Walking Away from Bad Customer Service

George E. Curry

By George E. Curry
NNPA Columnist

After 19 years, most of them as a satisfied customer, I am closing my personal checking account this week at Citibank. I am closing my account not because I was lured away with an incredibly attractive offer from one of its competitors. Rather, I am walking away from Citi because of bad customer service. When a business loses customers who want to stay, it’s a sure sign of trouble.

My issue was a simple one. Throughout 2014, whenever I made a deposit to my personal Citi account from my business account at a rival national bank, the full amount was immediately made available upon deposit in the ATM. Beginning this year, however, the full amount was no longer being honored and no one would tell me why.

I started with the Customer Service Department. Instead of being responsive to my complaint, five different representatives – Sabrina Padron, Rene Torres, Christine Flanders, Priscilla Chaires and Christine Naranjo – felt the need to send me form letters essentially stating Citibank’s policy of spreading funds availability above a certain amount over five business days.

Despite assurance in an email to me from Padron, dated March 4, that “Citi is committed to providing our client’s [SIC] with world class service that is efficient, responsive and dependable,” the service was neither world class, efficient, nor responsive.

After sending five emails to the online services department and not getting a reply that was “responsive,” I decided to approach the branch manager near my home. He promised to look into the matter and to call me back within several days. He kept his word and when he called, he said he could find no reason why the change had been made.

Finally, I emailed a letter to CEO Michael Corbat on April 2. At press time, I had not received a reply, which is not surprising given the volume of correspondence he probably receives. In the meantime, I have opened a personal account at the bank where I do my business checking and ignored the last email I received from Christine Naranjo asserting that “…Citi is committed to providing our client’s [SIC] with world class service that is efficient, responsive and dependable.” (Surely, someone at a bank that purports to provide “world class service” should know that “clients” is not spelled with an apostrophe.)

Less than six months ago, I had to walk away from a Merchant’s shop that not only misdiagnosed the problem, but incorrectly installed the wrong part on a vehicle. I had been using the business for more than a decade, but no more.

When service is bad, I have decided to not simply walk away in silence. Instead, when I leave now, I let them know why I am leaving. If they are serious about customer service, they will fix the problem that prompted me to leave. If they continue to ignore those problems, they might not be in business long, anyway.

By the same token, I believe in rewarding good service in word and deed. For instance, when I was treated recently at Emory Johns Creek Hospital near Atlanta for a mild heart attack, I publicly thanked the outstanding nurses by name and copied the hospital’s interim CEO. As one who waited tables on trains over the Christmas holidays to help pay my way through Knoxville College, I am extremely sensitive to service and tipping. I usually tip between 20 and 25 percent, sometimes more. If the service is exceptional, I note that on the receipt and sometimes ask to speak to the supervisor.

However, I have not convinced myself to tip people when I pick up a carry-out order. It’s not like they are waiting on me. They pick up the order from the kitchen, take my money and hand me my order. That is not the same as waiting on me at a table. Last Saturday, I went to Olive Garden to pick up an order. Instead of handing me my $2 change, the employee had the gall to ask, “Do you need your $2 back?” Of course, I need all of my money back. Thanks for asking.

Speaking of restaurant employees, I have two pet peeves. One is when they ask, “How are we doing today?” I can’t speak for them, so I don’t know how we are doing. If you want to know how I am doing or how my dinning party is doing, it would not require any more energy to ask the question directly.

I try to restrain myself when they ask, as they frequently do: “How was everything?” I didn’t eat everything, so I couldn’t possibly know the answer to that question. I can only tell you about the food I consumed.

I know, I know, I am becoming persnickety in my old age. I have decided to become more vocal when I receive good or bad service. In doing so, I hope that will improve the next customer’s experience.


George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Pageon Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.


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