Remember brand? For you youngsters out there, that’s what we talked about before we talked about social media and the latest new apps. But the importance of brand cannot be overstated because it’s about your integrity, expertise, service model and the relationships you build with your clients.
Lately, I’ve seen some high-profile brands take a huge hit. Let’s start with venerable Bank of America. Like many people in the Bay Area, I worked for Bank of America in better times. We were proud to work there and walked the talk: it was a great place to work, invest and bank.
We were proud to be shareholders and stakeholders. Then came the merger with Nations Bank, and a merger is never a good thing except for the people at the top of the food chain. It took three years to drill down to our marketing department, but within a few weeks, our entire department was eliminated.
I have continued to bank with BofA because, I’m ashamed to admit, I was simply too lazy to move all of my online banking accounts to another bank. But a recent experience still makes me furious, and this time, I’m taking my money elsewhere. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in crisis mode: I moved, then left for vacation. Within just a short period of time, I have debited my account for movers, painters, a handyman and new appliances. When I tried to use my debit card to get some cash for my trip, I received a message that my account was blocked.
What? I marched into a branch and talked to a customer service person, but she didn’t want anything to do with this and directed me to another person. He explained that I had had a lot of transactions, and they were freezing my account to protect me from hackers. Okay, this is about account security and maybe not a bad idea.
To unblock the account, aside from showing my ID and correctly answering some security questions, I was asked to identify a series of ten debit payments that I had made over the last two weeks. Not good–this was beginning to sound like a game show. I was able to identify nine out of ten transactions–this has been a frantic few weeks, after all, and I simply couldn’t remember what a $20 debit was for. The result? I still couldn’t access my account.
I was furious. “This is my money and my account, and you’re telling me that I can’t access this?” The answer was “yes.” They did finally give me a temporary debit card, and would be sending along my new card in a week or so. Great. I was going on vacation in two days.
This goes beyond being heavy-handed. It’s egregious customer service and big banks have gotten way too big for their britches. I opened up an account at Bank of the West. I’ve been in there twice and everyone now knows my name, I have an account that doesn’t charge me any fees (a nice break from the $25/mo for which BofA was gouging me) and I’m only kicking myself for not doing this sooner.
The venerable Bank of America brand that had helped build San Francisco bears no resemblance to the current brand that is an organization which has lost track of its core business: serving its customers. The best place to work and the best place to bank has been over for a very long time.