One More (5-cent) Check to Solve a Tacky Brand Problem

Don’t Cheap Yourself Out of a Customer

I’ve been trying to get “free” checks from PNC Bank for six weeks. Free, apparently, is a very relative term.

PNC Bank has lost a lot.

Here’s a brief chronology of what happened:

1. Mid-March: Call 800 number to order more checks. On hold, on hold, on hold, automated information, more automated info, more automated info, transferred to a person. Person’s job is to try to get me to pay for expedited shipping (no thanks), shipping with tracking (no thanks). Warns me that checks might get lost.

2. Hang up phone. Figure I’ll never see checks.

3. Mid-April: Hmm… checks never arrive.

4. ┬áMid-April: Local branch manager puts hold on all the checks that were “lost” and reorders checks–jumping numbers.

5. Mid-April: Receive automated letter from PNC Bank saying they won’t send me new checks until I have one more check processed. Seriously, they wrote:

“Based on your current check usage, we estimate that a check reorder will be placed for you once 1 [sic] more checks are processed from this account from the time this letter was mailed to you.”


6. I immediately write a check for cash for $0.05–and go online to look at moving my accounts to USAA.

PNC Bank does one thing very right (and it’s not corporate communications). It invests in its employees.

So I’m in my local bank branch asking them to pry loose my new checks and getting ready to cash my $0.05 check.

They get it. The branch manager isn’t in yet, but her colleague whom I’ve dealt with before completely understands my frustration–from the upsell effort the first time to the auto-generated letter that has me shopping around for a new bank. (And he mentions his own bang-head-on-desk problem with a mobile company.) He looks at my account, and guess what? Apparently my checks are in the mail this time. We’ll see.

The banker realizes I’m a valuable customer. I just wish his bank did.

That PNC Bank invests in its employees might just have saved them a customer. But my feeling about the brand has changed completely. This “free checks” saga has cost me time (which equals money) and a lot of hassle. But it’s cost PNC Bank a valued customer. I may stay (undecided), but I don’t like them anymore.

Every touchpoint is part of your brand experience. Don’t devalue that by spending a lot of time, money, and effort to be cheap.

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Comments ( 3 )

  • Daria:

    It’s this kinda small-minded lack-of-training (i.e., an account officer who really didn’t understand entrepreneurs) that made me give up 30+ years as a customer of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerece (CIBC) and walk out the door and go next door to the TD-Canada Trust branch. (OK, the free iPod Shuffle was a nice part of the deal, but the spousal overunit grabbed that and I haven’t seen it since ).

    It just wasn’t worth my time banging my head against a bureaucratic wall and I was getting tired of training their employees.


    • Hi Lawrence,

      I hear you. The irony here is that the branch-level training is superb (and they are empowered to make decisions), but the corporate-level processes suck. If PNC Bank could scale up what they do so well at the local level then they will have a brand experience worth talking about.

  • Customer touch-points. So important yet so neglected. I know it must have been incredibly frustrating to get this experience. I have to often make my point heard by telling companies/businesses that I would take my business anywhere else. Most of the time, it has got them working .