Over the past few years, the banks have stood accused of piling on bank fees, reducing branches and staff, and generally treating their customers with contempt. While this has been happening, they’ve focussed on their most profitable customers, rewarding them with shiny cards, priority phone lines, and something close to obsequiousness.
Having got a home loan (which actually kicks in next Thursday when settlement occurs), I have been elevated into St George’s Gold client list. I thought they were polite before, being an up-and-coming smaller bank keen to gain customers, but ho boy, they’ve been out-doing themselves now they’ve realised how much interest revenue I’ll be pouring into their coffers.
They’ve given me a special phone number to ring for enquiries, so I can bypass the pleb phone number. There’s no queues, the operators actually know what they’re doing, and if in the rare event they need to put you on hold, the hold music is actually listenable. I rang yesterday to enquire about a couple of things, and the lady immediately swung the taskforce-like resources of the Gold section into action, getting a credit card activated on the spot, guiding me through the web site to find the PDF form I needed to change an account setting, telling me to write “URGENT REQUEST” on the top of it, and personally telling the people in the accounts section to “go look at their fax machine — there’s a Gold customer waiting for a response, dammit!”
And they’ve given me a special gold ATM card. A replacement for the rather plain looking red one they only gave me a few weeks ago. It’s got the secret phone number on it.
They phoned me up to let me know to collect my special gold card, and to say I should switch my dull black plain Visa card (with a $30 annual fee) for a Gold one (with no fee, for life). What time would be convenient for you? 3pm? See you then!
I got to the bank, and the bloke I had an appointment with was chatting to another customer. Virtually before I could blink, he handballed her piffling query to someone else, and offered me a seat, apologising for even being occupied when I happened to walk in the door.
He handed over my new ATM card, and attempted to get my plain Visa upgraded to Gold Visa. When the computer said No, he rang the Gold commandos, then the personal credit section, to get it sorted out, all the while telling whoever he got on the phone that he had a Gold customer sitting with him, so drop whatever you’re doing and fix this, now.
Someone put him on hold. As I sat there, rather bemused by it all, I could see the sweat, feel the fear, that he had this Gold customer sitting waiting. After ten minutes on hold (apologising all the while) he hung up and tried to get it fixed by phoning up somebody else. As he rang around the various departments of the bank, I could imagine various staff dropping whatever it was they had been doing. “Gold customer in trouble! Override the computer! Stat!”
His frustration grew. At one stage he told another staff member: “Well the computer won’t let me do it. I just want to know if someone there can override it, or if I have to cancel the card and apply for a new one, which to me seems like a waste of the bank’s time and the customer’s time.”
Eventually he suggested I come back another time, and he’d have it sorted out. He rang back later to say it had been done, I just needed to come back in to sign a form. When would be convenient? Not Friday… Friday is casual day at work, and if I’m going to be treated as a Gold customer, I probably need to look the part. I’m going back in on Monday. I think I’ll wear my best suit.
Earlier, on my way up to the bank, I had passed a homeless man. Sprawled on the pavement by a rubbish bin outside the Novotel, as better-dressed people, including myself, passed him by. An outcast, he lay on the bluestone, ignored by those present on the street, and by society at large.
The Man is courting me in pursuit of dollars. Many others are treated like dirt by The Man. And for The Man, some just don’t exist at all.