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Friday, April 18, 2008

Citibank: Are You Listening?

My bank is Citibank.

I've been a faithful Citibank customer for many years - close to fifteen. I became one when my Dad convinced me to start tracking my finances with Quicken and he sold me on Citibank's seamless - and free - integration into Quicken.

What I like most about my Citibank relationship is its virtuality: I originally set up the account via phone, I pay bills online and have easy access around the world to my accounts via ATMs. I'm not dependent on bank hours or bank tellers for most transactions although I have used - and been satisfied - with in-person services.

[My husband, on the other hand, despises Citibank. He was subjected to dreadful treatment over fraudulent credit card charges. He discovered over the six+ month timeframe that it took to bring closure to the matter that customer service had absolutely no interest in providing a minimal level of helpfulness, waiting multiple months to respond, not properly documenting conversations, being unwilling to bundle what were obviously related abuses, etc. Imagine how angry he became when he received an unrequested credit card from Citibank after his ordeal!]

This recent experience with Citibank made me wish the bank weren't so massive, and that it listened and anticipated customers' needs better.

In preparation for a trip to Mexico, I needed Pesos. I regularly make use of ATMs to obtain foreign currency. But, I also like to have some foreign currency in my pocket as I get off the plane in case I can't find an ATM at the airport.

I - naturally - went online to get information. The last time I needed foreign currency [yes, a while ago], I made use of a major 5th Avenue Citibank branch where a special ATM dispensed a handful of different currencies. No trace of that online or in conversation!

I searched the Citibank site and came across a reference to World Wallet Services.... It looked intriguing and convenient: seems I could order money and pick it up at a branch. The info was general. It offered a phone number.

Since I knew I would be in NYC for BlogHer [see BlogHer Business 2008: Blogging Goes Mainstream], I located a branch close to the conference location. Details for that branch indicated "Foreign Currency (Order Only)." Was that World Wallet Services? Possibly. I called the number associated with the branch location....

And didn't get the actual branch, but rather a generic, foreign sounding customer service call center. I asked questions. For each question, I was placed on hold. I asked specifically about currency conversion and could he assure me that the branch I was considering could provide me with Pesos.

His response [after multiple 'on hold' sessions]: the original branch I identified did NOT have currency exchange available. He gave me another location that would assist me. I had a few more questions that he wasn't able to fully answer, but at least I had a location to go to.

Just to be clear, not once did he mention World Wallet.

Back online to locate that branch and find cross streets. I checked the services offered and noted that it, too, said "Foreign Currency (Order Only)." The branch phone number was the same I had called [and spent too much time on]. I was not ready to call again, and I couldn't locate the World Wallet page [Note: the website search function is clunky. 'Convert Money' gave me nothing useful. 'Dollars to Pesos' didn't either. 'Foreign Currency' and 'Currency Conversion' gave me good leads, but - I was multi-tasking - and couldn't remember what terms had brought up World Wallet originally. Nothing worthwhile came up via Google; I had to search within the Citibank US site.]

Although I had a plan of action [walk during BlogHer's lunch hour to the branch], I was curious what kind of response I would get by going through my online account site. There, I decided to send an email explaining my situation and asking for a recommendation...

Equally frustrating.

First, I had to specifically select a subject from a listing of possibilities. I could not write in my own description.

I took 2 days for the response to come back to me - and I had already walked to a branch and interacted with people.

Note that although the message acknowledges my need for Pesos, nowhere does it refer to World Wallet services...

Also, the three branches that my friend 'John' recommends are nowhere near my original location request [i.e, one was at JFK airport].

Oh, and the phone number he suggests is the customer service number I called originally.

And, now for the lowdown on converting Dollars to Pesos via Citibank.

At Citibank branch located on 22 West 32nd Street, NYC, 10001, two lovely women immediately helped me with my request. No problem converting Dollars to Pesos, although I would need to return the next day to complete the transaction. Perfect.

They informed me that EVERY branch offers this service.

In other words, the customer service center people are misinformed. The email customer service people are misinformed.

Is it a matter of being too big? Of one hand not knowing what the other is doing? Poor communication? All of the above?

My observations:
- Have better online search functionality.
- Ensure that your web site details refer consistently to the services you offer.
- Offer more and better information online, especially to customers who want to interact with you online.
- Improve the service experience with more self-directed querying. What about online chat with customer service?
- What about phone numbers that connect with the branches? They sure seem to know what's going on. Let me interact with competence.
- Make sure call center customer service people know more about your services.
- Monitor email messages from your long term customers and RESPOND quickly and with accurate information.

Citibank, are you listening? Please make it better. If I must speak with a call center, let it be with representatives whom you have fully engaged in your business and services and empowered with knowledge. If I have a local branch question, offer me a means of connecting with them. The branch people know their business. Let me benefit from that.

Forget global, get local and listen.

And, that goes for any retail business. Experience your services. All of them. Make sure your service is competent, knowledgeable and helpful across the board. Understand how your customers search for information, how they ask questions, and -then- get them the information they need!

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