I wrote last week about how to negotiate your cable bill, a process that, while painful, was rather lucrative. Today I share with you a couple of other additional phone calls I made to save some dough and the lessons we can learn as a result.
Rubin v. The Bank Soon to be Formerly Known as the Name Still on Its Sign
First, I called my bricks and mortar bank.
You: Why do you even have a local bank? They are fee central.
You’re right; many banks with branches do charge a lot of fees. In fact, I went several years without a local bank. I mailed in the occasional check and took cash out via ATM. I had enough money at the bank that they waived their ATM charges and reimbursed me for those charged by others.
You: So what changed?
For personal banking, nothing. But starting my own business meant a whole different banking world.
Most Total Candor clients pay their invoices by check. When we receive checks, rather than paying postage and waiting for several days for the funds to clear, we opened a bank account in the neighborhood so that we can deposit the checks locally.
You: So, all was good until . . .
Take a guess.
You: They charged you a fee.
Well done. I don’t like fees so, when I opened the account in 2005, I compared three local banks and their fee schedules. I found I could get a small business checking account with a clever name that assessed no fees yet would fully meet our needs. This worked for three years.
[Sinister music plays, growing ever louder.]
Then, my bank announced a . . . . . merger.
I started to receive numerous correspondence about how everything was going to be so much better now that my bank was going to remove five letters from the end of its name.
You: And you believed it?
Of course not! But I did read closely how my fees were going to change. Now I would have a minimum balance requirement or face a sizable monthly fee. Fortunately, the minimum balance was only $100, an amount I always ensure is there anyway. So I didn’t worry.
You: Foreshadowing an unsuspecting twist to come . . .
Hey, stop that.
You: Sorry. Misery loves company.
Nonetheless, before the signs even changed on the branches, upon reviewing my July statement, I discovered
You: For what?
For “IMAGE CHKS IN STMT.”
You: Image checks in statement?
You: What does that even mean?
Remember when you used to receive your original checks when they cleared along with your bank statement?
You: Not really.
Well, that’s the way it was back when I had my first checking account. Over the years, presumably to cut costs, some banks stopped sending them and many instead provided you with images.
Merger of Equal Brainiacs
In some board meeting somewhere, the executives apparently had to figure out how to make their merger a good idea. After all, they had promised synergies! Perhaps they had cut costs as far as they could. So one exec says to the other, “Hey Bob, remember when we used to send our customers their canceled checks?”
Bob responds, “Sure do, Tim. Wow that was stupid. And expensive!”
“I imagine,” Tim continues, “these days we could probably charge people just to get those images. Nobody checks their statements anyway.”
“So now something that used to be a cost to us actually becomes a revenue center?”
“Tim, you’re a genius. Now I know why I merged with you.”
A few weeks later I get a fee. So too do thousands and thousands of other small businesses, many of whom aren’t looking so closely at their statements.
I call customer service. I tell the nice representative that “I don’t do fees, so I need to know what I have to do to make sure I’m never charged for this again.” She explains that all I would have to do is to take the image checks off the statement. I told her to do so. After several minutes of typing, she asks if there was anything else.
I said yes.
You: What else?
I told her that I would like to have the already assessed fees removed since I wasn’t told about them in advance and I don’t do fees.
She advised me that I was told about the fees I was charged.
I told her that I wasn’t. I told her to tell me when and how.
She explained the paperwork I was sent. Me, being somewhat anal, pulled out the paperwork she mentioned and began to review it. I could find no such fee introduction and told her so.
She put me on hold. Again.
She needed to think of something fast.
Turns out there was an insert – in addition to the big piece of paper that had all the fees. This insert had still more fees.
“Well played,” I thought to myself.
I told her I couldn’t prove I got the insert anymore than she could prove I did, but that logic held that if this one fee wasn’t with all the other fees, that I clearly had read the fee sheet previously, that I was able to pull the paperwork up while we were still on the phone, that I hated fees, that I probably wasn’t told.
But she wouldn’t budge. Presumably because she wasn’t empowered herself to do so.
I had a decision to make.
You: To get the supervisor.
I decided not to.
You: Why not?
It was only $1 (times three accounts). My primary concern was making sure that the fee didn’t recur in the future. I had already invested much too much time and energy for the $3.
You: Yeah, but still.
Am I really going to go through all that hell of closing down my accounts and opening them elsewhere over three bucks?
Will I grow my relationship with them as my business grows?
Hell no. They’ll just continue to get the least profitable part. They made it clear by their actions that they can treat me like I am disposable. They can use me. I’m pretty sure I can mirror those attributes.
[Tangent: It's a good thing I can't sing, or my bank might suffer the same way United Airlines did at the mercy of this guy.]
Customer Service. On Time.
A few minutes later I called FedEx.
There had been an apparent error in my last bill. Something that ordinarily would have cost about $5 was billed at over $13.
When I reached a representative, I told her that something didn’t look right. Before I could even start typing an email (since I figured I’d be on hold again while they researched an answer for why I wasn’t right when I actually was, i.e., the bank’s MO), she told me that she would be crediting my account immediately and apologized about four times for the error; an error she obviously had nothing to do with.
That’s how to treat people. FedEx made a mistake and caused me to invest some of my finite time to deal with it, yet I came away happier with them than before.
- You have to review your statements. All of them. There will be errors and more will be against you than for you.
- You won’t always get what you deserve (the previous bank fee, in my case), but sometimes you’ll get more than what you’re really asking for (my cable bill reduction despite improved service).
- No one else will ever care as much as you do. It’s your money.
What experiences have you had arguing mistakes made against you? Ever had a mistake in your favor you decided not to disclose? Net, are you up or down?