This isn’t really related to food (okay, it’s not at all related to food) but it’s something that I was thinking about as I was cooking for my client today. When I was first starting my business I took took a 12 session Small Business Startup class at a local university. Each week there was usually a guest speaker from a business or organization related to the topic of the evening. When we discussed financing, there was a very nice woman there from a local bank. They bill themselves as being the regional bank who focuses on serving the small business owner and promoting and supporting local entrepreneurs. I was at the point where I needed to open a business checking account and chatted with the representative after the session. She was very helpful and we set up a time to meet at their office later in the week.
When we met she asked me a lot of questions about my new business and was very interested in hearing the details. We talked about different resources and networking opportunities I could take advantage of as one of their clients. Since I was entering the world of local small business it seemed to make sense to work with a local small bank. I was happy to hear they offered free checking for small businesses. I liked that I would be working with a local institution whose office was fairly close to my home. Plus they had a simple bank-by-mail system I could use for deposits and they were always posted the day after I dropped my deposit in the mail.
I was unhappy when I later learned I didn’t have the volume or cash balances to qualify for free checking. My fault, I realize, for not fully reading the fine print on what was required to qualify for the program. However, I think it would have been helpful if this were verbally communicated when the account was being set up.
The networking opportunities and activities we’d discussed never seemed to come to fruition. After one or two “touch base” emails from my Account Manager, I really didn’t hear from them again. Other than when I fat-fingered my password a couple of times on their less-than-high-tech website and they called to see if I needed help.
Finally, as I was doing my taxes for last year I really tallied up the monthly expenses incurred for my (in the big scheme of things) rather paltry checking account. When the figure nearly hit the $200 mark I decided there probably was a cheaper option. My needs are pretty simple – I make one or two deposits a week, a few credit card transactions every month and write a couple of checks.
So I opened an account with the national big name bank we’ve used for our personal banking forever. They were super helpful, friendly, explained everything, I could link my business and personal accounts so I could manage them online together. Long story short, it was a good experience.
After opening the new account I waited a few weeks before closing out the old one just to make sure everything was working okay. I called my local bank and told them I’d like to talk to someone about closing out my account. Without asking my name or any other info, the woman I was speaking with told me all I had to do was send them a letter with the account info and indicate I wanted to close it. Was there anything else I needed help with? Well, no, I guess not – I had the info I needed I suppose. But I have to admit I was expecting at least a little bit of an inquisition. I mean, really, who wants to lose a customer? What if I had a 6-figure balance sitting with them that I wanted to pull out? Didn’t she even want to know *why* I was closing out my account?
In any event, I sent the letter and included some feedback regarding the amount I was paying in service fees and the fact that their website was behind-the-times. A few days later I received an envelope with a cashier’s check for the remaining balance in my account. No note, no follow up phone call, nothing.
I’ve logged nearly 30 years of work activity and all of it has been in the service industry in some capacity. I’ve always had a job that required me to interact directly with customers. Whether it was waiting on tables in college or meeting with senior executives from major corporations, I learned that the customer in front of you at that moment is your most important customer. In my current business, I maintain a small client list and I love that I get to know them and provide a service to make their lives easier. And you just don’t throw them away.
You never know when today’s small potatoes customer could be the next overnight phenomenon. Let’s hope I get that Food Network show someday and I have to try to figure out where to put all that cash!