Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wells Fargo and it's Fees

A San Francisco judge's pwerful ruling ordering Wells Fargo to pay its customers $203 million for manipulating debit transactions to maximize overdraft fees might be just the tip of the iceberg for the bank.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup's 90-page opinion Tuesday described Wells Fargo's motive as profiteering and said the San Francisco-based bank's goal was to "maximize the number of overdrafts and squeeze as much as possible" out of customers. Are we talking banks or loan sharks here? This is customer service at it's worst.

But the hefty tab represents only what Wells owes its California customers. That figure is far smaller than the potential bill from a separate suit in which Wells' clients in other states have accused the bank of the same unfair practices.

That case, consolidated in federal court in Miami, includes similar claims against 30 other lending institutions, including Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, Union Bank and U.S. Bank. Oh my, is another bailout on the way?

The crux of the claims is that the banks processed debit transactions from the largest to the smallest, instead of the order in which they occurred, depleting accounts faster and boosting the number of overdrafts, which cost as much as $35 per transaction. Let's see, $35 X 10,000 transactions adds up to a neat $350,000.

Billions in overdraft fees

Wells Fargo garnered more than $1.4 billion in overdraft fees just in California from 2005 to 2007, according to court documents. Nationwide, banks and credit unions collected almost $24 billion in overdraft fees in 2008, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. Where would banks be without those fees.

Wells Fargo, which continues to follow the "high-low" practice that it has had in place since 1998, said it would appeal Alsup's decision. Wells representatives declined to forecast what the ruling might mean in the Florida matter, other than to say that the California order was not in line with the facts and that the bank's transactions have been "consistent with the laws and rules of governing regulatory authorities."

Richard Heimann, lead attorney for the Wells Fargo customers in California, also is representing plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit in Florida. Heimann said Alsup's order could affect the outcome of that case, even though the judge there is not legally bound to follow it.

"The decision may very well be influential because it was based on a well-regarded justice's review of a full evidentiary record," Heimann said. "There's no doubt that the defendants' lawyers had been waiting to see the outcome of (the California) case and will be concerned about what it will portend for the case in Florida."

Heimann noted that representatives from several banks named in the Florida suit sat in on the California court proceedings. The Florida action is not scheduled to go to trial until the fall of 2011, but its timeline is not affected by Wells Fargo's appeal of Alsup's decision.

As part of his ruling Tuesday, Alsup also found that Wells' improper debit processing was exacerbated by the murky manner in which it explained the practice to customers.

"In shaping the reasonable expectations of its customers, the bank should have prominently disclosed its high-to-low scheme," Alsup wrote. The bank's 'disclosures' on posting order, however, were buried 20-or-so pages into a 60-plus-page document of single-spaced, ten-point font text." He proceeded to say that Wells' internal documents showed that the bank's practices were intentional and meant to generate profit.

Alsup's decision comes just as new federal regulations are set to kick in. They will require banks to obtain customers' permission to provide overdraft protection.

Historically, most banks have automatically provided the service, unless customers opt out. Now, customers who do not agree to the service - and its fees - won't be able to make purchases if they do not have sufficient funds.

On Steven Slater

A pair of Pittsburgh women aboard a JetBlue flight said flight attendant Steven Slater, hailed by some as folk hero, was rude to passengers and instigated the confrontation that resulted in his barreling down an emergency chute from the plane and, ultimately, his arrest.

Marjorie Briskin, 53, told The Wall Street Journal for a story Thursday that Slater blurted out an expletive during an otherwise normal conversation with a passenger over luggage. Marjorie gets her 15 minutes of fame.

Another woman, 25-year-old Lauren Dominijanni, told the Journal that Slater was immediately rude to her. She said he "rolled his eyes at me" when she asked for a wipe to clean up coffee someone spilled on her seat. !5 minutes of fame to Laureen.

The paper quoted Briskin as saying that Slater's conversation about luggage with the as-yet unidentified passenger was normal but turned nasty after Slater said the expletive. "I didn't think she was rude in the least," Briskin said, according to the paper. "It really blew my mind. It was so inappropriate."

Dominijanni said she had asked Slater for napkin to clean up the coffee and that he "rolled his eyes at me and said, 'What?' in a real rude manner." Customer service at it's finest. I have really never seen a situation like this in Oakland or San Francisco airport. I have flown on Delta, TWA, United, American and US Air.

She added that when she pointed to the spilled coffee, Slater responded, pointing to a gash on his head: "No! Maybe when we get in the air! I need to take care of myself first, honey!" Neither woman immediately returned calls from The Associated Press on Thursday. Well, they seem head for another 15 minutes of fame.

Airlines lately have been charging for bags, so savvy customers will try to bring as big a bag aboard to try to squeeze it in the overhead. Cramped seats and long waits don't exactly prepare you for a pleasant flight.

Slater's abrupt exit from the plane almost instantly turned him into an online hero, with many people saying they've dreamed of walking off the job in such a grand fashion. More than 100,000 people had joined a Facebook page supporting his actions. These people on Facebook, do they have a life? a Job? Facebook is smiling for all the free publicity it is getting from this incident.

Slater's ex-wife, Cynthia Susanne, came to his defense Thursday, calling him a consummate flight attendant who would always act in the most appropriate manner. Speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America," Susanne said she did not believe some passengers' suggestions that Slater started the confrontation on Monday, when he exited the parked plane by the emergency chute at New York's Kennedy Airport. Again, 15 minutes of fame for Cynthia on a program that people consistently try to get on for a major issue.

She said Slater was extraordinarily tolerant and patient and added she had not yet spoken to him about the confrontation on the Pittsburgh-to-New York flight. Does that sound familiar when someone flips out? Always the nicest person in the galaxy.

Slater is out on bail after being arraigned on criminal mischief and reckless endangerment charges. We have not heard the last of this. Wait till he gets back into court.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ultimate Customer Service Job Description

If you have always wanted to be a Customer Service Rep, here is what a job description might look like.

General Description:

Interact with customers to provide and process information in response to inquiries, concerns and requests about products and services. Take action to correct any issues.

Main Job Tasks and Responsibilities

* Deal directly with customers either by telephone, electronically or face to face. You may end up talking to over 100 people a day. How does that sound?

* Respond promptly to customer inquiries. Like they want it yesterday.

* Handle and resolve customer complaints. Good buddy, you will get them constantly.

* Perform customer verifications. It will be amusing when you are staring at their driver's license number or social security number and they claim they never gave it to the company. Yeah.

* Process orders, forms, applications and requests. Better not make any mistakes or look out.

* Direct requests and unresolved issues to the designated resource. Whew! At least this one you can punt.

* Keep records of customer interactions and transactions. Probably half of you will not do this most of the time.

* Record details of actions taken. Do it quick, write like Hemingway, edit like AP Stylebook says and get ready to do it again and again.

* Communicate and coordinate with internal departments. Don't make any enemies here.

* Follow up on customer interactions. If you say you will call them back, then CALL THEM BACK.

Education and Experience

* High school diploma, some college preferred. Just do good on the interview.

* Knowledge of customer service principles and practices. Don't worry, they will train you.

* Knowledge of computer applications. As long as you can use the internet you will pick this up.

* Product knowledge of industry. A one sentence answer will do here.

Key Competencies

* Interpersonal skills. This is being able to answer the phone and say "hello, how may I help you?"

* Communication skills, both verbal and written. Can you understand what the caller says?

* Listening skills. Being told what to do by management.

* Problem analysis and problem-solving. As companies like to claim, we do things right the first time, all the time.

* Adaptability. This really means your breaks and lunches may not be to your liking.

* Stress tolerance. Whoa, get ready for this from all points. Customers, management and co-workers.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Are these really Jobs?

Having spent time looking for a position, I came across some unique job offers. Customer service is associated with a company to consumers but what about service to potential employees.

We are not talking about emails involving bank transfers here or winning lotto tickets, but ads on Monster, Career Builder and especially Craig's List where it seems like a daily race to get postings on.

You know the drill, you get an email or call telling you your qualifications are beyond belief and we want to interview you ASAP. It may be a coincidence but sometimes the same posting comes up in different cities under you guessed it different company names. Most of the time they want you to come in today for an interview. You are the player they want. You are LeBron James. Right.

I had one offer where it wasn't exactly explained what I would be doing but I was a perfect fit based on my background. They said to report to a large retail store the next morning where I would be "in training" for eight hours. After some searching on the internet I found out I would sign a paper that would say I would not be paid for the day. No matter how much business I signed. No thanks I told them.

Another was some type of fundraising/membership where you would be trained for three days. Starting with day four if you did not make your quota, you were let go. Terminated if you like that word better.

Here are some red flags to look for when searching for positions online.

1. It has a generic or or vague job title. Customer Service Reps are popular ones.
2. The jobs that indicate that "Telecommuting is Ok". Needless to say this attracts many people and gives them more responses.
3. They fail to list a specific location for the job - i.e. they list no location under the city or area that you are searching.
4. They list a salary or hourly wage that seems too good to be true or too specific like $13.64 - 34.23 / hour. Or guaranteed $2000 a month.
5. They post a job with a title that doesn't match the description.
6. A search for that job title in Google - example "Customer Service Rep Craig's List" and it comes up in many other cities with the exact same job post. Because Craig's List is free - they can easily post the same job post in every city from Oakland to Richmond. From Fremont to Alameda.
7. The description boldly states "No Experience Necessary" but has a promise of high pay.
8. There is no job contact information. A quality job post will tell you who to email or give you a valid company website.
9. A link that is to a home business or multi - level marketing opportunity website. This isn't a JOB - but a business venture. If you were looking for a home business opportunity you would have searched that category.
10. A link that takes you to a job membership site and asks you to register.
11. A quick response to your email inquiry that tells you they have reviewed your resume and you stand head and shoulders above other candidates. At least that makes you feel good.
12. A response to your email inquiry that asks you to sign up for a web-conferencing service so you can be part of a training call.
13. A response to your email inquiry with a name and company that you have trouble locating on Google or Yahoo search.
14. A response to your email inquiry from someone in a foreign country looking to hire people in the United States to handle accounts payable or receivables. How long has this been going on.
15. The same auto response to all of your emails. There isn't a real person at the other end of the email account.

So all in all be careful what you are looking for. Hopefully it won't find you.