Posts Tagged ‘poor customer service’


By Jean McIntyre

Marketing Angels

Why do small business owners often feel lost when we deal with large organisations like banks?

I was chatting on the phone today with my good friend Lana – relating the horrendous saga of my dealings with Westpac over several months while trying to set up a merchant facility for a start-up business.  The conversation got around to the general observation that small businesses often have little success dealing with large organisations.

Lana is of the view that it’s because a single instance of poor service is often not noticed in a large organisation and those who deliver it just get complacent about the impact of their actions on the people at the other end.  Lana works for a large Government service delivery organisation and says the same thing happens there.

Let’s look at what happened with Westpac

Early in November 2009 I went to the website of an online payment facility and completed an application and paid my fee.  I was then directed to a page that said I needed to apply with one of the big banks for a merchant facility.  I had vowed 20 years ago never to deal with a bank again so I wasn’t impressed with this but went ahead as I had no choice.

I completed a simple online application and was informed that I’d receive a package from Westpac in due course.  A couple of days later I received an email from a Westpac employee with some prices in a table and no explanation.

I wrote to Westpac and asked what the prices related to and exactly what I would be up for initially and on an ongoing basis.  The reply I received was full of jargon like ‘chargeback’ , ‘service fee’, ‘participation fee’ and it took me some time to get information from Westpac as to exactly what I was signing up for.

Westpac Gives Vague Instructions

Soon after, I received another email – with vague instructions and some pdfs of forms that it seemed I had to complete.  I wrote back to Westpac saying that I thought I’d received the wrong forms as what I had appeared to be a mortage application.  I was concerned because I was applying for the merchant account on behalf of a company – that had limited assets apart from a bank account and a website – but it was asking for details of all my personal assets.

The response from Westpac was that this was the way it was and Westpac had the most robust application process of all the banks and that this was necessary to protect this. 

I wondered at that point where I and my needs sat in that equation.

The website needs to be fully-functioning

Now at this point, the website is in development and testing and so the actual site is just a shell – ready to be populated.  I’m waiting on the merchant ID to finalise the online purchasing infrastructure and pricing.

I then received an email from Westpac saying that they need a copy of my ‘registration’ and that the website didn’t meet their requirements.  I asked “what requirements” and was told that among the many forms that were sent with the second email, there was a page of ‘Website Requirements’ that was not mentioned in the email.  I looked at the requirements page and could not see anything in this that didn’t comply – even though the site was in testing.

I also queried exactly what registration was required – my ABN registration, company registration, registration of a business name or some other registration that I was unaware of.  The woman from Westpac was unable to answer that question and so suggested that I send all of the above.

Feeling trapped – Jean complies

Of course, feeling trapped and powerless – I complied.  It turns out that she had searched for the business using the incorrect name and was now suspicious that I was trying to do something dodgy.

The Westpac employee then said that I needed a referral from my building society – where I had said on the initial form that I wanted money deposited (I love my building society).  I asked her what this was for but she didn’t answer me.  She also asked me to explain in detail on the website, the products I was selling, how the payment and pricing would work as this information was required for the website.

The Westpac officer wrote: ” Website needs to be developed before they will assess the application.  All banks have the same requirements of viewing the site before approval.  It is because banks need to view what products are being sold, that there is adequate information on the Website for a credit card holder to make the decision whether they are going to use their credit card on your website and get the products they are paying for.”

Westpac is not a police officer

I was no clearer after this and I was quite cross by this time.  I explained that I would not put this information up on the site as I was going to protect my intellectual property until the site is ready for publication – including the payment processes.  I said in no uncertain terms that it was none of Westpac’s business what information I put on my site (apart from privacy and security details). 

In my frustraion I said in my reply email: “Banks DON’T need to view what products are being sold.  It is up to the individual business to comply with the law.  The bank is not a police officer.” 

This of course fell on deaf ears.

I asked who I could speak with about the unreasonable requests and delays from Westpac and yet again in a further email. I received no response.

Tell us EXACTLY what we have to do

I went back to my web developer and said that we needed to get the test website as close to fully-functioning as possible – otherwise Westpac would not approve the merchant facility.  I put in a lot of work, we organised a Security Certificate for the site and gave them access to the development site.  I then asked if they could look at it and explain EXACTLY what was needed now to approve the site.

I received an email back saying “thanks” and informing me that (despite my being a sole signatory for the company) they required a signature from my husband (who is a silent partner) as another director.  Rather than argue this was not necessary, and feeling even more powerless, I and my husband complied.

I faxed off the form and emailed the Westpac employee to say I had done so and said I still hadn’t had a response on what was wrong with the website.  By this time it was 2nd January (two months from initial contact) and the employee was on Holidays.

Westpac finally gets back

On 11th January I received a phonecall from another staff member responding to my email.  She said that the website had been given conditional approval – “subject to the Westpac Account”.  I asked her what this meant.  She explained that they would only issue a merchant ID if the business opened a Westpac Business Account to distribute the money to.

I was astounded and said that this was the first time anyone had told me in over 2 months that I was required to have a Westpac Account.  I said that had I known this – I’d have gone to the bank I had an account with previously.  I related that I had told them at the very beginning that I wanted the funds put into the IMB.  She said that she had tried to get me “an exemption” but that this had failed.  All I needed to do was go into a Westpac branch with all my registrations and IDs and they would open it up for me.

I did that today. Walked in to my local branch and said I was here to open a business account.  The teller walked over and got the ‘Business Manager’ who immediately asked “What kind of business is it?” 

Jean cries on John’s shoulder

That was the wrong question to ask the wrong person who had been through everything I had been through.  I said “Why do you need to know that?”  I told him it was an online business.  He looked for a while at his computer screen (he didn’t look once at me) and said “I can’t see you today – it will have to wait until next week”.

I walked out and cried on my husband’s shoulder.  I said “they really don’t want my business do they?”

Jean gets help from the IMB

In despair – I just drove home.  Back in my office I started wondering if the IMB could help me.  I looked at their website and they said that they will open merchant facilities for their clients.  I knew that they did this through Westpac and so wondered fi they could help me.

I rang the call centre and they put me through to their business banking area.  The man I spoke with was very helpful and explained the relationship they have with Westpac and said he’d give them a call and get back to me.

He did that within an hour and said that the people I had been dealing with should have realised that I was an IMB customer early in the piece and applied a general exemption.  He said he had sorted this out for me and the woman from Westpac would ring me today to advise me of the approval.  I said I wished I had come to them months ago instead of putting myself through all this trauma.

I’m still waiting 7 hours later for Westpac to call me.

So what’s the upshot.

There’s a simple message in this that I won’t spend too much time explaining.

The advantage that small organisations (and small businesses) have is that they are much more connected to their customers and much more likely to act when there has been a problem.

Make caring about serving your customers part of your marketing plan and you’ll never lose them to big business.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with big banks.

Jean Mc

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