Courtesy: the new definition of customer service

Denise Coopercustomer service, Employee engagement0 Comments

In the 1860’s Henry Wells was asked what it takes to succeed in business. He said, ‘There is one very powerful business rule. It is concentrated in the word courtesy.

120313_wells_fargo_foundersThis statement is in every Wells Fargo branch in our market.  I’ve found it to be a very curious thing to have hanging in plain site. You see a couple of years ago Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia. I always thought Wachovia was the last of the big banks focused on customer service. For me they really tried to make it right for the customer and this is not a bash Wells Fargo article. But I do want to use them as an example of how hard it is for a company to connect the dots of vision, mission and slogan.

Courtesy is the one thing I can really say the branch staff is focused on providing. Customer focused …. selectively. Customer service… only if you are a customer that provides a financial gain for Wells Fargo.  I wrote this post to find out is being courteous the new definition for good customer service?

My mom is a Wells Fargo customer. She’s not rich, nor does she have a big retirement account for them to manage. It’s a basic checking account and every year we are required to come in sign/notarize papers verifying she’s still alive so her pensions don’t stop.  It’s a great outing for her and a wonderful chance for me to sit and watch how employees interpret a company’s values.

So let me put a few things on the table.

1) Most, if not all, retail stores use a workforce planning system that calculates how many hours and how many people are scheduled to work.  It’s designed to optimize employee labor cost not necessarily provide adequate staffing levels to ensure quick customer service.

2) Managers can override it and every decision they make to add or reduce staffing levels hits their bottom line which affects their bonus’ and performance reviews. In other words, managers have a lot riding on getting their staffing levels right.

3) The push to self service (ATM’s for banks) is part of the strategy to manage the workflow so bank branches don’t need people and thus reduce labor cost.

4) Customer service is defined as the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. May vary by product or service, industry and customer.

So back to our experience.  Every branch we go into means we have to wait to get the verification notarized.  In general it means waiting about 25 – 40 minutes for someone to get to us.  Some branches are better than others at making you feel comfortable waiting. But lately not so much.

At one branch the wait time must have been unacceptable as the branch manager came out on the floor to help move things along.

The manager told us that they no longer notarize and with a lovely smile escorted us, another gentleman and woman out of the branch.  I have to say it was the most courteous “you got to get out of here” shuffle you could get. Wait time reduced for the remaining customers who needed assistance with their financial needs.

Fortunately I knew where another branch was and went there. Miraculously, after another 34 minute wait, her paperwork was notarized.

You might be wondering why I’m not complaining.  Well a funny thing happens when you’re just sitting and waiting to be served. People start talking and of course as a coach I’m a pretty good listener. Everyone sitting was a bit surprised at how long they had to wait. I think somewhere around 15 minutes patience starts getting thin and like alcohol we all get friendly because we have a common enemy to focus on – slow service.

I’ve observed nice people getting home equity loans, transferring money or opening up an account get a smile, an apology and an assurance that they would be helped very soon.

A very happy and friendly elderly woman who just got a check/letter telling her she won $210,000 via the International Sweepstakes Clearinghouse told with a sigh to sit and wait.  I might add that no matter how many times we all tried to gently tell her the check was probably a scam she would smile at us and say…”I’m getting this check cashed at this bank.”

There was a time when waiting 30 minutes for anything would drive me crazy.  But I’ve noticed over the last 5 years when the economy worsen staffing levels went down and wait times went up.  I’ve called our utility companies and it’s nothing to hear “Your call will be answered by the next available agent” and then hear a commercial trying to get us to sign up for other services while we wait.

When a customer service agent does pick up they are so apologetic about you being put on hold that its really hard to be angry. After all they don’t make the staffing schedule and certainly don’t determine the ‘acceptable wait time’ for a customer.

My question to you is who received good customer service? Note the definition doesn’t say anything about speed or efficiency. Is it reasonable to expect quick service anywhere else besides a fast food joint?

I just finished ready Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki and as I read “The fundamental shortcoming of most mission statements is that everyone expects them to be highfalutin and all encompassing.  The result is a long, boring, commonplace and pointless joke. (A mantra on the other hand) … is for your employees; its a guideline for what they do in their jobs.” 

I mentioned earlier I found having the Henry Wells quote in every branch very curious.  It’s curious because if you go to their website and read about their values and mission statement it says

“We want to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.”  It goes on to say “Our vision of financially satisfied, successful customers is based on a simple premise. We believe customers across all business segments can be better served, and save time and money, if they bring all their financial services to one trusted provider that knows them well, provides trusted guidance and advice, and can serve their full range of financial needs through a wide choice of products and services.  

It suffers from what Kawasaki calls” highfalutin” and a bit meaningless because for the branch personnel it seems to me they spend a lot of their time courteously telling us to wait. But it does talk able saving a customer time and money.

There always a tension between achieving the financial goals of the business and living the stated values and vision.  Employee engagement (translate this into employee productivity) goes down when there’s a conflict between what I get paid to do and the vision of what the company says is important. I can’t tell you whether Wells Fargo gets good marks for employee engagement or not but I can tell you the branch staff is always busy and behind the eight ball. Their employees are always apologizing for the wait or an inability to provide a service. They are really nice people but not nearly as nice as AT&T when disappointing a customer.

Every time I have problems with AT&T U-verse the person on the phone or the one who visits me have courtesy down pat. In fact, have you noticed that the after service survey isn’t really about resolving the problem but how nice, knowledgeable and courteous the agent was in performing their job.

So my question is does courtesy make you feel better about wait lines and poor service? Has the “self-serve” mentality changed our expectation of service to the point we’d rather do it ourselves instead of actually getting served?  As an employee, does it drive you crazy to be in the position of having to decide good service or just get it done?

Share your thoughts with me in the comments and feel free to share this post with friends, followers on social media. I’m really curious what you think and especially curious to hear the point of view of those caught in the middle. If you don’t want to share your thought publicly no worries. Send me a private message via my social media accounts or at info (a) coachhr.com.  Promise I won’t share names but maybe I’ll your point of view.

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