Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Customer Service Gold Star: Citizens Bank

I switched my checking account to Citizens Bank from Bank of America almost 5 years ago, because I was sick of BofA's fees. I chose Citizens because there was a branch two blocks from my house, and I didn't think they were likely to be bought out. (This was after my BankBoston account became Fleet, which became Bank of America.) When I opened the checking account, I was offered a credit card with 0% interest for a year, and 12% after that. I was in the process of getting rid of my American Express Blue card (sky high interest rates after I was no longer a student), and went for it.

Over the five years I've been with them, I've never had a problem. I've done very well with them. When you ask to have your rate lowered, they always check to see if you qualify and never give you a hassle about doing it. When they recently upgraded their online banking system, they included this account in my visible accounts, so that I can simply transfer the funds from my checking to the credit card balance instead of having to mail a check or set up a check payment in the bill payment section of the site.

Earlier this year, I asked again for a rate lowering, which I qualified for, except that I was on a rewards point account, and there was a minimum rate for that kind of account. I spoke with a manager, used up the point balance and arranged to be taken out of the point system (which is never worth as much as you think) so I could have the lower rate. When I called back a few weeks later with my new card to activate it and confirm the rate increase, there was a slight obstacle in that they were no longer offering the 9% rate that I had been offered previously. A quick transfer to a manager, and explanation that the offer was made before they had changed their policy later, and I was given the lower rate.


Today, Citizens did something completely unexpected. They sent me a box of Godiva chocolates with a note:

To Our Valued Customer,

Please accent this tocken of our appreciation for your continued business. We know that you have many credit card options to choose from and we greatly appreciate that you have chosen ours.

As the New Year approaches, we look forward to serving all of your financial needs. Happy Holidays!

Peter Constant
Credit Card Services

Yes, I like chocolate, and I am a big Godiva fan, but really, this was more meaningful than gourmet treats. After being treated like a deadbeat from Banana Republic (or more specifically GE Banking) recently, and reading all the news about people being harassed by their banks, it is truly gratifying to be recognized as a good customer.

This week in Strategy class, we talked about the WorldCom accounting fraud, and in dissecting the company's strategy, we quickly identified that the company had no interest in its actual customers, just its stock price. At Simmons, the curriculum is focused on Principled Leadership, and part of that is caring about customers. Making customers feel appreciated, and helping them leads to a positive impact outside the company. Certainly, I'm here writing to you all and telling you how much I like Citizens Bank as a credit card company. But more importantly, I know that this credit card is part of my safety net, and represents for me purchasing power. To think about this more philosophically, it empowers me to do good with this money, such as my annual donation to the Boston Ballet when I purchase my subscription. (Certainly I could also be doing less good things with the money, but that's not the point.)

If I have learned nothing else in business school, and through my own experience, it's that customer service matters. When I think of the values I hold personally, and apply them to business, respect and service are at the top of the list. At work, when I think of how my communications impact other people, I know that I can't produce something that doesn't serve the customer's best interests, or isn't respectful. And it is service, and the respect with which I have always been treated at Citizens Bank, that earns this company a customer service gold star.

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