seattle, where we live. This caused not just one but two shutoffs -- the second after a B of A reps swore the transaction would be processed.) No notification, no questions, just automatic card shutoff.

B of A claims they call customers to let them know this has happened, but they don't. In our case, their actual record is 1 phone call out of the double-digit number of times this has happened. And they claim that there's always somebody on duty to respond and reactivate the card when this happens and you call them. Trust me. There isn't.

The final straw was today when I had a debit transaction rejected. (Think about that. Debit. Access to our own money denied.) I went into the bank to find out why, and the cust. service person connected me to their fraud line by phone. Because apparently local people are not allowed to do anything in these cases -- they have to turn customers over to faceless people a thousand miles away. It turns out my transaction was rejected because my husband and I filled up both our cars with gas on the same day! This is apparently not allowed, and they shut off both our cards. But they didn't bother to call to let us know, so I found out when I went through the embarrassment of having a transaction refused.

(In a way, this is a good thing, as my husband was leaving for a business trip to Mexico the next day and he wouldn't have had bank access there. Of course, when he called the bank to let them know about the trip, nobody bothered to let him know that there was a hold on the card. Apparently letting customers know of bank actions that might affect them is not in the travel person's tiny little job description.)

Then, after I spent 20 minutes on the phone with the customer service rep, they STILL didn't reinstate the card, even though they claimed they had. It was denied again at the grocery store ten minutes later. I called customer service when I got home and they said the problem was an alert left over from a vacation we got back from A MONTH AGO! Even though we called TWICE with exact dates and times of departure and return -- because we knew from past experience that one call would not guarantee we'd have access to money when we travel -- they still couldn't be bothered to get it right. Now they claim they've reactivated the card and it "won't happen again." Uh-huh. Sure.

B of A does not care. They don't have to. They are staffed by people who never have to deal with the results of their actions and who get paid whether or not they're competent. Nobody in this huge, impersonal organization gives a damn about silly, old-fashioned ideas like customer service, because when people like me leave they figure others will be naive enough to take our place.

Don't do it. Don't be that next sucker. Do NOT bank at B of A.


Your company seems to believe that you're doing us a favor by allowing us to access our own money -- a favor that can be withdrawn at any time by unaccountable employees and flawed computers for no reason whatsoever.

I'm sorry, nameless customer service person, but it is OUR money. And apparently the only way for us to make that point is to close our accounts and never do business with your bank again.

Sincerely,

me and the spouse

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Strangers in a Strange Land

May 24, 2010

"Can you just drop us off at the chicken take-away by the hotel?" my husband asks the cab driver. It's 10:30 at night in Coventry, England, and we're coming home from a concert. Restaurants and pub kitchens almost universally close at 9:30, so if we want dinner it will have to be take-away. This actually doesn't sound so bad. We're twelve days into a two-week trip and exhausted; a late dinner in our room overlooking the cathedral sounds relaxed and pleasant.

The driver drops us out front, and we walk into the shop. It's not so different from what you'd see in any US city: bright lighting, a menu on the wall overhead, easy-clean formica tables and linoleum floor. Several kinds of chicken on the menu, plus a few other dishes. The "chips" are even referred to as "fries."

The customers and workers are all male, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and all of them are watching us curiously -- especially when they hear our American accents. We are an oddity here, a curiosity. Even though Coventry is an extremely diverse city, Americans are a rarity.

The man who takes our order is young, perhaps late twenties, and his accent is heavy. He watches our faces closely as we place our order, working to comprehend our odd pronunciations of the words he has probably only recently learned himself. It takes a few repetitions before we make ourselves understood, but eventually we manage it. This pleases all three of us.

He heads to the back to pass on the order to the other worker. A second later he returns, his face regretful. He has looked at the food he has left this late at night, he says, and, "Sir, I am sorry. But we do not have any...any drumstick? It is late, so we have only...legs?"

My husband explains that this is great, because drumsticks are legs.

"Is that not an expression you use over here?" I ask. "Is that just something Americans say?" It is, he agrees, and we laugh together, the three of us, at our odd American idioms.

He goes back to clarify the order, then returns to take our money. He watches in fascination as we vainly struggle to figure out the coins. One-pound and two-pound are easy enough, but this is just our second day in England and we haven't learned the smaller coins. Which are five pence, and which are ten? And can the two-pence really be so big?

In the end my husband empties his pockets on the counter and the worker points to the correct coins. We are grateful, and he looks mildly proud. I wonder how long it's been since he went through the same thing himself. I find myself hoping the shopkeepers were nice to him when he did.

"Where are you from?" my husband asks. He is an extrovert, always curious about the people around him, never afraid to ask questions.

"Afghanistan," says the man. His voice is intently neutral, as if he wants to head off the emotional charge he knows the word can carry.

"Oh," I say, "our son has a friend whose dad is from Afghanistan."

He looks surprised. "Ah," he says, "But right now it is not..." his voice trails off, and I find myself thinking of the news stories lately, of bombings and beheadings and Taliban. Of a troubled country with so much hurt...

"Not a place you'd want to be right now," I say quietly. His eyes meet mine, solemnly, and he nods. I find myself wondering about his family. I imagine a wife, perhaps a couple of dark-eyed children. Maybe, if he's lucky, an extended family, here in England, relatively safe...

And then the order is ready. I decide at the last minute that I want an orange juice, and he tries to give it to us for free. My husband insists on paying. "We appreciate it," he says, "but you're running a business here." I see gratitude in the man's eyes. And perhaps something else as well. I realize with surprise that it is important to him to please us. He wants us to think highly of him, and I wonder why. It's obvious that we're not from around here, so we can't give him repeat business. We're leaving early the next day and we won't be back again, not even once. All we are able to give him is our eight pounds ten, and a smile.

Yet as we walk out into the night, I wonder if this -- a smile of understanding from fellow strangers in a strange land -- may not have been the thing that was needed most.