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Friday, June 15, 2012

They Just. Don’t. Get It! (Sigh!)

Back a few years ago, our local, county-wide bank was bought by a large, out-of-state bank, and one of the first thing “Corporate” did was to install those chrome stands you see in movie theatres, the kind with thick, velvet-covered ropes or chains, to indicate where customers should line up for tellers at the counter. Cries of outrage greeted the innovation. We are not livestock! We don’t need to be herded through cattle chutes! We know how to wait our turn! Things reverted to the way they were before, and everyone calmed down. This year “Corporate,” guided by “Marketing,” has made many more changes, most of them pointless, some of them downright irritating.

For starters, work by local artists was banished from the walls and replaced by promotional posters for the bank. (Why all the strenuous effort to sell what people are already buying?) All branch offices were painted in tones of beige and green, a new logo appeared on the outside of the bank, and the doors sprouted new green Lucite handles. When I went to the bank in Leland one morning, I was asked, “Do you feel like you’re in Northport? Because that’s the aim.” The aim of all this branding and homogenizing, I guess: make every branch feel like every other branch. Well, let’s get something straight. When I’m in Northport, I want to know I’m in Northport. When I’m in Leland, I want the feeling of being in Leland. And if I’m in Traverse City or Empire, I want to be clear about that, too. Each of these towns is unique, and that’s the way we like it Up North. Big box banks? Not appealing at all, folks!

My husband says that when he goes to the bank these days, he is annoyed the minute he sees the green door handles. Well, I can live with those, and if I were a teller, I’d probably be okay with the new uniforms: they are attractive, and employees have a choice of colors and coordinating articles of clothing. (Less figuring out “what to wear” every morning would have appealed to me back when I worked in offices.) The free pens have been a big hit. I’m told (and this surprised me) that the new 24-hour grace period before overdraft charges netted the bank a nice number of new customers. Twenty-four hours does not seem like a big deal to me before an overdraft charge of over $30 per check is assessed (I do not overdraw and so do not keep current on the penalty figure), and I wouldn’t have guessed that such a short grace period would bring in new customers, but hey—whatever!

What I find most—no, what I found most annoying, until a few days ago, is the new video display on the wall behind the tellers. It’s like a big, wide-screen TV, constantly in motion, and I have to hold a hand up over my eyes to block it from my view. When I’m talking to a teller, I want to be paying attention to the teller, not being distracted by a video display of the bank logo (who cares?) and “products” the bank is trying to sell me. In my case--and I suspect I am not alone in this--the annoyance of the distraction makes me, if anything, less likely to consider deepening my relationship to the corporation.

What makes local banking attractive in the first place? (1) The bank is here. (2) The workers, people we know, are friendly and courteous. (3) The staff knows the bank’s procedures and are helpful to customers. That’s it. That’s all we care about. The free pens are nice, but we lived without them for years and could live without them again. We just want the bank to be here and for the employees to do their jobs and be pleasant. If another bank bought up the current bank, we would switch “allegiance” without hesitation, as long as the bank was here and the employees—our friends and neighbors--pleasant and efficient. “Brand loyalty”? There is no such thing in today’s world. I can’t believe the marketing wonks haven’t heard the news.

And how much has all this “branding” nonsense cost? Because, no, there is one more thing bank customers would appreciate and that would be better interest rates, so instead of wasting customers’ money on such unnecessary and annoying changes, how about if “Corporate” just upped the interest rates a noodge? We would appreciate that!

Ah, but the changes weren’t over yet--and maybe they still aren’t, which is a scary thought—because just the other day, turning my gaze from the offensive video display to the clock on the wall, I saw—the clock was gone! Up there on the wall all alone was a silly double outlet, too high to be useful for anything, nothing plugged into it. Where was the clock? Can you guess? Ah, yes! “Marketing,” those chipper, eager, bright-eyed youngsters down at “Corporate,” decided it would be better not to have a clock in sight. People might time how long they were waiting in line. I’m not kidding. At least, this was the only rationale anyone could come up with.

Corporate, Marketing—get a clue! These branch banks are in small towns! We hardly ever have to wait in line, and when we do, no one minds, because we use the time to visit with one another. It's a break in the day for us! The occasional impatient person, usually a tourist off a yacht in the harbor, doesn’t understand small town life, either, and clearly doesn’t know how to be on vacation, the point of which is to slow down. Please don't gear our life to their ways!

Clearly, the marketing people are city people, and no doubt they’re very young. To their credit, they want to earn their salaries. So they come up with ways to change things. But if we wanted to live at a city pace, in anonymous city surroundings, we wouldn’t be here in Northport. Many of us, however, are still working for a living, and we do need to keep track of the time, so please put the clock back! Is that so much to ask?