Customer (Client) service should be the easiest part of the job, right? If so, why do so many banks (law firms) make such a mess of it?

I want to share a true story with you. I doubt any law firm could screw up a business relationship this badly in such a short period of time. But, I have unfortunately known law firms which have come close. This story demonstrates that sometimes no service is better than bad service.

When I left my law firm at the beginning of 2005, I chose the bank that was on the first floor of my building because of the convenience. The bank is a well known, large, national bank.

In January of 2007, I moved my office to another location. The branch in my old office building was no longer the closest branch. We made our deposits and other banking activities at a branch that was closer to my new office.

In December that year, I happened to be in the neighborhood of my old office and I needed to make a deposit, so I went to the branch in the old office building. While I was in line, a young woman I remembered came up to me and said hello to me by name. Since I did not remember her name, and I had not set foot in that branch for a year, I was impressed.

During her greeting I learned her name was Yvonne and she was my small business banking executive. That was also interesting since I had not heard from her during all of 2007. I discovered that she was not even aware I had moved.

I thought to myself:

My small business account manager is paying such close attention to my business that in the 11 months I had been gone, she had not learned I had moved from the branch manager, and had not been curious enough to even call me when she didn’t see me, or my staff, in the bank.

The first week of 2008, Yvonne called me. She wanted to come by and visit and talk about a change in my account. I assumed she thought that since she had been unaware that I had moved a year earlier, it just might be a good idea to reconnect with me. I  really did not think I needed to talk to her, but I agreed she could come by and visit.

We set the appointment for 2:30 on January, 9. At 2:30 that day a young guy named Ramin showed up at my office. I figured he was Yvonne’s assistant and that they traveled by separate cars.

WRONG! To my surprise, Yvonne would not be meeting with me. She apparently did not have time to call and let me know. Instead, to my surprise, I was meeting with Ramin, who introduced himself as my small business account manager. Funny, just the week before Yvonne had introduced herself as my small business account manager. I had never even met or heard of Ramin.

(I almost hate to ask this question, but I feel I must: Has your law firm ever had a partner call a potential client and discover that the company was already a firm client, and one of his partners was handling work for the client?)

I asked Ramin if he had any idea what business I was in and how I used the bank. He didn’t. Apparently, he had become my new account manager on his way to his car to visit my office.

I could tell I was making him feel uneasy. So, instead of looking at me, he kept staring at some papers, which I assumed he had been handed on his way out the door.  Ramin shared with me that I had a savings account, a checking account and a line of credit for a certain amount. Duh, Ramin, I think I knew all that.

Then Ramin told me he could convert my checking account to an interest bearing account, increase my line of credit by more than threefold and decrease the interest rate on the line of credit. When he finished, I began to laugh to myself. I was thinking:

Now I know why Yvonne did not show up. She couldn’t  make magic with new opportunities like Ramin could.

Knowing that was not the case, I asked:

Why is this the first time I am hearing about all these wonderful things the bank can do for me?

I also thought:

Ramin clearly had not done much homework because he clearly did not know I have no need to use the line of credit.

By this time, I was laughing. I wondered how one of the top banks in the United States could so badly screw up a meeting that I did not even want. I would have thought more favorably about the bank if no meeting with me had been scheduled.

While laughing, I was thinking about how little regard my bank had for me as a customer. I doubted I would have experienced the same service from a smaller community bank. (Another question I feel compelled to ask: Do any large law firms treat their small business clients this way?)

By this point, my new account manager Ramin could not wait to exit our meeting. Feeling a mean streak, I asked him if it was customary for his bank’s small business account managers to know nothing about their small business account’s business, or how the small business used the bank. Then, I asked if it was customary for his bank to not inform customers of the benefits, like the paid interest on my business checking account, he had described to me.

I finally decided Ramin had been put through the wringer long enough, so I let him go. I immediately called the Branch Manager and shared this story with him. I was tempted, but did not share with him, that I held him responsible for what I had experienced. After all, he knew me and he was responsible for his team.

Have you ever read:  The Trusted Advisor? Every lawyer who serves clients needs to read this book. The authors state:

Before you go into any meeting with a client (or prospective client), figure out the two or three things you want the client to absolutely believe about you by the end of the meeting.

The authors suggest you can show them by doing homework about the company and asking questions that reveal you have done your homework.

Such questions give evidence that you are thorough, that you respect the client’s time enough to be prepared, and that you are ready to get right to the issues.

My bank representatives didn’t do their homework. I feel pretty certain that no lawyer would ever make the client service mistakes my bankers made. Frankly the bank would have been better off to make no contact with me. I do think there are legitimate client service topics to discuss. Here are some questions:

  1. What would you have done if you saw a client representative you had not seen in 11 months?
  2. What would you have done to prepare for the meeting with the client?
  3. How would you expect a client to react if you sent a junior member of your team the client had not met and you didn’t even tell him you wouldn’t be there?
  4. Just suppose this junior member of your team started the meeting by telling the client representative he is the client’s new lawyer?
  5. Assume you went to the meeting, how would you start the meeting?
  6. At what point would you start telling the client how your firm could help the client?
  7. How would you end the meeting?
  8. How would you follow up?

P.S. After I wrote this I sent it to the branch manager, who I discovered had been promoted. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from Tony. He said he was with …bank (my bank) and the …branch (my old office branch). I immediately thought he was the new branch manager calling to apologize. Instead, he thanked me for being a great customer and then told me he could “give me a deal” by extending my line of credit with a significant decrease in the interest rate.

I asked Tony if he had by chance spoken to Yvonne or Ramin. Needless to say he had not.