Beyond The Call,
Beyond The Call,
DISCRETIONARY EFFORT AND THE CASE OF THE MYSTERIOUS MR UNDERHILL
'The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problem.'
Like many people, I opened a bank account when I was a teenager. I still bank with the same business decades later. Relatively few people switch bank accounts. It is called customer inertia. Or status quo bias, if you are a behavioural economist. Apparently, the statistics say that divorce is more likely than changing your bank. Yet on one occasion my dealings with the bank became so difficult over such an apparently small matter, that I very nearly did this most unlikely of things.
I considered myself a good customer, and I was well served with bank accounts. I already had a current, a business and a savings account. Now, with my work regularly taking me abroad, I decided to open a foreign currency bank account as well. As a long-standing customer the initial process was straightforward and I was quickly allocated an account number. However, when my new cheque book arrived at home, I noticed one surprising feature: it had the name Mr Underhill printed on it. Not Mr Woods. I was mystified.
Never mind, I thought. This will not take long to sort out. So I called customer service:
'Yes it has the correct account number printed on it,' I responded to the bank representative.
'And you received it at your home address?'
'Well you must have filled in the wrong name when you originally completed the paperwork and applied for the account.'
Hmmm. Okay, I hadn't expected the operative to take personal responsibility for the mistake, but I wasn't expecting the bank to blame me either, to the point of suggesting that I had somehow forgotten my own name. And why Underhill, anyway?
Over the next few months I telephoned, emailed, faxed, telephoned, made personal appearances at my bank, and telephoned, all in an effort to fix the issue. Nothing, however, seemed to penetrate the mysterious Kafkaesque procedures of the bank. I couldn't even cancel the account. And in the meantime the letters to Mr Underhill kept arriving ... and arriving.
So there it was. I had apparently reached an impasse. There was nothing for it. Time to bring my long-standing and, until that point, happy relationship with the bank to an end. And then, at last, an epiphany.
I was at the bank where a bank employee was processing a number of transactions for me and, as she went through the process, efficiently and politely, I commented that it was a shame that not everyone in the bank did their job as well. Showing some concern, she asked me if I'd had some issues, and so I explained the difficulties I'd had and the frustration I felt that no one seemed to want to take responsibility.
In just five minutes this helpful person ended six months of unbelievable aggravation. She wasn't sure what had caused the initial error with my new account or of the process required to fix it. She called several departments explaining that Mr Underhill really didn't exist, and she reassured colleagues that common sense should prevail, commenting to them that it was highly unlikely that it was the customer's error.
It wasn't her job, and it certainly wasn't her fault, but she fixed the problem anyway and retained a customer. She went beyond the call of duty. She went the extra mile.
Some months later I was doing some work for the same bank and shared the story with a senior director. He was mortified that their processes had failed and that their staff had let both the business and me down. I told him that he had at least one employee he could be proud of. And I told him her name and where she wor