Unless you're stuffing your money under a mattress, you probably have a bank account. Chances are you've probably also set foot in a bank. If you're still nodding your head so far, you might agree with me when I tell you that customer service at most banks is abysmal.
Years ago, when I had an account at TrollBank, I was one of the first to sign up for their new investment brokerage service. When other banks were offering savings accounts with 0.15% yearly gains, they touted an impressive 5% yield. My interest piqued, I went for their bait and swallowed the hook whole.
It turned out that the brokerage arm was in fact a wholly-owned subsidiary of the parent bank. They had similar names. TrollBank, the parent banking company, had spawned TrollBanque, an investment house. Both entities were so interrelated that they shared retail space -- every standalone TrollBank sectioned off a portion of its office space to TrollBanque. In fact, the TrollBanque investment specialist had access to my deposit accounts from his computer. He was rather eager to wire funds from TrollBank checking account into my brand-new TrollBanque investment fund.
Despite the companies' symbiotic relationship, they were two separate entities. No employee of TrollBank could be said to also be an employee of TrollBanque, and vice versa. This all became painfully apparent when I needed to withdraw my invested funds. Although the investment specialist did not hesitate to oblige, the money was slow in coming. A week went by and my demand account at TrollBank was not funded. Flat broke and with the rent coming due soon, I was getting desperate.
I paid a visit to my local TrollBank and pulled the supervisor aside. When I told her of the problems with my investment account, she cut me off and directed me to the TrollBanque supervisor, whose office was the next door over. I sat for an hour with the supervisor for TrollBanque, whose only recommendation was that I speak with the TrollBank supervisor, the lady with whom I'd first spoken, but by then she'd already gone out to lunch.
Frustrated and without an inkling as to where my money had gone, I stormed out of TrollBank and dialed their customer service hotline. A plan was forming in my mind like craggy thunderheads priming up for a storm. After navigating their labyrinth of an automated phone menu, I was patched through to "Steve." By his accent I knew that he was speaking from somewhere on the other side of the world, and also that his name was not really Steve.
When "Steve" could not help me, I escalated the call. After another eternity on hold, a brusque man with a thick Boston accent came on the line. He said the money had been held up due to an accounting technicality. This was a lie, I knew, as TrollBank was likely holding onto my cash for a few more days to make money off of it. Banks don't simply forget where they put their customers' money.
The man's voice went up an octave as though he'd uncovered a leprechaun's buried gold.
"Oh hey," he said. "It looks like you made some interest on your money these past few days." His pitch dropped. "Not much though."
I could picture him rolling his eyes as he said that last part.
"How much?" I asked.
"Eleven cents. I'll wire it in to your checking account."
"Don't," I said. "My account is closed."
Fingers struck a keyboard on the other end of the line. "No, I see here that your account is still open."
"Send me a check," I insisted.
The man laughed. Discreetly, but still he laughed. "The postage stamp alone is more than the amount of the check."
"All right," the man relented. "We'll send you a check."
The check for eleven cents came the very next day via overnight delivery. Why anyone would spend upward of twenty dollars to express-deliver a check for eleven cents puzzles me to this day.
The day I received it, I tacked the eleven cent check to my refrigerator door. It hung there for weeks like some sort of exotic big-game trophy. In my mind, the eleven cents the check represented held far less value than the check itself. Banks, you see, are highly regulated entities. They have to account for every penny of their customers' money, or else the government comes down on them hard.
For the long string of weeks between when I got the check and when I cashed it, some poor sap at TrollBanque was losing sleep over how the bank's ledgers didn't balance by eleven cents.
That type of satisfaction is worth far more than just a dime and a penny.