Although 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.
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.
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.