By Abhay Bhargav . June 14, 2021 . Blogs

It was this article which instigated me to write about an interesting experience that demonstrated and proved how right the popular quote is “Customer service is not a department, it’s an attitude!”

What sets the best companies aside from the rest? The customer support. Everyone provides the same services. All companies know what to sell and how. The real difference comes in experience. Experience becomes even more important in the banking industry because “money” is involved. You put your hard earned money and your trust in a particular bank. It is their duty to ensure protection and care when you need it. Sadly, through personal experience I realized that’s not the case even with some of the best banks in the world. To show you how much of a hassle it is when the main authorities dictate and don’t give the managers the freedom to make decisions, I’d like to share this story with you.

Just like everyone else, we put our trust in one bank. We have been associated with it for 8 years and never faced a problem. When the problem arose, though, it gave us sleepless nights! As a part of our business, we have associates visiting various parts of the world. This particular incident begins in Nairobi, Kenya. The associate was bit worried as it was his first travel to Africa and again the process of getting additional vaccinations “yellow fever vaccine” didn’t make it easy to assuage his nervousness. We issued a prepaid card for him to take care of his expenditure and loaded it with enough money to take care of his T&L expenses.

Once our associate reached Nairobi, he made a few withdrawal transactions at ATM. While the first two went through, the remaining three failed with no money being disbursed by the ATM. Just like you and I, he trusted the bank to take care of it, assuming his money is safe. With the money that he managed to withdraw, he settled in and bought his necessities. When he tried to withdraw more money the next day, he received the shock of his life. He checked his balance and realized it was negative! Now, how could a prepaid card have negative balance? He immediately contacted our HR for a solution. Our HR called the bank and this is where the roller-coaster ride began.

First up, the bank insisted that the person in question (associate) correspond directly. How is that possible? He is in a foreign country with absolutely no money! On top of it imagine someone making international call on customer service IVR numbers and dealing with thousand options before getting a chance to speak with CSR (customer service representative!! When requested that they call the associate instead, they refused. The issue was then escalated to the Relationship Manager. While he was polite, he didn’t really help us. He spoke to me directly after checking with back end IT team and said that the cash withdrawal was approved from their end. This meant that there could only be two conclusions:

  1. The associate withdrew the money but is lying.
  2. The ATM authorization flow indeed failed somewhere in between. In this case, the bank would receive a “reversal” notification from Visa/MasterCard. The money would be reverted to the prepaid card post that. The shocker was this: it could take 45 days for this to happen.

45 days? My associate was supposed to be there in Nairobi only for a month! Also, what would he do without any money now? Somehow, I managed to convince our client in Nairobi to lend our associate some money. Meanwhile, I escalated the issue to the heads at the bank. Sadly, I received the same answer. I was asked to wait. After numerous appeals, requests, and hours at the bank, the Relationship Manager came back into the picture. He spewed a solution that worked in our favor as well as the banks. He suggested that the money be refunded to the account for now after a written affidavit from the company. The affidavit will state that If Visa/MasterCard declares that money was indeed disbursed at ATM, then money will be deducted from our account. I was completely fine with this solution. I was getting an immediate solution! Unfortunately, the heads suppressed him and refused to go by his suggestion.

Twelve days past and with no answer, I was extremely disappointed. I decided to write to the Managing Director of the bank, expressing my dissatisfaction. A six-liner email to the MD resolved my issue within 12 hours! Can you believe that? Bringing this to his notice changed the scenario completely! The money was refunded and I was called to sign the affidavit. Oh yes, this is the solution that the Relationship Manager suggested a week ago! Within 10 days, a notification from Visa/MasterCard confirmed our story and proved that our associate wasn’t lying.

Conclusion? The solution was already there and yet, no one wanted to implement it. A senior official will barely even understand the issue, which is why the official closest to the incident/person (Relationship Manager, in this case) must be given the authority to take these decisions. Heads can always advise but the decision must come from the person closest to the information. Making customer support a culture rather than restricting it to a department is highly recommended. Having learned from this experience, I made changes in my own company so as to never trouble my customers/clients!

Have you faced something similar? Share your experiences as comments!!!!

Abhay Bhargav

Abhay is an Information Security evangelist. He has authored “PCI Compliance, a Definitive Guide” published by CRC Press New York. Abhay is also a regular speaker in Industry events including OWASP, Oracle OpenWorld, JavaOne, ISACA, NASSCOM and so on. He has performed security assessments for enterprises across domains of Banking, ITES and Telecom and also led security assessments for the Payment Card Industry Compliance (PCI-DSS) as a QSA.

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