The split-level decisions of front-line staff (backed by corporate policies allowing these decisions) can reshape client expectations, experience and loyalty. I experienced one of those events on Friday at my bank (TD Canada Trust) and, as I went through the process, am reminded of both the costs and opportunities of turning the concept “exceptional customer service” into fact.
The story — I’m something of a coin hoarder. The nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars and two-dollar coins (and a few pennies since Canada demonetized the one-cent piece) pile up around the house in boxes and cupboards — until it gets to the point where it is time to clean things out.
A few years ago, CT Canada Trust installed coin counting machines at its branches, and the bank (unlike some commercial alternatives) set a rule that it would not charge individuals with accounts at the bank any fee to use the equipment. This proved to be a godsend as I housecleaned and dumped hundreds of dollars in coins into the slot. I used the machines once or twice again, and thought nothing of allowing the coins to pile up at home.
Yesterday, I decided another clean-up was in order. I loaded the coins into two plastic bags, and put the heavy load into my backpack. It was a beautiful day and I thought a great time for a 45 minute bicycle commute to my office. The bank branch is near my home, so I didn’t mind carrying the weight for a while.
I arrived at the branch, and looked for the machine. It wasn’t there. Then the individual at the client service desk said the machine had been removed some time ago. (They were pulled in May after problems surfaced in the company’s US branches — the system used there was apparently not counting coins properly, resulting in a class action lawsuit — but this issue doesn’t seem to have been a problem in Canada.)
I sighed. Now I would have to carry several pounds of coins to and from work (about two hours of load bearing carrying in total). She said my options were to use one of the commercial services that charges a hefty fee, or roll the coins myself (and she offered to provide coin rolls.) I sighed again, frustrated, but prepared to accept the inevitable.
Then, the magical ‘customer service moment’?
“Do you have 20 minutes?” she asked. “Yes,” I answered. “I’ll roll the coins for you.”
She took me to a back office, grabbed some coin roll papers, and started dumping and sorting the coins on the table. Of course, seeing the cue, I started helping, and together we got the job done in about 15 minutes. She then prepared the deposit — $320 — to my account.
As we worked, I learned that the bank had leased the coin machines but they weren’t used enough to justify their cost, and there had been reports in the US of them giving inaccurate totals. She said the bank staff didn’t get any advance notice of their removal. Then she volunteered that shortly after the machines were pulled out, she had provided similar coin counting service to several other customers.
We also chatted about travel (as we pulled out various foreign coins from the pile), Thanksgiving plans and other stuff.
It was a totally unexpected experience.
I asked: “I appreciate this, but what about the other customers who might be waiting for service while you take care of me?” realizing that service can be measured in seconds and if someone is at the counter waiting, then that individual might not have such a warm feeling for the bank. “Oh that isn’t a problem. We help each other out.” This reflects my earlier observation that at this bank when the teller line grows long, everyone goes to the front to open teller windows — I suspect managers and other back office staff know their ongoing projects can wait when customers are waiting.
How much does this service cost? Well, neither she nor I expect to have my coins counted every time I show up at the branch (she provided rolls for my next bout of work — which will be a do-it-yourself project). Perhaps 15 to 20 minutes of staff time; significant if done routinely but not an onerous expense one-time.
- Front line staff need to have the authority and discretion to bend policy and add that extra level of service;
- The systems need to be company/branch wide — obviously there needed to be an obvious back-fill system when one customer demands an exceptional amount of time to prevent hold-ups for others;
- While some situations can be reasonably predicted (folks will come into the branch with coins and expect to use a machine, which had disappeared), there still is the requirement to expect the unexpected and understand how to respond when things go off the rails.
I’ll send a note to the branch manager and senior executives of TD Canada Trust and make a contribution to charity in thanks for this service. And I’m reminded that it doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take some common sense and quick thinking, to get it right.