My Customer Service Experience with Washington Mutual
Note: The names of the Washington Mutual customer service employees I spoke to have been changed to respect their privacy.
On June 20, I began the checking account application process on the Washington Mutual website, www.wamu.com. I spent about 30-40 minutes reading through the options and inputting my data, including all of my personal information (SSN, address, email, DL number, etc.) I even read through the terms and gave WaMu my current bank account information so that my opening deposit could be transferred to Washington Mutual. I completed all of these steps successfully and watched the bar at the top of my screen show progress as I moved through each page, ostensibly saving the information. It indicated that I was nearly done. Then, when I reached the point at which I was supposed to select a user name and password for online banking, I tried to submit that information and received an a WaMu-branded error message stating that Washington Mutual was having technical problems (i.e. there was no problem with MY connection or MY computer).
Concerned that I had just provided all my personal data to Washington Mutual and unsure of what to do to complete my in-progress application, I phoned the appropriate WaMu customer service phone number on the website (866.236.7766). I spoke with a haughty representative named “Diane” who barely even let me finish describing the problem before cutting me off and insisting that I would need to speak to a different customer service department of Washington Mutual’s banking area. She was so aggressive and combative that she elevated my ire. For whatever reason, apparently the customer service representatives who open checking accounts by phone aren’t also capable of addressing checking accounts opened via the web. It’s not like I called the insurance department about a money market account or the savings account department about a mortgage question, butÃ¢Â?Â¦.fine. Inconvenient, but fine. I’m sure Washington Mutual saves money by overspecializing their customer service staff in such a manner.
Customer service guru “Diane” cold-transferred me to a queue and didn’t even tell me which number to press. I’m familiar enough with customer service IVR systems to know that they’re like quicksand: the more you struggle to get out, the more you sink into wrong menus. Rather than get to the wrong place again or risk pressing “0” and getting a clueless general WaMu operator, I called the 866.236.7766 number again and spoke to a “David” (who was probably the only semi-helpful customer service represemtative I spoke to out of four – count’em, four – WaMu employees). He explained that it should have been a direct queue and that I should not have had to press any options. He transferred me correctly, and I got to speak to someone in the right realm of Washington Mutual customer service – finally.
Then, as I described the problem to this representative, “Melinda,” she indicated that the system was down and that WaMu did not have any record of my application. I questioned why it would let me proceed through the whole checking account opening process and then tell me the system is down at one of the final steps. Did it *just* go down, I wondered? That would’ve been more understandable. But she was unapologetic and said that she just didn’t have an answer. Frustrated by this – and the previous rude interactions with customer service – I requested to speak with someone who had an answer better than “I don’t know.” I was patched through to supervisor “Sarah.”
This manager let me explain my situation and then double-checked to see if there was any record of my in-progress application by asking for my social security number (which I reluctantly provided, hoping it would help). She indicated that there wasn’t any account for me in their system and that I would need to reapply.
Further elucidating, she stated that Washington Mutual was not actually having trouble with the beginning process for new checking accounts but that the login part of the WaMu banking website – a required step in applying – was down. In other words, the customer service department *knew* that one little piece of the account opening process (near the end, no less) was broken, but they still let users commence the rather time-consuming ordeal of opening an account online. I signaled that, while I understood what she was describing, it was even more frustrating. If WaMu knew that one of the final steps of the application wasn’t working, why on earth would they ever let someone even begin signing up in the first place? Why not just throw up a block to prevent people like me from starting until the whole shabang is functional?
I suggested that many other financial institutions save application information after each step and that I was expecting Washington Mutual to do the same. Maybe I could have received an automated customer service email stating that my application was in progress but incomplete, to come back later and finish, etc.? The manager said, rather robotically in my opinion, that she would mention that suggestion to a technical team. As if no one had ever thought of the idea before? Come on, Washington Mutual.
I also expressed concern that I had provided a life’s worth of personal data to the Washington Mutual servers and that all of it was accepted until this near-final step. I said something like “I’m sure you can understand why this would cause a new WaMu customer concern about the security of their information.” She basically dismissed that by saying that they definitely didn’t have any of my information. While that may be true, I encouraged “Sarah” to look at the situation from a customer’s (or prospective customer’s) angle:
The bank knows that a critical part of their website is down, but yet they let people submit their data freely until they get to that point? It doesn’t bode well for customer service – it’s like letting people shop in your store and then saying, “We knew that our registers were completely broken before we let you in the door, but we allowed you to shop here anyway. There’s no way to check out, so leave everything and start over later. We don’t care that you’ve just spent 30 minutes filling your buggy. And we’re not going to be sympathetic, either.”
And that was perhaps my BIGGEST problem with the whole incident. It was not that Washington Mutual had a temporary technical failure with their website or even that I would’ve had to re-enter all my information again. I could have forgiven that, although it was annoying. What I couldn’t forgive is the manner in which I was treated by the WaMu customer service staff. I told the manager that, after experiencing this much frustration, I was inclined to just select a different financial institution. What I heard was shocking!!
Of all the possible responses under the sun, I was told: “Then go ahead and do that, sir.” She made no attempt to save me as a prospective customer. There was nothing on her part to demonstrate any real concern. I don’t know if it’s Washington Mutual’s customer service policy never to apologize, but I couldn’t believe she was so dismissive. I never used profanity, I never degraded her, and I never did anything to deserve that kind of go-elsewhere response.
The very moment this customer service manager told me to go ahead and open an account at a different bank was the very moment I decided to do just that. Up to that point, I had still been willing to become a Washington Mutual customer.
There were so many different customer service responses I could have gotten from Manager “Sarah” at this moment:
“Is there anything we can do to change your mind?”
“We’re sorry that you couldn’t open an account online, but we’d be happy to have someone take your application over the phone right now.”
“I’m really sorry for all your frustration. I can give you a call back to let you know when our system is working again.”
Those are just a few of the much friendlier and more helpful things she could’ve said to me. After all, as a manager, isn’t she supposed to model a good attitude and excellent service for her staff? Had she done so, I probably would have softened up and stuck with my initial choice of WaMu. Now, not only will I never open a personal checking account with Washington Mutual, but my small business finances certainly won’t be transitioned to WaMu. And I won’t select them as my student loan institution, either. And so on.
I hope Washington Mutual sees that, just because a customer is only opening a piddly little free checking account, it doesn’t mean they’re not interested in other services down the road (or that they won’t readily share their customer service experiences with other prospective account openers, as I’m doing now).
For as bright and happy as WaMu’s blue-and-gold logo is and for as clean and customer-oriented as their branches seem, such slickness appears to be nothing more than disheartening puffery.
So, I say: “Wa…FU.”