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HOW N-O-T TO DO BUSINESS, or “When You Treat Your Customers Like Dogs, They Sometimes Turn Around and Bite” — A CAUTIONARY FABLE ON DOING BUSINESS

BY DAN VALENTI

The customer is king, right? This is true especially in a down economy, where a business can’t afford to alienate even one member of its clientele.

Some companies get it. I think of R. J. Stohr’s Jewelers on North Street, who have made customer service part of their advertising tag line and back up those words with actions. Steven Valenti’s Clothing for Men, Paul Rich Furniture, Carr Hardware, and On a Roll Cafe — You can add any number of local businesses that get it.

Other businesses don’t get it, as we learn in today’s guest post by Susanne Wickham. Her target is TD Bank North in Pittsfield. Wickham is founder and president of Universal Payroll Associates, a payroll service, a company she has headed since 1998. Her experiences with a “local” bank can be read as a case study in how NOT to do business. Here is her tale of woe with TD Bank North.

‘Maybe This is Not the Right Bank for You’

BY SUSANNE WICKHAM

Yesterday (Jan. 20) I posted to my status that checks were clearing out of a checking account I have with TD Bank. This caused  my account balance to go into the red by almost 500 dollars. Originally I thought these checks were fraudulent.  They had the same account number as mine. However, upon closer inspection, I noticed that the ABA/routing number was different.

Consequently, before I headed into work yesterday, I stopped by the branch of TD Bank North that I have been using since I opened my business in Pittsfield in 1998. I have stayed with this bank through all the mergers and take overs. I used to run my payroll business through that bank, but I left three years ago because their back office was transferred to Maine and I wanted to stay local.

I still keep a tax escrow account there, which carries a large daily balance.  I was grateful to that bank. They gave me my start.  Jay Anderson, who is now the president of another local bank, worked with me to develop a business plan so I could secure an SBA loan. In the following years, I borrowed and completely paid off other business loans in the six-figure range.

Getting the Cold Shoulder

Yesterday, I headed into the bank branch. In the past few months, there has been a nearly total change of personnel, and the customer service reps and branch manager are all new.

I sat down with the customer service rep, Stephanie Drosehn, and explained my situation. I gave her my account number. I guess she did not see the large business account I have with the bank. The checking account in question carries a small daily balance. It’s an old joint account that I kept opened because my PayPal account is attached to it. I just never got around to closing it or changing the banking instructions.

When Drosehn looked at the check and I told her to look at the ABA number, she said that TD took over the bank and that it is actually one of their banks.  Naturally, I assumed she would fix my account right then and there. Instead, she told me that the matter will go into research and that I should be credited back my money within 7 to 10 business days.

What?????

I told her that this was a bank error, and I should not have to have my account sit in the negative and not be able to use it because it is in the red.  She said there was nothing she could do, except maybe I should talk to the branch manager. She was rude and condescending. I could have thrown my weight around: “Do you have any idea how much money I have at your bank or how much business I have done here”?  But that was not the point.  I should be treated with respect no matter if I had one dollar at the bank or $1 million.

Bjork ‘Not Any Better’

The bank branch manager, Linda Bjork, was not any better. She said Stephanie did what she was supposed to do.  (I guess not covering the bank’s mistakes and treating your customers rudely is what she is supposed to do.)  It was not until I started to get technical with her — “They must have not used MICR toner and it had to be manually cleared, so they hit the wrong key” — did she reluctantly credit back my money, although she used the term “provisional credit.”

Bjork then she said in voice that made me feel two inches high, “Your balance is back to $49.” I still didn’t say anything. I got up and said, “I am sorry for the inconvenience.”  She said, “That’s alright.” I said “No! That is what YOU are supposed to say!”

When I checked my account a few hours later, the credit was there, but there were new charges, including overdraft fees!

Closing the Account

I marched myself back to the bank. This time, I dealt with a different customer service rep, one I’ve dealt with in the past. She was pleasant. I then said I wanted a cashier’s check for my business account, because I was closing  the account. She looked at the balance and asked me if I would reconsider. I said no.

I told her to please relay this transaction to the bank manager (all the while the first customer service rep, Stephanie Drosehn, was listening.) I then told her I would be informing the higher ups on this matter.

If I treated my customers this shabbily, I would not be in business.  My employees and I bend over backward for our clients, especially to correct an error we’ve created. I have driven from bank to bank with cash because a direct deposit file was not sent, and I wanted to make sure that all the employees of that client had the money in their accounts on payday. I have driven more than an hour to deliver checks because UPS lost a package. It goes on and on.

It’s too bad that corporate America no longer sees the value in each and every customer. They forget that as an individual, they might not mean much, but add them all together and that is your bottom line.

END OF STORY.

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Coda to This Tale of Banking Woe

The Planet has its own TD Bank North story to add to Susanne Wickham’s. When we got Susanne’s column, we attempted to reach TD. Our plan was to send them the story and ask for their comment. Simple task, right?

We called directory assistance and got the toll-free customer service number: 800-747-7000. A woman named Dana answered. We asked for an e-mail address for either Linda Bjork or Gwen Davis, another TD Bank manager, who told Susanne when she pulled her business account: “Maybe this is not the right bank for you.”

Dana told us TD’s policy was not to give out internal e-mail addresses. Undeterred, The Planet asked for phone numbers for either Bjork or Davis. Dana put me on hold. We waited there for about three minutes, listening to the most soulless, characterless synthetic music imaginable. When Dana came back, she said she had located “a Gwen Davis in the Pittsfield area.”

The Planet requested the number. Dana couldn’t give it to me, because she said all she had was Pittsfield’s internal extension, and she didn’t know the rest of the number! Apparently, it didn’t occur to her to find the rest of the number for me. It’s either that, or she — the phone customer service rep — doesn’t have phone listings to branch offices. Either possibility is incredible.

We then said fine, connect us. Silence. Then more silence. Then the infernal bad phone jazz or muzak came back on the line, meaning the line wasn’t dead. Prior to that, we weren’t sure. We waited. We waited. Nothing.

We gave up, having eaten up too much time as it was. The Planet is sure Wickham’s story will reach TD Bank North, and when it does, we welcome anyone from the bank who wishes to comment.

Meanwhile, Planeteers, we invite you to post your comments. Good day!

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16 Responses to “HOW N-O-T TO DO BUSINESS, or “When You Treat Your Customers Like Dogs, They Sometimes Turn Around and Bite” — A CAUTIONARY FABLE ON DOING BUSINESS”

  1. Demitrius T. Gladiator
    January 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I got out of TD Bank Whatever it is also. I couldn’t keep up with the name changes and then the staff changes. They never knew who I was when I came in and i had been with them for 10 years! thanks dan and ms wickham.,

  2. danvalenti
    January 21, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    May I reiterate again that The Planet attempted to get TD Bank’s reaction to Susanne Wickham’s story, but we couldn’t get through the maze of phone calls, recordings, bad muzak, being put on hold, and silence. We eagerly await their defense of what appears to be the indefensible.

  3. PITTSFIELD BELIEVER
    January 21, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    VALENTI is a menace to the city of Pittsfield. He is already deep at work behind the scenes trying to rig the outcome of 2011. Lee Lothrop and Ruberto call it quits? Tom Hickey now snooping around and candidates secretely meeting with him , it’s a joke. But it’s not a coincidence. What Valenti views as reform is nothing but what he wants to secretly impose on the city. He drove three good men out of office and wants to put riff raff in their place so he can pull strings behind the scenes which is how he best operated. Valentis abuse of many good men such as Mr. Stracuzzi Mr. Ruberto Mr. Lee and Lothrop reveal him for what he is: a little guy with a napolenonic complex who craves power. I know he won’t let this website print this note and thats why Im unloading.

  4. No Reply
    January 21, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    @PB You are pathetic. You cant actually be serious with the garbage you wrote can you? Youre a model of ignorance and stupidity. I reject everything youve said and throw it back in your face so you can gag on your own poison.

    • Fire TD
      January 22, 2011 at 10:42 am #

      That was a horrible and pathetic comeback.

      Part of me wants you to try again so that you can redeem yourself, but part of me just wants you to go hang your head in shame and never return to the InterWebs.

  5. No Reply
    January 21, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Oh, and what I really want to say is that Susan Wickams story is one that businesses should read and keep in mind. I think all people want is good service and a fair shake. Thanks for publishing this. I have no personal experience with TB bank. I have my accounts at Legacy and they treat people right.

    • Fire TD
      January 22, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      Glad your experience there was good. The way Bill Dunleavy ran that place I’m surprised that the physical infrastructure hasn’t crumbled.

      What has Dunleavy lost? Something like $10 million in 7 quarters!

      It’s no wonder the board replaced him as CEO and brought in Sullivan to sell the joint before they went bankrupt.

  6. GMHeller
    January 21, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    It’s a waste of time dealing with incompetents at the local level.
    Recommend you bring the entire matter to the attention of the CEO.
    Here’s Toronto-Dominion Bank’s contact info plus the names of the top officers to whom you should be addressing your concerns.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=TD+Profile

  7. Jeffrey Turner
    January 22, 2011 at 5:52 am #

    Incompetence and indifference to small accounts at a mega-bank? Just don’t make fun of the Eagle for its “snow hampers driving” stories any more.

    • Mike
      January 22, 2011 at 8:06 am #

      Like

  8. Charles Read
    January 22, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    As a payroll service bureau I sympathize with Ms. Wickham. She has now learned, as I have learned, if you are not an “A” client with your bank and have a personal relationship with your officers you are in trouble. Our business has gotten to big for the local banks so we use super regionals. I have lunch at least once a quarter with the operating officer and my ACH management officer at both banks. I am on good terms with their bosses at one and working on the other.

    Being an “A” client with a bank is a combination of size and contact. You need to be a large client in that bank’s pond. I won’t even think about dealing with BofA, Chase, or the like until my daily balances exceed 100 million dollars and throughput exceeds 50 billion annually. Where I am at a couple of million of daily balance and 100 million a year throughput gets you “A” client size.

    But you must know your people. Your officers should be friends. You should know their kids names, their spouse, what they drink, and so on. They are as important, particularly in the payroll business, as clients. They can put you out of business in a heart beat. Just not clear your clients payroll checks for a few days.

    I hope Ms. Wickham finds a bank that will treat her like an “A” client but she then needs to cultivate them as well. Just as she cultivates her good clients.

    CJR

  9. Canyon Raunch
    January 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    @Jeff Turner Well put. I’m looking at the Eagle and shaking my head at the stupid “snow makes driving tough” story. No s**t. While the Eagle feeds us empty calories, at least this site is taking on some real news I mean, s story like this from a major local bank hits everyone in the community and not just those who are customers. So how come Valenti can dig this stuff up but the entire Eagle cannot (will not, is the answer!)

    • Jeffrey Turner
      January 26, 2011 at 7:09 am #

      Uh, because it’s a “dog bites man” story? Sheesh. You should get out more. Oh, Canyon Ranch, figures.

    • GMHeller
      January 27, 2011 at 3:11 am #

      You can thank Andrew Mick, publisher of The Berkshire Eagle, and Tim Farkas, executive editor at The Eagle, for the dearth of any serious news reportage at what Dan Valenti calls “The Boring Broadsheet”.

  10. pjmh
    January 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    What about Berkshire Bank? Minus the meanest teller in the world at the West Stockbridge branch… it’s very, very exciting. In fact, it might be America’s “most exciting” bank.

    Seriously… the marketing/advertising team signed off on this shite.

  11. Dominic Nasser
    February 11, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    Wow! Thank you! I permanently wanted to write on my website something like that. Can I implement a portion of your post to my site?