Know When to Stop: How to Turn a Good Customer Service Experience into a Bad One

30 September 2019 | 14 Comments

I had memorably bad experience at a bank recently that left me thinking about customer service from a business perspective, so I’d like to share it with you.

It’s incredibly rare that I actually walk into a bank. I bank online, and I rarely spend cash. I’m probably not alone in that experience, so I understand that a bank might want to take advantage of one of the few times a customer enters their doors.

The experience started off really, really great. As soon as I walked in, a greeter said hi to me and asked if she could help. I mentioned why I was there, and she directed me to the teller. She also noticed the parking ticket in my hand, and she said she would stamp it while I waited in line.

When a teller was available, she took my information and started processing my request. Things were moving so smoothly that I thought I would be finished within a few minutes. As someone who values time more than anything else, this was turning out to be an incredible gift.

It got even better from there, because the teller noticed that I was eligible for an account upgrade. No extra costs–just a better interest rate and the ability to avoid a fee I was going to incur that day. After confirming there was no downside, I told her she could apply the upgrade to my account.

What should have happened next was that the teller simply clicked the button to activate the upgrade, completed the original transaction (the reason I was at the bank), and sent me on my merry way. In multiple ways, I would have walked away enthusiastic about the visit. After all, so many elements went better than I could have imagined.

What actually happened was that the bank used the account upgrade as an opportunity to try to upsell me. They turned a moment of great customer service into a dismal sales pitch involving two separate offices and multiple bankers. I wanted to leave, but I was trapped because I had already accepted the waived fee that was contingent upon the account upgrade.

Fortunately, I was very clear with the second banker that I did not have time for these shenanigans, and he did what the teller should have done in the first place: He clicked a single button, and I was all set to leave.

As you can tell, though, the damage had already been done. I like to focus on the positive–I hope that’s clear from the good things I mentioned about this experience–but it was a great reminder that a good customer experience can so easily be tarnished. The bank was so close to getting it right.

What does this have to do with entrepreneurs and creators like you and me? Don’t use trust as a tool. Good customer service isn’t entrapment. It’s great if you’ve built up a loyal following through a series of customer-facing decisions. That’s enough. You don’t need to leverage that trust. Just earn it and keep earning it.

What’s your takeaway from this experience? Have you ever had a similar experience as a customer?

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14 Comments on “Know When to Stop: How to Turn a Good Customer Service Experience into a Bad One

  1. Jamey, I had the same experience with a bank that had changed its tagline, and eerily acted on that tagline in a similar fashion, to the point that I eventually moved most of my business elsewhere. I could not make a simple deposit without being asked if I wanted a home equity loan, investment advice, or some other service.

  2. A family member had a similar experience while trying to switch over from a different phone carrier to the family plan in person. The up sell information had omission and things were changed and added that were not wanted. The guy wouldn’t stop.

    It took 2 times to fix the account. Fortunately, the other people we dealt with were the normal good service. Only partially due to this, we are with a different carrier.

  3. This is a peek behind the Stonemaier curtain. This explains why Stonemaier is known for excellent customer service. Because you recognize what makes customer relations a positive experience and how quickly it can turn into a negative one. You build relationships with your customers instead of just selling to them. That’s what sets Stonemaier above the rest. Kudos. Keep up the good work!

  4. This behaviour is simply par for the course in retail banking. It is actively encouraged as a legitimate sales technique. Staff are often under a great deal of pressure to hit targets and this can lead these underhanded approaches. Managers often turn a blind eye to the bad practices so long as targets are being hit. It’s an incredibly myopic way doing business. Anyway, as digital banking increases and with the growth of a cashless society retail banking is heading the way of the dodo.

  5. I’ve gotten a couple of calls from the local media giant asking how my current service is. Even though I let them know I’m not 100% satisfied and have occasional internet issues, they still try to upsell me with their online TV packages. Even after I tell them I really don’t watch TV and am completely uninterested.

    There’s really no point in trying to sell somebody on something that they have already said they would never use or are uninterested. It just makes me start my thinking towards using another company instead. It’s interesting to see that some companies just don’t understand when they are making things worse and actually pushing you away, yet keep trying the same tactic.

  6. Any time we have had a large balance in our checking or savings account someone eventually wants to try to sell me some financial service I don’t want. Has happened at every bank I’ve ever been with, so no surprise they did it to you.

  7. Speaking of customer service, when I enter a website, your system insists that I put “http://” in front of “www.” apparently not recognizing the “www” as an indicator of a url.

  8. That would be a frustrating experience. I can’t think of a specific parallel example, but I certainly have had many customer service encounters where it feels slimy like I am just a number or pawn in their goal of monetary success. Where I work, our #1 core value is Integrity. It seems to me that this bank either does not have that as a core value, or at the very least has some employees who have drifted away from that.

    Regardless of how positive a person is, or how an overall experience can be positive, it seems that those strong negatives can stick out. I don’t know if this is backed by science, but to me it appears to be overall human nature and a primal necessity for those parts to stick out to us. As long as we don’t dwell on them or project them onto other areas of that experience (or other experiences altogether), they can act as a learning tool for us and a warning for the next time.

    You shared some good insight and I think this part sums it up: “You don’t need to leverage that trust. Just earn it and keep earning it.” I think it also frames how fragile trust can be and how building it up takes considerably more time than breaking it.

  9. I can tangentially relate. I loosely follow Stonemaier Games and all that you do. I know that you offer great customer service but you also offer customer loyalty (to a degree) through your Champions program. This is all unlike the experience I’ve had today. I was helping my father attempt to lower his cable / internet (Comcast) bill. 2 years ago, he opted for some upgrades to his service and locked in a nice discount (extra discounted for the first year and then not so extra discounted the 2nd). 2 years later that discounted deal is finished and we were just looking to lock in a new deal. This experience has been nothing but frustrating. If he wanted to keep the not so extra discount he could get upgraded to the best of what they offer (great, but more than he needs). If he wanted to just keep what he has they didn’t seem too thrilled to offer him a deal on such, and if he wanted to cut down on some of the things they claim he’d be getting a deal then but it doesn’t feel like it.

    It didn’t help matters that if he pretended to be a new customer he could get a great deal but the moment he reveals he is not in fact a new customer he no longer can have the deal.

    Everything about this experience just felt so wrong. My father has been with his current provider as long as it was possible for him to be with his current provider. He literally couldn’t be anymore loyal.

    This experience would partially be like if you started running a promotion for your Champions program that new subscribers would only have to pay $6 / year unlike the $12 / year that current subscribers would be paying. Oh and you wouldn’t offer this new sub discount to current subs. Best you could do to keep them happy is knock a dollar off.

    Now I grant you these are small numbers compared to my example but the point is still there.

    Honestly, some of what happened here may actually be reasonable but I felt like ranting and this seemed like an appropriate situation to do so. This type of industry feels so unlike most others that. Most fast food places through some form of an app reward for being a loyal customer. Buy so many sandwiches or coffees and get one free. Retail stores, spend so much and gain free rewards (typically gift cards / store credit).

    Also, this experience makes me wish more providers like this could be like the American mobile provider T-Mobile. No BS, no gotchas, no hidden costs. You know what you’re getting and you know what it costs and they even have free weekly rewards as a part of their T-Mobile Tuesdays program. Sure they may largely be the same but the key difference is that (just like Stonemaier Games’ Champions program) they don’t have special pricing and promotions for new customers, and they don’t secretly nickle and dime you over the price you are paying. That would be like if you told Champions, sure you can pre-order this game, get free shipping and get your copy before anyone else but you’ll have to pay a $5 fee to do the pre-order.

    I’ll just close by saying it doesn’t help when you’re known for having some of the worst customer service in the world! Thankfully Stonemaier Games has some of the best even if I’ve never really needed it (yet). :)

  10. When I opened an HSA, my bank failed to mention I would incur fees if I had under $1,000 in it and lost my insurance that allowed me to contribute into it. Sure enough, I lost my job and my insurance and they would not allow me to contribute into it or withdraw from it, meanwhile I was incurring fees on it. Lost $100 because there was “nothing they could do”. I hate when people say that.

    C’mon, you are not mindless automatons slaving for an artificial intelligence. The computer system doesn’t own you. You are people capable of making simple and logical situational decisions. If I am fined for having less than $1,000 in an account but not allowed to add money into that account to prevent the fines, there should be an exception made.

  11. Ah well yeah banks are amazing. I had bad experiences in 3 different banks. In one, once they noticed a substantial amount of money on my account, they summoned me for a meeting (or tried to). Yes, the language they used was literally “you need to come to our office at blabla to meet our adviser who can will explain to you how to use your money better.”
    So basically they wanted me to end up in a situation in which you ended up by accepting the upgrade :P. What really pissed me off is the wording, they made it seem I had no choice!

    Once I was looking for company loan, they lied and manipulated me. I spent so much time and energy on their 5 meetings, only to at the end receive an “amazing deal” as they called it, tailored especially for my needs, which was in fact worse than anything I imagined, giving me nothing and taking all the risks, while they took none and reaped benefits whatever happened.

    Third one is a charm.

    So when I was starting my company I mentioned I might be getting small % of revenue from public bodies (municipality, ministry) because prior to that I was freelancer. As a consultant for SME’s regarding EU funding opportunities, also lecturer on EU monitoring and evaluation systems, I sometimes received public money. No big amounts though…

    Well because I said that, they blocked my account for 6 months, saying they are doing a money laundering check.
    So ironic, considering they participate in money laundering of billions…but I guess they wanted to show on my example that they do their job…on transactions of up to 1500 euros haha!

  12. Banks must be the worse. We recently went to a bank to open a new checking and savings account. We do most of our banking with a small local bank but we travel a lot. Sometimes we need cash on the travel and use an ATM. Our small bank can’t help us with charges. We picked a big global bank. Told the person we don’t really like big global banks as they have done us wrong in the past and this was our first tentative step to reentering that world. We have a trust and forgot to bring our paperwork. So we made an appointment to come back the next day. We came back the next day and were ignored. We watched the person who was suppose to be talking to us scurrying around helping another customer. For 15 minutes she just ignored us entirely. Then she told us a few more minutes. At this point I told my wife the clock was ticking. After she missed the next time limit without acknowledging us or offering to make another appointment, we walked. There were plenty of other big banks to choose from.

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