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.
HATCH: You received the money and returned it. Can't you find out what happened?
BANKER: This is not our fault. You have to go back and ask them.
HATCH: So you won't do anything to help me.
BANKER: This is their fault. Ask them.
I left the bank with a pain in my gut. Would I be unable to work for this client because TD Bank would not take the money?
Combating Poor Customer Service
Back home I composed a letter to Bharat B. Masrani, president and CEO of TD Bank Group in Portland, Maine. It was a formal complaint vs. TD Bank and the turkey who refused to help me. I recounted precisely what happened, including the exchange above. I assembled a fat packet of supporting documents and copied the six TD Bank executive vice presidents who were listed on the website.
I printed out the letter, attached all the exhibit documents and stuck the Post-It note (see mediaplayer at right) on the upper right of the letter to CEO Masrani. I then marched into the bank. The guy in question was with a customer, so I handed the letter to another officer who was playing with a customer's dog. I pointed to the officer who caused me the previous miseries and asked that the letter be handed to him. The doggie man nodded and I left.
This was fortuitous. Another officer saw the letter, and soon it would be the gossip of the branch.
Within a half hour, the branch manager called me from far out of town where she was on holiday and asked: "Did Mr. [NAME] call the bank's wire service department while you were sitting there?"
"He didn't call anybody."
"That's not right," she said. "I'll speak to him. Meanwhile, I'll be back in three days and will follow up on this and get you your money."
I never had to send the letter.
"Of all the formats used in direct mail," wrote the late catalog guru Dick Hodgson, "none has more power to generate action than the letter."
That's snail mail, not email.
What's more, just the threat of a letter can be as effective as actually sending a letter.
Denny Hatch is a direct marketing copywriter, designer, consultant and the author of six books on marketing, "CAREER-CHANGING TAKEAWAYS" being the most recent. Visit him at dennyhatch.com, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.