Sunday, August 2, 2015

Never leave home without a utility bill

Why? You just never know when you have to prove your identity, and believe it or not, there are still businesses that do not consider passports to be valid proof of identity.

Some time ago I wrote about Customer Service but my most recent experience forces me to revisit this subject. It just amazes me that some companies do not value their customers, nor do they realize how much it damages their business to not pay enough attention to each individual customer. We all have relatives and friends and almost everyone has a Facebook account.

When I left Ireland, 21 years ago, I kept my bank account in the Ulster Bank in Baggot Street in Dublin open. Partly because at that time, I was not certain I would not be returning. I had vowed to give it two years in the US before I made any decisions, but if I did return, it would be useful to have my existing bank account still operational and I really like the Manager and staff there at that time.

Although I decided after six months, that I was going to stay in Texas, I found it useful to have an account in an Irish bank, it was partly nostalgia and partly practical - occasionally I received Irish checks and just had them deposited there for spending money when I visited and, in the first few years, before my US ATM card actually worked in Ireland, it was useful for cashing US checks should the need arise. I never had more than Euro 500 in the account, and in the last few years, I had a balance of Euro 59. I also had a current ATM card for that account.

At the beginning of the year I received a letter from Ulster Bank advising that as my account had been inactive for some time, they would mark it dormant unless I confirmed that I wanted it to remain active. I responded immediately asking them to keep it active as I would be using it on my next visit.

Despite that, when I attempted to use my ATM card in an Ulster Bank ATM machine in Dublin, it was declined as 'Inactive Account'. I called into the bank the following day and after a long wait, I was seated in an open area in the bank, beside a particularly rude man, John Moriarty, an unpleasant, self important man.

It is amazing to me that some people cannot be polite. Nothing he said would have come across as rude, but the tone of his voice, his body language and facial expressions made it an extremely unpleasant experience. I explained that I had requested that my account be maintained active, and that I needed to withdraw Euro 40. He told me that I had received a letter advising me to bring proof of identity to the bank - I had not received any such letter, but he insisted that I had. I handed over my TX drivers licence - with photo and address, the address matching that on my account. I had my US Passport and my Irish Passport, both with photos and both current, and for good measure I had my US Credit Union check book, also showing my address. He said none of these were acceptable. I needed either an Irish drivers licence or a utility bill. I explained to him that I had lived in the US for 21 years and therefore did not have an Irish driver's licence and that I didn't think to bring a utility bill with me when traveling internationally.

The man was so unpleasant (and thankfully I didn't actually need the Euro 40), I told him to give me back my various items of identity and I left. As soon as I got to a computer I registered a strong complaint online with Ulster Bank - I was advised to return to that branch and ask to see a manager, or go to another branch.

Next day I returned to the branch where I had held my account for so long. I asked to see a manager and was immediately swept into a far corner by a young man who assured my that the manager, Gerry Bolger, was on vacation for the entire week. I explained my problem to him and demanded to close my account. He told me I needed a utility bill, at which point I asked him if the Ulster Bank was going to keep my 59 euro because I neglected to carry a utility bill on vacation with me. I also told him that I had registered a strong complaint about his colleague online the previous day and that the customer service representative I had spoken to had advised me to speak with a manager.

Those readers who know me, know that I am not inclined to make a fuss. But that is not to say I won't fight for what I believe is right. I will pick my battles but once I have decided to fight I won't back down. And I didn't back down this time. I refused to budge until finally Mark (that was the whispering young man's name) agreed to override the ridiculous utility bill requirement (I almost wish I had one because I am sure they would refused to accept it as it wasn't from an Irish utility supplier) and finally I was able to close the account and get my cash.

It was with mixed feelings that I left the bank. Triumphant that I had stood my ground and got my money. Sad because I had cut another tie to my past, but proud that I was able to cast off that tie - something I probably should have done long ago. But most of all, sad because my fight was such a small ripple in the ocean of banking and they will never be aware of the negative knock on effect that will most definitely have on their business.

It is really not rocket science. Every customer is important. It is not just the few dollars or Euro or whatever other currency is involved, it is the word of mouth, and with social media as powerful as it is, this is not something to be ignored. But I guess Banks still think they are above that.

I have added to my checklist when packing 'utility bill' - I am guessing I will never need it.

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