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A New Concept for All Customer Service Departments: It's Not Business-It's Personal

It seems the gods were on my side last week. I have been known to gripe a lot about things that don't work. Now I'm singing the praises of Corporate America, but not AIG, Investment Banks, and Madoffian Terrors. This is about the customer service reps who work for Corporate America. They take a personal interest in their work as well as their "clients."

It seems the gods were on my side last week. I have been known to gripe a lot about things that don't work. Now I'm singing the praises of Corporate America, but not AIG, Investment Banks, and Madoffian Terrors. This is about the customer service reps who work for Corporate America. They take a personal interest in their work as well as their "clients."I would be less than gutsy if I hid their identity so here goes:

1. American Express For decades, I've heard people (colleagues and relatives) tell their gripes about this credit card company, even though as a "Member Since 62," I couldn't relate. My only contact with customer service was to report a few suspected duplicate charges. Their response was, "Don't pay the dupe and we'll take care of it." They did, and in some cases the merchant never responded, but AmEx still sided with me. My company is also a merchant, so last week I called AmEx for an explanation of a change that I received in the mail, but frankly, I could not understand. When I called, I asked the lady to tell me if I had to pay more or less. She took over, for my benefit, even though I don't like people who take over. She reviewed my account, asked a few questions about my trade, such as whether I have walk-in customers and swipe their cards, and then came back with the sweet news. "I can transfer you to a different class of account and thereby save you money. Ignore the letter. This is better for you." She proved it because she had my business stats and disclosed the savings in dollars and cents on an annual basis. I was thrilled, not with the savings, but with the idea that this lady cared enough about the little guy. We talked for a while and I think we're going out to dinner on Saturday at Mercury (that's the chef who Laura didn't hire for the White House job). I didn't know where the call center was located, but it certainly wasn't Bangalore. Just kidding about the dinner date. I'm really going with my wife.

2. T-Mobile Free offers, but what's the catch? There were none. After receiving a free month for loyalty, I had to call to get the "fine print." I thought it was my brother who answered. He told me his name, and wanted to know what he could call me. He verified the free month and also took me to a better fixed rate so I wouldn't have to pay for extra minutes which he noticed on the current bill. He gave back the charge for the extras. Money in my pocket. Somewhere during the transaction he mentioned he had been married for 46 years. I was tempted to tell him the same number of years for me, but I feared the conversation would never end. When it did end, he apologized, just a tiny bit, for his sense of humor. I told him to hold on to it until the economy recovers. It's the best medicine you can take. If his company's name were Al-Quaeda, I'd still do business with Frank. It's personal. How can you not like a guy who has loved his wife that long.

3. U.S. Government I can only speak about agencies I do business with-IRS, U.S. Mint, SEC and Global Online Enrollment System (GOES). The IRS is my favorite government agency, probably because it is my client as well, but mostly because of its efficiency. This year, my CPA discovered a reason for a corporate refund on a prior year's return. All I did was sign the return and mail it. Then I received a notice from the IRS with a caveat-You'll get the check only after we investigate any outstanding obligations not paid. The very next day I got the check. Was that an online investigation or what? And what an attractive check it was, colorful, picturesque, accurate and how about instant credit when deposited. The SEC is another efficient and human agency. But I know only one person there, April Keyes. You see, I tell her about my relationship with the 23 publicly traded companies in Automation in Banking. My notices are innocent, namely that I do not own stock in any of the companies, but she sends my letters to an investor assistance specialist. I know because she always answers my letters. I have a file to prove it.

4. Bank Tech Companies I'm partial to Fiserv, Fidelity National Information Services, Metavante, Jack Henry & Associates, Harland Financial Services and COCC. I've been dealing with their people for decades. On occasion, I meet their customer service reps. There are at least two reasons why they are good at what they do: 1) they know their customers, and 2) and the tech solutions those customers use. I suppose I'll hear about the exceptions now, but generally speaking, customer service reps at these companies take their business personally. Many of them have had the same jobs that their callers have, so resolution is what they deliver.

Customer service has got to be personal. When a customer's call isn't resolved, a good CSR is going to feel the pain big time. The company won't feel a thing.

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