What Good Customer Service Looks Like

For most of my life I’ve worked in some sort of customer service capacity. My first job was for a sandwich shop called Togo’s and from there I’ve worked in phone centers and HR (which, IMO, is best approached as a customer service role). The only time I technically didn’t work in customer service was four years I worked in government, but since it was a publicly-facing office (the elections department), I think it’s pretty close. Good customer service is very important to me, not just as a customer, but also as an employee. Good customer service can make or break a person’s relationship with you and can mean the difference in a bad situation improving or getting worse (or, at the very least, managing it in a positive fashion that makes the situation tolerable, even if it doesn’t get better).

Something I haven’t talked about on here is that my wife and I have been in the process of buying a home. This will be the second house she’s purchased, the first for me, and the process has been, in a word, intimidating. Thankfully, my wife has a lot of experience with this as she used to sell homes for a living as a real estate agent and so I’ve been relying on her to take the lead on this whole thing and I’ve been doing what I can to support her.

While I don’t normally like to talk about particular aspects of my personal life, such as finances, I’m going to bend that rule a little bit for this story. You see, we’re using an old IRA account I had from a previous job as a down payment (first-time home purchases being one of the few exceptions to withdrawing IRA money early without a tax penalty). We did some looking, found some houses we liked, put an offer on one, which wasn’t accepted, got over the disappointment, and then made an offer on a second house. That one stuck.

Considering how important the money in my IRA account was to the process, I’ve been very paranoid about it. Paranoid about investing that money because I could lose it, nervous about that money being tied up in investments possibly making it difficult for me to get when it came time to pay up. The IRA was through Capital One’s Sharebuilder service and, after multiple calls, I was assured I could get the money easily with a little bit of prior notice.

So when our offer for the house was accepted we needed to move quickly (we were doing a short escrow). I called Sharebuilder, put in the orders to sell what investments I had, and waited for the sell orders to close, which happened that same night. The next day, toward the end of the business day, I logged into the website to submit the request for the distribution to send that money to my personal bank account (so that we could then in turn give it to someone else). As I was doing this Michelle called me.|

Her: Hey, you heading home soon?
Me: Yeah, I’m just taking care of the distribution.
Her: Awesome, when will that be done?
Me, reading from the confirmation page which was loading as we talked: “Your distribution request was received and will be completed on June 1st.” What…
Her: June 1st?

Now, with all my skill in writing I don’t think I can adequately describe to you the tone of her voice except that every person married has heard it. It’s the tone that says, “Something is wrong, it may or may not be your fault, but you need to fix it and you need to fix it now.”

Me: Calling them right now to find out what’s going on.
Her: Good. Bye.

I called up Sharebuilder, spoke to one guy, explained my situation, and I can say he seemed to get my concern very clearly and took it seriously. Sharebuilder is set up into a couple of different groups so he forwarded me over to the people who handle IRAs. I spoke to a woman named Elise, explained again my situation, and, again, she took my concerns to heart. She did a little bit of digging and discovered that Sharebuilder had given me some money as a promotion for being a good client, but that money was tied up and couldn’t be accessed until June 1st. She spoke with her manager and let me know the fix was simple: cancel the distribution, then resubmit the distribution for the amount of my account minus $300. That worked like a charm and the distribution would be processed the next day as I had originally intended. Throughout the call she was understanding and took the time to explain what was going on.

Me: Thank you so much, I can’t tell you the amount of panic I was in. I mean, can you imagine that conversation with my wife, that we weren’t going to be able to get the money to buy the house we found?
Elise: You’re buying a house?
Me: Yeah, doing the first-time home buyer exemption. We just had our offer accepted and we’re in escrow.
Elise: Congratulations, that’s exciting.
Me: Thank you, Elise, you’ve made me and my wife very happy. You helped us buy a house tonight.
Elise: Awwww.

That was on a Friday. I think it was Tuesday when I came home and Michelle was standing by our kitchen, holding a small envelope for me.

Me: What’s that?
Her: Just look at it. You’re going to like it.

I took the envelope from her and the return address, written by hand, said Sharebuilder. I took out the card.


I opened the card.


I don’t know if Elise did that on her own or if that’s something that Sharebuilder does, but either way that right there is excellent service. Even if she hadn’t included the gift card, that little personal touch, in addition to what she did on the call, pretty much made me a customer of theirs for life.

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2 Responses to What Good Customer Service Looks Like

  1. idiodysseus says:

    Awesome story, Matt. Congratulations on the new home!

    Customer service is something that too many big corporations have let slide for too long, as they emphasize the bottom line. As customer service is difficult to quantify, it receives too little attention. Randy Pausch in his book The Last Lecture relates a nice little anecdote about his visiting Disney Land as a kid, and how the customer service he received helped make him a Disney fan for life.

    What are you gonna buy with that gift card?

    • mattmarovich says:

      Well, if there’s one thing that DL does well, it’s customer service. Our recent experiences at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim pretty much have ruined me on any of the other places around the park.

      $50, but most likely house stuff. Houses are expensive, yo.

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