Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being Thankful for All the Right Things

It’s that time of year again, when we focus on all the things we should be thankful for. And one of the things I’m thankful for is all the good service I get. So it was a bit of a shock this past week when I was faced with the following question from my bank: what’s better: security or customer service? A loaded question, I know, but I hoped that I could have both. I’m not sure my bank agrees or even knows how to do both.

I’ve been banking with this outfit since 1987 (says so right on my debit card). And that card has mostly worked every day since I got it all those years ago. So you can imagine my surprise when I tried to use it last week and was told that it was inactive. Curious – I’d used it the day before and it was fine. And speaking of curious, I wanted to know why.

So I called the number on the reverse side of the card to get to the bottom of this, and that proved to be a real challenge. When I finally got to a live person, I was asked some questions intended to verify that it was me – and my second surprise was when they told me my answers were incorrect (I guess I really don’t know my address, birthday and mother’s maiden name). So I asked for and got a supervisor, who asked me several more questions that ultimately proved it was me they were talking to.

Only then was I finally able to find out why my card didn’t work: some place where I used the card was caught then trying to use it inappropriately, and what happened next was done entirely by the bank without notifying me whatsoever. They immediately cancelled the card and issued me a new one, put it in the mail, and then waited 7 calendar days (which their policy assumes is enough time for it to get to me) before automatically invalidating the original card. Good plan, except that the USPS got in the way and took more than 10 days to deliver the card to me. I didn’t know that the fraud happened, didn’t know the card was cancelled, didn’t know to expect a new one, and didn’t know any of these arbitrary time frames that were set by their policy. So I was left with the old card that was invalid rather than the new one they assumed I would have received. Ah, the law of unintended consequences.

How come they didn’t pick up the phone and call me, or go online and email me. They have all my contact info; in the past they’ve called or emailed when they saw what they thought were questionable uses of the card (you’ve had that happen, right??). I wanted to know why they discontinued this service-friendly practice as it related to my current problem. So I called again and had to go through the process of getting to a supervisor who finally told me that they’d discontinued that practice because they had to make so many calls, and it just wasn’t efficient. Huh?

Now here’s the rest and most amazing part of the story: the card finally came in the mail and I noticed the zip code they used was one of those with 9 digits, not the normal one with 5 digits that we all use and can remember. I called them back, waited on hold, and, when I again finally got to a supervisor, asked if this was the reason that they thought my answers to their questions were wrong? And believe it or not, they admitted that it was. I asked if they thought that giving the correct 5 digit zip code it could or should have been sufficient. “Sorry”, they said, “the policy says you have to give the whole 9 digits.” “Think that’s good service”, I asked. “Sorry”, they said, “just trying to fully protect you”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for the bank doing what they can to look out for my security. But wouldn’t it be better if they’d used a bit more common sense in designing good measures, and then allowed their employees to apply them sensibly. Wouldn’t it be better to encourage people to use their heads to help figure a way to help someone rather than forcing them to read and stick to a simple and senseless script. Wouldn’t that be better than being forced to choose between security or good service.

All of this brings me back to being thankful during this season of Thanksgiving. It’ll be good to gather with friends and family tomorrow and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. And while I’m doing that I’ll make a silent wish that the people who run things and design the policies and practices that affect us all put themselves in their customer’s shoes, and figure out how to make things like security and good service work together for everyone’s benefit. This wish would be directed to government officials, bank managers and all of the countless other people who make the kinds of decisions that affect us all. Now that would be something to be thankful for, and make this a Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

My message this week is about taking ownership for what you do and how it affects others:

“We must exchange the philosophy of excuse - what I am is beyond my control - for the philosophy of responsibility.” Barbara Jordan

Barbara Charline Jordan (1936 – 1996) was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate after reconstruction and the first Southern black woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the first African-American woman to be interred in the Texas State Cemetery.

Are you going to have to give an excuse for your work today or will you take responsibility for it? Tough choice to make – one comes from weakness, the other from strength. You want to be given lots of responsibility, but have you earned it. If you’re given the responsibility to do something then you have to do your best: that means being fully prepared, that means acting like you own it fully, that means working hard to get it done right and on time, that means not stopping until it’s done. And it means you can’t blame anybody else if you don’t – because it’s also your responsibility to figure everything out to make sure you live up to that responsibility. There’s no excuse if you don’t – only the responsibility to keep at it until you do. That’s the philosophy of responsibility.

Stay well!  And Happy Thanksgiving.

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