Lose the Lines | Authenticity in Customer Service

Throw away the script

A simple trip to the drive-through ATM should only take a few minutes. A couple of months ago I stopped by my local Wachovia to make a deposit. The cars were backed up worse than the Chick-Fil-A next door is during lunch. I remembered it was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and the ATM machine had recently been replaced with an envelope-free deposit function. If people were as clueless as I was the first time I used it, I knew I’d be there for a while. I figured it might be quicker to park and go in, so I did.

Several people had the same bright idea so the line was at least 10 people long. There were three tellers handling the line, which did not get any shorter after 10 minutes. I noticed the Branch Manager making small talk with one of the people in line. Again, it was the Friday before a long weekend and he looked as relaxed as the fit of the jeans he was wearing. He continued to pace back and forth along the length of the line, with a saunter that seemed to tout “I’m in charge here”.

I continued to look at the line, look at the empty teller stands, and back at the manager…as if to signal nonverbally, “Um, hello…would you like to pitch in and help?” We caught eyes a couple of times, and still he paced. Having grown up in NY I typically have no problem speaking up, but I decided to hold back my urge to see how long he would continue his pointless pacing. Besides, I wasn’t in a major hurry…I was just amazed by the blatant display of hierarchy.

When I finally got up to the counter I was greeted by a young woman who said “Welcome back to Wachovia…what can I assist you with today?” As the words left her mouth it was as if they screamed, “I have to say this…he’s watching.” Despite my frustration with the long wait, I looked the woman in the eyes and smiled. I wanted her to know that I saw through the script, and knew she was capable of a much more authentic greeting.

By the time I left, the manager had made his way back to his desk, adjacent the front entrance. “Thank you for choosing Wachovia…you have a great day”, he said as I reached for the door handle. I turned to him, shot him the look of disbelief, and walked out.

Not again!

A few weeks later I found myself back at the bank to make a deposit. The drive-through lanes were once again backed up so I went inside. Déjà vu. The line was wrapped around the standing divider, and the branch manager was pacing. I also noticed another woman behind the counter with a clipboard. In theory, she could’ve been making notes on the activity of the tellers, but her face looked like she was doodling. Either way, my attention quickly shifted back to the manager who was now handing out lollipops to children.

In that moment, I wanted to forgive the guy for being so unhelpful…but then my mind shouted, “Priorities?!…help the adult customers…and let the parents be the Chief Candy Officers.”

This time I was welcomed to the counter by a young man who had perfected his corporate script to a point that made me cringe. Part of me wanted to hand him a lollipop and say “good boy!” (in a peppy yet sarcastic voice). But this was not his fault. He was doing his job; and from a corporate performance appraisal perspective…a darn good one. Plus, I wasn’t irritated at him; I was irritated at his boss…his boss’ boss…the whole concept that customer service had become so robotic. Yes, there should be guidelines and suggested phrases, but for love of authenticity…let people be who they are! Create a culture where people smile and engage with customers in a genuine way.

This time I said something to the teller before leaving. I told him that I appreciated his assistance but that I was surprised to see that the branch manager was doing nothing to help out the line. A look of fear came to his face as he seemed to struggle with how to respond. Chances are he agreed with me, yet if he did, he could get in a lot of trouble. I didn’t want that to happen, so I quickly said “thank you again” and walked away. In the periphery I could see that the manager was close enough to have overheard me and was now walking towards the door with me. He said, “Thank you again for your patience, come see us again soon.” I turned around, again with the look of disbelief, and this time shook my head to further convey the expression.


Earlier today I was on the phone with my sister as I pulled up to the ATM. I was thrilled to see there was no line, only to find a big ‘out of order’ sign when I got up to the screen. I parked the car and went inside, still on the phone. Just as I was about to end my call (as to not be one of those annoying people) I saw how long the line was. I debated staying on the call as a distraction. Just then the Branch Manger looked right at me and said, “Are any of you simply making a deposit?” I interrupted my sister, hung up the phone and said, “I am!” He said, “Come on over and I’ll get you out of here in two minutes.”…and HE DID. He also apologized and clarified that someone had shoved an envelope into the envelope-free machine.

I’m pretty certain that he remembered me, and I even sensed a vibe of benevolence from him. I looked him in the eyes, smiled, and told him that he had made my day. Perhaps he was concerned that I was a ‘secret shopper”…perhaps he had gotten similar feedback to mine…or maybe, just maybe, he had begun to more authentically value his staff and customers, over his position of authority. I prefer to believe the latter. As crazy as it may sound, I am truly looking forward to my next visit to the bank.

When we authentically engage with our colleagues and clients, the energy of support and collaboration becomes exponential. We are all individually gifted people. The jobs we hold should not define or control us. Take pride in what you do…and if you can’t, choose to do something that will make you proud.

Enjoy the weekend!