Famous Last Words: The Raw Power of the Letter

In December 2010, Peggy and I went separately down to our TD Bank branch on the corner and each saw a different officer on the floor. Our request: Kindly tell your computer people that we are going to Moscow and please allow us to use our TD debit cards to get rubles from Russian ATMs. Both of these officers made the calls while we sat there (at different times) and confirmed that we would have no problem.

Neither card worked, and we were stuck with no rubles in one of the most financially unpleasant, non-English speaking countries of the world. Our Moscow trip was a nightmare.

Enduring Poor Customer Service
Fast forward to 2012, when I acquired a consulting client in Paris. To facilitate the monthly retainer payment, the client requested direct deposit information for my corporate account.

The same officer on the floor who screwed up Moscow handed me a cruddy little Xeroxed form with the generic transfer information. I added my checking account number and emailed the data to the client, along with an invoice for the first month’s retainer.

The wire deposit was declined by TD Bank and returned to the sender. The client tried again, this time sending three months worth of retainer fees. Again, the deposit was declined.

I went into the bank and sat down in front of the same officer and showed him the email information I had sent to my French client. He gave it glance. Our exchange:

BANKER: These look right. There is nothing we can do. This is their fault.

HATCH: Look, I’m not a banker. I want to find out what happened, so this does not happen again and so I can get my money every month.

BANKER: But this is their fault. You have to ask them.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

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  • Chris Benson

    The post-it note reminds me of the old "Send the SOB the bedbug letter." story.

  • http://TcatHouser Tcat Houser

    LOL! Thank you!

    I may be old and not old fashioned 😉 .

    I love and live by the modern ways (its my livelihood).

    Yet Snail Mail (with a Delivery Confirmation) still works for attention. I recently went to buying postage on line.

    I *really* like your tip about the ‘shot across the bow’. I will remember that.

  • Jim Lanahan

    In 1990 my wife and I were operating a small business. We had 3 kids under 7 at home. I was called to active duty as a Marine during the run-up to Operation Desert Storm. On my departure, my wife went to work full time to keep the 6 year old business in operation. Four weeks after I left, a banking officer called to ask my wife how she was going to pay the indebtedness of the business during my absence. (All payments were within terms.) He grilled her about her ability to run the business and pressed her for more information about our financial strength. When I found out (I was in Saudi Arabia at the time) , I composed a letter to the president of the regional bank where this gentleman worked. I suggested that it wouldn’t be in the bank’s best interests for the community to find out about the bank’s actions in dealing with deployed military customers. I also suggested that if this gentleman ever darkened he doorway of my business, I would beat the living $#!+ out of him. Results – a kind word of acknowledgement from the Bank in their newsletter regarding my deployment and business. And yes, the miscreant was gone within 3 months. Yes, the letter still works!

  • Glenn

    Incompetent service from a bank??!!?? Well, knock me over with a feather.

    Nothing is more fun for mail writers than to put their skills to work to torment any company that steps out of line. Nice work!

  • Kent Dicken

    Are you still at TD Bank? After a second major problem? If so, why?
    There are plenty of other financial institutions that would appreciate your business.

  • Bob Weinberg

    After your Moscow experience why on earth didn’t you find a new bank?

  • Steve Stuart

    Suggest you hange your bank to Everbank.com Rated by Forbes as best – great rates, great service. This never would have happened with them.

  • Peter Rosenwald

    Hi Denny,

    Since this seems to be horror story time, here is the first chapter of a continuing saga.

    During a US visit to my son in November I went to a Citibank branch in Miami and opened an account. They were all smiles and soon I received a Visa debit card. As I was going to Mexico, I did what you did; I informed them of the dates and said I didn’t want the card to be refused. I also instructed my normal bank BOA to transfer money to fund that account. I received an immediate confirmation that this had been done.

    In Mexico, my card was refused (fortunately I had another one with CapitalOne which was perfect). I contacted the special toll free number at Citibank to be told simply my account had been closed. Why I asked? We cannot tell you that I was informed.

    On retrun and after a total of no less than four (count them) hours on the phone to Citibank’s Client Service (should be renamed ‘Diservice’) I ascertained that the account had been closed because it was over drawn.

    Impossible I said: I haven’t made any purchases. More waiting. What were these charges that had ‘overdrawn’ the account? One was for checks I never asked for which were never delivered to my US address. The other was for the overdraft charge for my not having paid for the checks. And what about the substantial deposit I had made. They claimed never to have received it and I later discovered that it had been returned to BOA.
    Customer Disservice promised to investigate and get back to me. They may have investigated but they have never come back to me.

    The saga continues.

    The bottom line: these companies all give lip service to CRM but can’t create people and systems that are even marginally functional despite the best efforts of consultants like you and me.

    Does anyone out there have the name of someone at Citibank who can read and act? If you do, please send it to me and I’ll follow Denny’s example.