19 October 2013

USAA Customer Service Highly Rated -- When Weakly Tested

USAA "Why Join USAA?" Web Page Screenshot
In a statistically invalid sample of two, USAA customer service (@usaa_help, reached several times via call center) is zero for two for this customer of more than 20 years. 

Incident 1

In June of 2013, the USAA mobile application was used to make a checking deposit for more than $400. The phone scan worked, the app acknowledged the deposit, and the deposit appeared on the following month's statement. Perfect, right?

Then, almost three months later, USAA notified me that the check would not be honored. Here is the message, delivered via an almost-missed webmail notification (not by paper or text):

First USAA Message

This message is to notify you that the check deposited on 06/20/13 in the amount of $440.25 was not accepted by the issuing bank due to an image error. A new check must be mailed to us (or the original check as long as it is not voided) within five days to avoid a debit to your account.
I immediately phoned the call center to plead for more time. The banks (Citibank issued the original check) had taken nearly three months to identify the problem. Plus, I had a scan of the original check, while not the original, in which the routing number and account number were clearly visible. In addition, I replied to this USAA message requesting additional time to resolve the problem, since it would mean contacting a customer and asking them to cut another check, and to verify that the original one had not been deposited. This was the reply.

Second USAA Message

"Thank you for your message. Unfortunately, we are not able to accept the attached image. We do ask that you either mail the original or a replacement item (with a new check number) can be processed via our Deposit @ Mobile or Deposit @ Home services. If additional time is needed, please contact us after speaking with the check issuer to obtain a time line for a replacement to be made available."
The "attached image" was a copy of my scan of the check -- imperfect, but with the relevant information intact.

So what happened at the call center when I phoned? Both the original CSR and the supervisor to whom I escalated the call refused to extend the time provided to resolve this issue. I was polite -- as mentioned in the blog header, I have worked in a call center and have sympathy for agents -- but both stonewalled me and refused even to consult anyone in the Cash group to see if any separate arrangements could be made. Instead their unhelpful suggestions were, "Why don't you call your customer and tell them you need to have the check in a hurry?" and "Maybe you need to speak with Citibank. It's their check."

To be clear, all I wanted was additional time to cover the check. Despite the offer by email to provide "additional time" if needed, none was given.

Less important, but still a matter of etiquette, USAA did not apologize for waiting nearly three months to bring this matter to my attention. Instead, the Company made their issue with a banking peer my problem.

I'm sparing my readers the tedium of obvious but fruitless replies to USAA's obstinacy.

The "solution," a most inconvenient one, was to wire funds to USAA. In five working days there was no way to fund the account with certainty for the refused check in time. The rigid policy at USAA Bank did not take this into account.

It is now more than a month since the original dialog began. My customer has yet to replace the check, but I do not hold them accountable for this nuisance.

Aside: Interestingly, the customer's check was a "paper eCheck" from Citibank -- i.e., requested online by Citibank's business customer and snail-mailed to me. This is standard practice for outfits like CheckFree when they cannot perform an ACH style funds transfer. 

Incident 2

The other incident was a vehicle repair. After decades of dutifully paying my premiums, when I had a weather-related accident with my 1994 Toyota, I figured I'd pay some of the cost, but not all of the cost of repairs. Wrong. USAA immediately raised my premiums to cover -- within $100! -- the amount of the accident that I did not pay for out of pocket. Net value of insurance? Zero for that accident. After the repair costs were paid for, the premium was restored to its original level.

What happened when I complained to customer service? Got nowhere. The first agent was downright hostile and blamed me for the accident. "You should have been driving more slowly in the snow." (The accident was caused by a downhill slide on a snow-covered street. The snow had fallen while I was having lunch -- at its most slippery.) The supervisor was more understanding, "The other agent never lived in the Northeast and doesn't understand about snow."

But there was no budging on the "adjustment."

"There's nothing we can do," the supervisor said.

"So, I am to get auto insurance with USAA in order to avoid a major cost when I have an accident, but when I do have one, you want me to pay for all of it?" I asked.

"This amount is what the adjuster believes you should pay," I was told.

Evaluate Customer Service When Out-of-Band Events Occur

USAA will probably continue to be listed (e.g., ASTD's "Learn from the Best") as one of the best managed firms in many B-school textbooks. But most likely by those who have not interacted deeply with the organization -- in ways that taxed their routine systems and procedures.

Twitter: @usaa_help @usaa @askciti

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