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Building Relationships | First Niagara Bank Review

First Niagara Bank ReviewAlthough the title of this article includes my First Niagara Bank Review, it’s really more about Building Relationships with your clients.  More than being a review about First Niagara Bank, it is an opportunity for online entrepreneurs to review the way they deal with their customers, readers and subscribers in a way that is always building relationships.  This should always be the foundation of your online business.

I have written several posts in the past about companies that I’ve had dealings with. These include reviews about Wells Fargo, Clickit Realty, Bank of America, and U-Pak Moving.

None of them are strictly reviews of the companies cited.  They are case studies of how well established brick and mortars businesses operate, and what online entrepreneurs, bloggers and marketers can learn from them.

Case Study: First Niagara

First of all, I should explain that First Niagara is a pretty large bank in the State of New York (USA).  That’s not what’s important, here.  What is important is for my readers is to learn how to… and how not to…. handle your personal interactions with your online customers, clients and subscribers.

Always think, first and foremost… How do my customers and clients perceive the way I regard them, the value I hold for them as my customers.  That’s probably the same way they’ll end up valuing you, your products, your blog posts and your services.

Here’s a short account of my experience as a long-time customer of this bank.  It recounts my recent dealings with a First Niagara customer service rep.

I called the bank’s Customer Service department when I found that I had been charged with a string of overdraft charges that I had not been aware of.

The charges were posted against my online banking account.

When I pay bills with my online banking account, I typically post my payments first, then transfer funds to cover the bills that I paid.

The transfer funds come from other online accounts I have with First Niagara, so the transfer occurs instantly.

I’ve been following this same procedure for several years now, with my First Niagara account.  In all that time, I never had a problem, and had never been cited for insufficient funds prior to this.

So, it turns out that this was the problem.

I was on my online banking account last month.

I paid some bills as usual and then I transferred funds from a parallel account to cover the payments.

Now, keep in mind that I always look at my balance online immediately after completing this process to make sure I transferred enough to cover my payments. The statement balance shows that I do, but apparently there is more than meets the eye in this process.

You see, what I found out from the First Niagara customer service representative was this.  

Even though the statement balance shows that everything balances,  it only pertains to transactions made within business hours.  Because I posted my payments at some odd late night hour, even though it looked like my transfer funds posted immediately, they did not.

I had incurred the overdraft charges because the transfer funds did not become available until the next business day.  Well that sounds reasonable, until your realize that the bills I had paid were not covered because… now get this…

The transfer gets posted immediately, but is not really in effect until the next business day.

Meanwhile, the bills paid get deducted from your account in real time, immediately.

How’s that for cool bank double talk.

They’ll take your money anytime, day, night, holiday, weekend… whatever.

But they won’t transfer you very own funds to you until “business hours”.

Obviously, the difference between bank time and real time caused my overdraft, and the resulting overdraft fees (which, of course, got posted against my account immediately… not the next business day).

So that was the problem I contacted First Niagara’s Customer Service about.

Here’s how Customer Service serviced me.  The rep told me that is not bank policy to refund service fees unless it was clearly the bank’s fault. She further advised me that, in this case, it was not the bank’s fault because I made the transfer it was after normal business hours

When I protested that I had probably been paying my bills late at night, I was again told about bank policy.

I guess I’m at fault because I have too many things to do in the middle the day (like internet marketing).  

In fact, the rep told me that this situation was clearly not the bank’s fault it was my fault because I didn’t know that these that transfers didn’t go through immediately.

What becomes clear… is this.

The bank has a position and policy.  As a consumer, I have nothing but my point of view and perspective.

Online Entrepreneurs Take Notice

I was just reading Donna’s blog post about something she calls “awesome authority.”

She basically makes the case that the way to have loyal, long-term, loyal customers is to show them that you really do care.  Assure them that you are there to help them every step of the way.  Make it clear that you’re not just in the game for for yourself… you’re in it to make their lives better.

After dealing with First Niagara’s Customer Service rep, I immediately thought… “Wow, online entrepreneurs better take notice of this.”

Maybe customer service doesn’t mean much to a big company like First Niagara.

Maybe they’re too big to care about other people.

The result is that I’m a frustrated customer who feels totally cheated.  I don’t sense that First Niagara sees me as a person, but as a statistic in their ledger.

This is an important story for online marketers to understand.

That’s why I say it’s not really that a review about First Niagara.  This story reflects a critical lesson for my online entrepreneur readers.

That lesson can be summarized in this way:

In the course of conducting your online blog, company or business… always put the feelings of your customer first.

If your method of handling dissatisfied customers is to cite company policy as a reason for refusing to bend, if it is not your policy to refuse to give a refund even a day after your stated 30-day guarantee period…

If you’re obviously more concerned with your company policy and bottom line than you are with the people you “serve”…

You probably won’t have a very prosperous online business.

The point is, don’t ever refuse to bend your rules to accommodate your customers. Instead, bend over backwards to do make sure your customer is always happy.  

Your customer may not be right, but they are still your customer… as long as you continue to give them the benefit of the doubt.

You’re not in business to make sure your company policy is adhered to.

You’re in business to make sure that each and every customer of yours, appreciates you.

Always Flash Your “Awesome Authority”

First Niagara, being a major bank, is obviously an authority.

But they certainly didn’t show me… the customer… that they’re taking any strides in the direction of becoming an “awesome authority.”

If they were, they’d have handled this situation differently.  

They let me know in no uncertain terms that they would give me priority status, not because I was “right” but because I was their customer.

Especially since I have been a perfect customer for a couple years and this had never happened before.

So how might you flash your awesome authority in this case.  

I’d suggest that you might take the high road and say “you know, I’m sorry we didn’t make that policy clear, so we’ll credit your account this time.”

In fact, in this case, it didn’t seem to me that First Niagara had made their weird policy very clear at all, except in the “small print” that banks are notorious for.

As an online marketer, always defer to your awesome authority.  Don’t be notorious for your “small print” rules and regulations.

I suppose that the “sorry, but it’s your tough luck” kind of attitude like the one I got from First Niagara is expected from banks.

But people certainly don’t expect it from online marketers.

If that’s the attitude they get from you, they’re not going to be staying with you very long.

They won’t be buying your products and services.

They be reading and engaging with you on your blog.

Most importantly, they won’t be talking to other people about you… not in a positive way, at least.

When they see you as an awesome authority, though, all that changes.

Whirlwind Success VIP Club

To flash your awesome authority, always build up the self-esteem and comfort of your customers, readers and subscribers.

Make them know that you see them as human beings, not  bottom line statistics.

Help them to achieve bigger and better things, and when they have problems or issues, empower them to be in charge of the situation.  

Don’t bully them into accepting your authority, inspire them with your awesome authority.

A good rule of thumb here is this:  don’t treat your customers like “customers.”  Treat them like family members.  Imagine you are dealing with your mother, not some unknown, far away character called “your customer.”

Make everybody you do business with feel like they’re part of your family.

Make them feel like they’re insiders, not “customers.”

They will love you for it.

I hope you have you learned something about running your online business from my experience with First Niagara Bank.  And I hope it has inspired you to review the way you are building relationships with your readers and customers every day as an online entrepreneur. 

Please let me know what your take-away is from this article
.  What do you do to ensure that building relationships, not destroying them, is the cornerstone of your online business?

I look forward to reading your comments below.

David Merrill 101
I'm an Internet Marketer and Online Marketing Coach. My students learn no-nonsense, power strategies and techniques to build solid blogging and internet businesses. David Merrill+

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19 Responses to Building Relationships | First Niagara Bank Review

  1. Elise Cohen Ho August 9, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

    I love how you tied the online and “real life” community together to make your point easily accessible. I concentrate on making real and authentic connections. I treat my clients as I would wish to be treated. I am never dismissive of their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

    • David Merrill 101 August 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

      I guess, Elise, one big difference between online bloggers and marketers versus big corporations like First Niagara, is that WE handle our customers and clients.

      Corporations pay employees a meager wage to handle “customer service”. They tie their hands with what they can and can’t do, or what concessions they might make… it’s called “company policy”… and it’s a huge brick wall standing between vendors and happy customers.

      We deal with our customers and clients directly, so we don’t have that brick wall. It’s important we recognize that, and make sure our customers do too. It’s a huge advantage. Use it!

      Nice to see you, Elise.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..The Shortest Path To Online Success

  2. Monna Ellithorpe August 9, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi David,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The bank should have made the exception instead of having a double standard for taking your money vs. transferring, etc.

    Anyone doing business online must also be willing to “give” or I don’t think they will be in business long.

    This reminds me of a situation with a “past” bank I used to use. I went to cancel my account because of all of the extra charges and fees they were hitting me with. First thing she says is, “Well we will have to charge $25 to to close your account.” I just about came unglued. My husband was alive then and I said, “Honey can you come here a minute.” He was a 6’3″ Army Airborne Ranger and when he stood up, the lady says “but we will waive the charge for you.”

    You shouldn’t have had to go thru any of what you did and neither should I. It’s just crazy.

    Wishing you a great weekend. Monna
    Monna Ellithorpe´s last blog post ..Hosting a Book Blog Tour

    • David Merrill 101 August 16, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

      I love your story, Monna. Thanks so much for sharing it, here.

      Next time I have to deal with these thugs I’m gonna wear elevator shoes!

      Seriously, though… I shouldn’t have to be anybody special, like a big company or a 6’3″ Ranger to get the courtesy of fair play, number one… the customer is always right, number two.

      As online marketers, we better get that right because unlike the handful of banks hanging around our neighborhood, we’ve got lots of competition and a great many of them DO get this right.

      Thanks, again, Monna.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  3. Mark August 10, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Excellent post David!

    And sadly once again, corporate America unwittingly demonstrates, they have no idea who the real CEO of their business is!

    Your story unfortunately resonates loud & clear! But you offer some very sound and practical advice for any serious or future aspiring entrepreneurs!

    If you wouldn’t treat a valued family member that way, then it definitely doesn’t make sense for you to treat a valued customer or client that way either! Great advice!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Mark´s last blog post ..Why Your Business Marketing Expertise Might Be Literally Sabotaging Your Success!

    • David Merrill 101 August 16, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

      I like that, Mark… WE (customers) are the “real CEO” of all these big corporations.

      I’m marking that one down, and will try to remember to cite you as my source when I re-use it 🙂

      It’s funny that corporations spend so much money training “customer service” reps how to do it, and it still ends up like this.

      Just imagine that every customer you deal with is your mother, and you’ll get it right… and the company won’t have to spend so much money in “high-level training.”
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Everything Big Is Small Again

  4. Rachel Lavern@Online Biz Boomer Babe August 11, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Hi David,

    Unfortunately, I have encountered too many communications similar to the one you had with First Niagara. So many professionals lack empathy (among other things) which is required in building relationships. Successful relationships are based on empathy. The people we interact with must feel that we really understand them and care about their concerns.
    Rachel Lavern@Online Biz Boomer Babe´s last blog post ..16 Habits of Highly Unproductive People

    • David Merrill 101 August 16, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

      So true, Rachel. Again… just imagine you’re dealing with your mother, and you’ll always get customer service right.

      When customers/clients are dissatisfied with something in your business, it’s not a signal to bring out the book of rules and policies. It’s a great opportunity to do what you just underscored… build relationships. There’s no better time to do that than when you’re helping someone work through their grievance. They’ll remember your empathy long after they forgot their immediate issue.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..The Shortest Path To Online Success

  5. Marquita Herald August 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    I can certainly understand your frustration with the bank David, though I come from a different perspective since I worked at Bank of America while going through college. That aside, I certainly agree with your point about their response. I must admit I’m surprised that a large bank wouldn’t have their policies for money transfers prominently posted – even the site for my little bank here in Maui clearly states that if a transfer is made after hours it won’t actually be in your account until the next business day. In any case, bottom line is you’ve shared an excellent example for customer communication and service.
    Marquita Herald´s last blog post ..Defining Rules for the Life You Want to Live

    • David Merrill 101 August 16, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

      Thanks for your “insider” viewpoint, Marquita.

      I actually did a review of Bank of America some time back, and it was actually a thumbs up, not down. I do like to see things from two sides of the issue.

      My real difficulty with this situation was that IF you can’t credit my transfer “after hours” (“after hours” online… really?) … then why can you take the money out my account instantly, including “after hours”… I thought everyone was in bed at that ridiculous hour 🙂

      What a ridiculous waste of an opportunity to be the big helper, the hero, the great empathizer. They got their stinkin’ little fees, and I’m off to another bank.

      Wow, I learned a big lesson as online marketer through this experience!

      Now, if I could only have a bank in Maui…

      Thanks for your input, Marquita.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  6. donna merrill August 16, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    Hey David,

    I had a similar experience with “Morning Star Farms” a trusted company for vegan foods. I purchased their “riblets” which are veggie based and taste like spare ribs. Great for a Summer dinner. When I read the instructions it was only for a microwave.

    Now, come on…any health conscious person won’t buy such a product like this and ruin it by using a microwave… It said on the package to go to their website for oven directions.

    Of course, I had my marketing hat on as I always do and thought to myself “Who the heck is in charge of this?” What type of market research and branding are they targeting. Answer: a young generation that they assume only uses microwaves. Well that young generation is pretty savvy and most know that a microwave will destroy the compound of food.

    I hit the ceiling! I went over to the company to put in a complaint. Then, I found out that this so called trusted company that I’ve always used was purchased by Kellogg’s Corporation. Yikes! I couldn’t submit anything there.

    I went to Morning Star Farms Facebook group and explained my issue. I tried to shed some light that they forgot to put oven directions on it plus, many older people are being health conscious and it was misleading to me.

    So let’s see how long they will keep that on their Facebook, or tear it down, or contact me. I don’t have much hope,

    But the point is, they sold out to a big corporation and I cannot trust this company again.

    Phew!

    -Donna
    donna merrill´s last blog post ..Stick To Your Niche?

    • David Merrill 101 August 16, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

      I guess we’ve both had some bad vendor karma this week.

      I like the idea of posting to the company on Facebook. I tried that once when I had big problems with Wells Fargo. They deleted my post real fast. Seems like they only hold on to the “your company is so cool” posts (probably from family members… ha).

      The bigger point, of course, is that as online entrepreneurs, we NEVER want our customer and clients to get the feeling that we don’t really care about them. In fact, we need to bend over backwards to show them we care more about them than we do about our bottom line.

      Remember how Macy’s beat up on Gimbel’s by sending their own customers over to the competition (Miracle on 34th Street)? We’ve got to be the Macy’s Santa Claus… and mean it!
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..The Shortest Path To Online Success

  7. Dr. Erica Goodstone August 17, 2014 at 12:30 am #

    David,

    I have found that becoming a highly disgruntled customer and demanding to speak to a supervisor can sometimes push an otherwise rigid “authority” to bend a little. My experience with Bank of America has been quite positive in the few times when I had an overdraft fee or some other fee caused by an issue that was confusing. They seemed to care about their customer. But Comcast is another story. Even after promising to give me certain credits, when I received my bills the credits had not been applied.

    Customer service in a restaurant is also one of my pet peeves. When the service is good, the waiter or waitress is attentive, it is wonderful. But what happens when something goes wrong? Good customer service involves their offering to take something off the bill or to give something extra. it doesn’t hurt them to do that and it can instantly alter the customer’s mood from irritated to appreciative.

    Thanks for sharing your story and your insights. We can all learn the lesson here.

    Warmly,
    Dr. Erica
    Dr. Erica Goodstone´s last blog post ..Be a Star at Attracting Clients

    • David Merrill 101 August 25, 2014 at 12:35 am #

      It’s good to hear of your consumer experiences, Dr. Erica. Thanks for sharing them hear.

      You clearly substantiate the premise that a satisfied customer is sure to be a long-term, valuable one. A dissatisfied one is sure to spread the word and contribute to a growing public distrust of the company involved.

      It’s so obviously in a company’s self interest to treat all their customers right… even when the customer is wrong… that I still don’t understand why they so often choose, instead, to be flippant and self-righteous in their treatment of them.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Best Blogging Business Model

  8. Sue Bride August 22, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    I’d never once not paid my full credit card bill off and have been with the same bank 30 years and had my house mortgage with them too. I had a huge balance one month when paying for house renovations and so as not to go over my limit I paid some off. When it came to paying off the rest I underpaid by $1 by mistake. I assumed that the interest charged would only be on that $1 but no it was on the full amount – over $250. The bank finally agreed to refund $100 of it. I was not pleased. If it hadn’t been for all the direct debit changes I’d have to make I would have changed banks. I would have thought my years of loyalty would have counted for something.

    When I transfer funds online it tells me that they won’t be available until the next working day. Something First Niagara should be doing. I assume the banks are earning on our money overnight.

    I find telephone companies the hardest to deal with when their call centres are over in India. and you get told that they have no authority to make any exceptions. We were recently charged over $200 for excess phone data only to find that Google was the culprit. My partner was out in the garden when his android phone decided to do an online backup. He didn’t realize it would back up all his photos and music too. It must have been doing it over our wifi before. The only solution offered was for us to go on a higher plan at $15 extra a month to delete the excess charge.

    Thanks for the opportunity for a rant 🙂
    Sue Bride´s last blog post ..Follow Buttons Free Download

    • David Merrill 101 August 25, 2014 at 12:48 am #

      You’ve shared lots of good insights, here, Sue. Thanks for the interesting rant.

      Isn’t it amazing how many consumers, like us, have stories like these, but feel our hands are tied and we just have no choice other than to continue being the customers of abusive and callous companies.

      I suppose a lot of this is because there are so few alternatives for us to pursue, especially in the case of telephone companies, and other mega corporations. Not too many choices for telephone companies, internet providers, cable television companies, and to a lesser extent, banks.

      But as online entrepreneurs, we have tons of competition. So we’d be well advised to keep that in mind when dealing with our customers and clients.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..The Shortest Path To Online Success

  9. Andy Lockhart August 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    David

    Great article and if we are to succeed as Entrepreneurs we can not play the games the banks do. The trouble with big organizations is the customer reps are not empowered and the company policy is not designed around win-win or fairness but maximum gain for the bank.

    In the UK it used to take 3 days to clear a check, that meant the bank held onto your money for 3 days!! Go figure that one. It is nice when you can make money for free with others money.

    Great article. Andy
    Andy Lockhart´s last blog post ..What if you could be the Guru?

    • David Merrill 101 August 25, 2014 at 12:56 am #

      Thanks for bringing your insights to the table, Andy.

      You’re right on target that big organizations do not make efforts to establish win-win or fairness policies. They show blatant disregard for their customers by failing them in this way.

      As online entrepreneurs, we must do everything in our power to do just the opposite, and develop the very win-win and fair policies that the big guys won’t.
      David Merrill 101´s last blog post ..Everything Big Is Small Again

  10. Sam Webster December 20, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    Great post David. I think it is so important to draw attention to these issues as they can get lost in translation when a bunch of jargon is thrown towards to avoid answering the actual question! I had a similar issue with Paypal (paypal of all organizations!) and rang back twice and was lucky enough to speak to the same person. The weird thing was that the second time I called, they were happy to rectify the problem?? I think it proves at times you just need to push. We will always be the little guys, but we can show we wont be walked over! Sam.

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