The following post, originally titled "A penny for your thoughts... (An Open Letter to the CEO of TD Bank.)" was published via LinkedIn on August 31, 2016.
Over 60,000 people viewed it; it earned 1,638 "likes" (the only reaction available on the platform back then) and prompted 234 comments.
A friend of mine who works at a TD Branch messaged me a few weeks after it was published to tell me that her District Manager brought a copy into her branch to use as training material: "This definitely should never have happened!"
I'm not republishing it below to pick on TD Bank. In fact, I sincerely hope after you read this post, you'll click the link at the bottom to read the post I wrote two days later, which outlined what happened in the aftermath of my article going viral: how TD Bank made things right.
I'm republishing it, with only very light edits, because the customer experience (CX) opportunities I outlined in this article continue to exist today at too many companies.
I use this article as a mini-case study in the "Retail Marketing Strategies" course I teach as an example of how a bad customer service experience can go viral and cause companies a whole lot of headaches.
And I'm republishing it here, on my blog, in the hopes that decision-makers at companies everywhere will stumble across it, laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, and then think about the policies and operating procedures that exist within their own organizations that might prompt me to write something similar about them.
And then maybe, just maybe, make the changes needed to ensure I never do.
Dear Mr. Masrani:
You don't know it, but yesterday I gave your bank a penny. And so, today I'd like a few of your thoughts in return.
I'll explain, but first, some context...
I'm a former customer of your bank. Actually, TD Bank was my very first bank! I opened an account with you (and my Mom) when I was ten years old because that's where my parents banked, and it just made sense to do that when I didn't have a driver's license and couldn't go anywhere else. But I continued to bank with you for almost two decades -- even during the time I worked at Canada Trust, which you subsequently purchased -- because you treated me well enough and gave me no reason to switch. That changed when I was 28 years old when you pre-approved me for a mortgage but didn't tell me that you were going to close my line of credit as a condition of that approval. (This was despite the fact I was a long-time customer with an excellent job and an even better credit rating.) I had been counting on that line of credit to pay some of the closing costs for my new home, and your decision put me in a bad position because you only told me about this after I had signed my purchase agreement. Fortunately, another bank had no problems issuing me a line of credit to meet my needs, so I subsequently transferred all of my accounts and assets to them. More on that later.
I've been with that other bank ever since. The bank itself is fine enough, but the reason I've stayed is because of my assigned Financial Advisor, who takes really great care of me even though I almost never come into the branch. (I let him know early on in our relationship that I don't like visiting branches in person, so he accepts my instructions via email and executes everything he can without me being present. He mails me what he can, and when I do have to come in to sign, he has all the paperwork ready for me so that my visit is as efficient as possible. He's terrific, but I digress...)
In December, my family moved to Bradford, Ontario. The branch where my Financial Advisor works is located across from one of my former employers; that was really convenient while I worked there, but a lot less convenient now for those few times I do have to go into the branch. As such, I've been considering beginning another relationship with a local branch for a few months now, and that's where the context ends and my story begins.
As you must be aware, TD Bank has been promoting an offer for new customers: a free 40" Samsung Smart TV when you open an account and a credit card with your bank. I thought that was a good incentive for me to give TD another try, and I was willing to jump through the numerous hoops you were asking new customers to go through in order to qualify for the new TV, so I went online and tried to book an appointment.
Except I couldn't book an appointment with my local branch online. It simply provided me with the branch's phone number and asked me to call.
Except when I called, I wasn't able to speak to anyone. I was sent to voicemail, and asked to leave a message, each of the three times I tried.
So I went into the branch hoping to find someone that was free to open my new account. Except nobody working that day had any availability for me, so I booked a time to see an advisor the following day.
When I went into the branch the next day, there was nobody at the greeting station. Because I had arrived five minutes early for my appointment, I simply sat down in the waiting area and began to review my email. At precisely 9:00 am, when my appointment was scheduled to begin, I got up and walked around the branch offices. I had been given the name of the person who I was scheduled to see, and when I saw the name on the placard outside the door, I gently knocked. When she looked up from her paperwork, I said, "Hi! I think I'm your 9 o'clock appointment." She curtly responded with, "Great, just give me a few minutes and I'll be right with you."
"Okay," I thought. That's not a great start for a new customer, but we all run late sometimes, and I was in a good mood. So I sat back down and was ushered into the office five minutes later. Here's where things got interesting:
"So, what can I do for you today," the woman asked.
"Well, I moved up to Bradford in December and had been thinking about transferring my business to a local branch. I was online recently and saw the TD TV offer, and I think I'd like to take advantage of it."
"That's great. Have you ever banked with TD before?"
"I used to be a TD customer, but that was over ten years ago."
I provide the two pieces of identification that were requested, and the woman proceeded to look me up in her system.
"Hmmm... I still have you on file. You have an RRSP with us."
"I do?!", I asked, genuinely surprised. "I know I used to have one, but I had everything transferred to another bank ten years ago."
"Yes, you do. The RRSP has one cent in it. It's still open, so unfortunately you're not going to qualify for the offer."
I wasn't happy. Ten years ago, I had asked for everything to be transferred to my new RRSP and for my old RRSP to be closed. But it appears that didn't happen for whatever reason, and as such the account had remained open despite my instructions. I had not ever been notified that the account was still active, however; no statements, no emails, nothing at all.
So I wasn't happy.
"That really sucks," I said, disappointed that I had wasted my time and that the bank's ten-year-old error was going to cost me a 40" Smart TV.
"I know, and I'm sorry. We'd still love to have your business."
"Honestly, you're not off to a great start," I quipped with a smile. She looked down, and said, "I know."
"Let's go ahead and close that RRSP account," I said.
So the woman dutifully began to type away on her computer. She typed, and typed, then paused and typed some more. Then she picked up her phone and dialled a number. She provided an internal username to someone on the other line, then said she would hold.
"What's wrong?" I asked, curious.
"The system wants to charge you a $56 fee for closing the RRSP account, and I can't figure out how to waive it. But I'm trying."
The fee wasn't her fault, of course, and to her credit, she did figure out how to waive it after a few more minutes of typing.
"Okay, your account has been closed now. I'm really sorry," She said.
Terrific. Except I wasn't going to get my TV.
And the bank still owed me a penny.
Of course, I knew what the answer was going to be before I asked the question. But I'm a consumer-focused marketer, with an obsession for great customer service. And I'll be teaching an MBA course on "Retail Marketing" for the Schulich School of Business beginning next year, so for the past few weeks, I've been on the lookout for retail case studies, both good and bad. And frankly, at this point, I just couldn't help myself.
"Thank you. Now what about that penny?"
"Um... I can't give you the penny. There's a withholding tax. And besides, we don't have pennies anymore."
Let's ignore the fact that a withholding tax on a penny would be a very small fraction of a penny and that when faced with the decision to round up or round down, the bank chooses to round up and take the entire balance for itself. I was more interested in the second part of the problem, to which, in my mind, there was a fairly clear solution. And again, I couldn't help myself.
"You could issue me a draft," I suggested.
"A draft costs $7.50, and I can't waive that charge," she firmly stated. "I'd have to get a manager."
I never actually expected the bank to issue me a draft for one cent, so I just smiled.
"Don't worry about it," I said, as I laughed. "To be honest, I'm going to be teaching a Retail Marketing class at a university next year, and sometimes I write a blog. This will make a good story."
I thanked her for her time and walked out the door. After all, it was only a penny, and at that point, I had already had the idea to try and exchange it for a few of your thoughts.
And so, here are three thoughts I'd like you to provide to me in exchange for that penny I left behind at your bank:
1. TD Bank's 10-year streak on top of J.D. Power's Customer Satisfaction list came to an end this year. (I don't mean to rub salt in the wound, but facts are facts.) The ranking was based on seven factors, including, "product, self-service, personal service, facilities, communication, financial adviser and problem resolution." Now, TD Bank made almost $2.3 billion in profit last quarter. How could you invest some of that money to put yourself back on top? (For instance, what would it cost to implement some technology upgrades to allow your customers to book themselves for appointments with your financial advisers based on the availability listed in their calendars?)
2. Some of that money could undoubtedly be used as customer incentives, such as your current SmartTV offer. I know this isn't the first time you've decided to offer something to NEW customers that weren't available to your existing customers, which means you probably have data to show that your net ROI is positive. So how exactly do you quantify the success of these new-customer-acquisition promotions? Put another way, what metrics are used to determine that acquiring new customers is worth more to you than potentially upsetting your existing customers?
3. How empowered do you feel your front-line teams are to make customers happy?
Years ago, when I worked as a financial advisor for Canada Trust, I had quite a bit of latitude when it came to waiving fees for customers when I felt the situation warranted it. When I worked for Starbucks, the company had a "Just Say Yes" policy to ensure baristas could always ensure the customers left with a smile. My experience this week demonstrated that your branches might not have the same level of freedom. (To name three examples: the woman I dealt with couldn't honour the promotion for me despite the fact that my ineligibility was clearly the bank's fault, she had trouble figuring out how to waive the $56 account closure fee, and she would have needed a manager to approve a fee waiver of less than $8 if I had been a belligerent individual who demanded the penny.) Not empowering your branch staff to appease customers more easily isn't going to help your "personal service" and "problem resolution" scores on J.D. Power's next survey... what do you think you can do differently?
Mr. Masrani, I know you must think I'm expecting quite a lot of your thinking in exchange for my lowly penny. But the very best retailers understand that to win in the market, they can't just "deliver"; they need to consistently over-deliver because that's what customers these days have come to expect.
But if you disagree and don't feel like sharing any thoughts with me, feel free to have someone from your team message me for my address so you can mail me that penny.
Or better yet, a 40" Smart TV. Because over-delivering is best, after all.
UPDATE (Sept 1/16): TD contacted me shortly after I published this post, and I think the way they handled the situation from then on was admirable. Read what happened here.