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Monday, October 29, 2007

Aggression breeds aggression

On August 3, I went to my bank to deposit checks from my private practice. The deposit that day included a check from Blue Cross/Blue Shield in the amount of $127.50. I was going to trade in my car the next day, so my car was completely cleaned out and I had the deposit on the seat beside me on the way to the bank. If the check had fallen out of the deposit, it would be obvious in my very clean car. I was absolutely clear that every check listed in the deposit was actually in the deposit envelope.

On August 6, I received notice from the bank that the deposit was $127.50 short so they subtracted $127.50 from my account. I called the bank and explained that I was sure the check for $127.50 was in the deposit. They said they could not check on it for me and I would have to provide a copy of the canceled check from Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

I asked what I suppose were amusing questions of the person to whom I was speaking.
  • Did the bank not come up out of balance by $127.50 when they closed the books on August 3?
  • Is it possible they dropped the check on the floor of the bank?
  • All Blue Cross checks are the same size and shape and was it possible that the check stuck to the back of another?

I also have a bank account at USAA which has its only stand alone bank in Austin, Texas. With customers all over the country, for the last year, USAA has encouraged deposit by home computer. In this method, I scan the deposit into my computer and send the image to USAA. After receiving the front and back of the check via scan, USAA instructs me to shred the check. In other words, they keep a scan of the check but are not interested in the actual check.

Because of my experience with USAA, I imagine that Wachovia keeps images or checks rather than the actual checks. So I asked my bank in Atlanta if they would have shredded the check and thus wouldn't have a record of it in my deposit. While they didn't directly answer that question (which said to me that they did shred the checks) they said, "Can you imagine how much time it would take us if WE had to find the missing check? We have to ask you to find it."

So far this conversation left me wondering how/if the bank actually balances its books each night???

So I got off of the call with Wachovia and called Blue Cross and Blue Shield. They told me they could not send me a copy of the check for two weeks until they could know for sure that the check had cleared. I waited the two weeks and called on August 23. Blue Cross (after keeping me on hold for a while) said the check had cleared and they would fax me a copy of the front and back of the check as soon as they could.

On August 27, I received the fax of the check from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. To their credit the cover letter on the fax said, "Sorry it took so long to get this to you."

I called Wachovia who would not allow me to fax them the check photo, but insisted that I send it by letter to them.

I wrote the following letter to Wachovia, dated September 6, one month after the original deposit:

Re: Dispute # CGxxxxxxx

Dear Mr. S.....:

Enclosed please find:

1. Your ATM debit adjustment of 8/6/2007 subtracting the $127.50 amount of a Blue Cross check to me included in my deposit of 8/3/2007

2. The fax from Blue Cross of the copy of the check number 4xxxxxxx which was cashed by Wachovia, processed through Bank of America on 8/8 and NOT credited into my account

3. A copy of your letter advising me that I will have to find the check to prove your mistake.

I would appreciate it if you would immediately credit my account with the $127.50 that someone at Wachovia failed to credit to my account and possibly credited to someone else's account.

I have not had use of that money for more than 30 days and I think you should also pay me interest for the 33 days when I have not had that money available to me.


Linda Tillman

Several days passed and the money was still not back in my account. I called and was told that the letter hadn't been processed yet. Finally on September 19, three weeks after I wrote my letter, the money was still not in my account.

I called and spoke to someone in their (as Clark Howard says) "customer no-service department" who said she would "research" the problem. She came back on the line and said that she had found the letter and had no idea why the money had not been credited. She put me on hold again. Again, when she returned she said the money would be returned that day. I said I wanted two months of interest. I also asked to speak to whoever she was speaking to when she left me on hold. "That won't be possible," she said.

The minute I got off of the phone, the Internet page for my account at Wachovia showed that the $127.50 had been returned to my account. By that evening the $127.50 had been returned two times to the account. Three days later (do they ever balance their books?) I suppose they realized the double correction of their error. Instead of owning and respectfully dealing with the problem, they wrote me a letter explaining that they could not find my deposit in question and therefore were removing the provisional credit of $127.50!

I felt aggressively treated from the beginning. The last letter was the icing on the cake for treating me aggressively and badly.

Aggression makes a person feel like being aggressive back. I now make my deposits and staple all of the checks and deposit slip together with three or four staples. In addition, I always put a note (stapled with the rest) on top of the stack that says:

This deposit contains 16 checks.
Please credit all 16 checks to this deposit.

It's angry and aggressive, I know. Every phone call I made to Wachovia was respectfully handled by me. My letter is a very assertively written letter.

In spite of my handling the problem assertively, I was treated by Wachovia with no respect for my long history at that bank and in the end didn't get an apology, timely treatment or interest for the loss of use of my money, but rather was sent a letter implying that my deposit was inaccurate. So I am responding aggressively, as happens when there is no respect in the interaction.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Checkout Lines

I am not a patient person in the checkout line. I have to struggle not to feel frustrated by the clerk and the people in front of me - not to mention that I have incredibly bad luck. In the checkout line I always get in the line where the checker is in training, where the person ahead of me is counting out her change one penny at a time and drops several coins in the process, where there needs to be a price check.

However, I am always also trying to cram too much into too small a bit of time. Today I had an empty hour between clients and went to buy a present for my grandson. I knew what I wanted and I was in and out of that store in 10 minutes. I was thrilled because I knew in the 20 minutes I had left before going back to the office that I could pick up something I needed at Michaels.

So I parked and ran into Michaels. I had what I needed in about five minutes. Then I went to the checkout and there was a line of six people waiting to check out and a problem with the first customer. I stood in line while two of the six people checked out. Meanwhile the line behind me had grown by three. I'm looking at my watch - I have to be in the office in 10 minutes and it's about a 7 minute drive from the store.

A checker signaled to the woman in front of me to move to a new checkout line. In essence the checker had visually divided the line in half and signaled the woman at the number 4 position in our line to move to her newly opened checkout.

I said, "Ma'am, are you opening another line?" The checker looked at me and nodded yes.

I left my line and moved to the new line, behind the woman I had been behind originally. The man behind me in the first line said loudly and with a contemptuous tone, "Actually HE was next in line," pointing to the man who was (now that the woman had moved to the new line) in front of me in the original line.

When someone makes a loud comment in public like that the usual goal is to shame the recipient of the comment. However when someone is in effect insulting you, a powerful assertive technique is to agree with the truth.

I looked the speaker in the eye and said, "You're right, he was ahead of me." I then looked and the man who was about to check out in line one and said pleasantly and with a smile on my face, "Sir, would you like to come over here, ahead of me?"

He shook his head no and smiled at me really big as he began the checkout process in the original line while I waited for my turn in the new line.

From an assertive point of view, this went well. I owned the possibility that the man ahead of me was in fact next; I offered the place to him; he and I had a nice smiling interaction and the insulter in the original line was left without the power of putting me down successfully.

Oh, and to continue my bad luck, the woman in front of me in the new line had a problem with her purchases and left in the middle of checking out to go back to the racks for something else, holding up the line yet again!

I did make it back to the office just as the clock turned to the hour.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Girl Scouts and Assertiveness

If you think like a Girl or Boy Scout, then assertiveness is much easier. The basic rule of scouting is "Be Prepared."

If you have thought in a "Be Prepared" way, then most instances in which you wish to be assertive can be quite easy.

For example, on Thursday I went to Michael's and bought some materials I needed for a scrapbook I am making. While there I noticed some really attractive reading glasses on a display. The glasses were stronger in magnification as you went down toward the floor on the display. I went down to the row that was for my strength; picked out a pair that I liked; and checked out of the store.

On the way back to the office at a red light, I pulled out my new reading glasses and before opening the package, I realized that they were not the right strength for me. I left the glasses, receipt, and bag from Michael's in my car so that I could easily return to the store.

Today I stopped at Michael's and reached over into the passenger seat for my "Be Prepared" needs for this assertive interaction. I had the item to be returned, the receipt and if there were any doubt, it was still in the bag from the purchase.

I walked into the store and said to an available clerk: "I bought these in here on Thursday and they are the wrong strength. I have the glasses unopened in the package and my receipt. I really like the glasses so I simply want to return to the display and get the right strength."

The clerk said, "Fine - just leave the receipt and purchase here with me."

I went back to the display; got the proper strength glasses; and walked back up to the clerk who was finishing checking someone out as I arrived. Within moments she had exchanged the glasses and I was out the door.

It pays to be prepared to increase the effectiveness of an assertive interaction.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Branding is taking a stand

In my classes I teach that one way we are assertive, known as a soft assertion, is to wear a t-shirt with a slogan on it like "Save the Whales." People see that and react without requiring anything of the wearer.

When a company names itself, it is taking a stand as well. Today on the way to work I passed an advertising sign in a yard that said:

"Yellow Ribbon Expert Tree Removal."

I had fun amusing myself with what that sign asserted by implication:

  • We remove trees but feel really bad about it and wish so much that we could bring them back quickly
  • We remove trees and feel so wistful about their being gone that we have a reforestation program

  • We remove the trees in Atlanta with yellow ribbons on them because we are FOR the war in Iraq
  • We aren't blue ribbon, aren't red ribbon, but if you want a third rate tree removal company, call us - the yellow ribbon group
  • We are a patriotic, George Bush supporting tree removal company (and of course, don't call us, if you are negative about the war)

Obviously I'm responding tongue in cheek but since so many possibly negative or biased interpretations are possible, they probably needed some consultation before choosing that brand as their name!