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What you are about to read is true. It happened in one week. On an island called Long, in a state of New Yorkiness.


Macy’s sent me “thank you” coupons in the mail. They were printed on heavy card stock meant to look like Macy’s credit cards. It promised 20% off my next purchase. 

Eddie Bauer sent me a $20.00 gift certificate to thank me for using my Eddie Bauer Friends card and purchasing over $200 in merchandise. Mark got one for $10.00. 

SW Airlines sent me a Hertz Rental Car coupon that promised incredible discounts on my next rental. 

I found the mall. In the Haven of Smith. I needed some summer type-tops. I wanted humidity proof – meaning you couldn’t see that I was sweating profusely – and cute. I’m at Macy’s. I find the perfect top. I decide to buy two (different colors of course). I proudly present my coupon. Oh, um this can’t be used to purchase these tops. What? She turned the card over. In a 2 point font the restrictions were listed. Not only could you not use this coupon on certain brands – like Ralph Lauren – you could not use it in entire departments – like housewares, furniture, cosmetics, jewelry, shoes – I’m not kidding. 

I’m pretty sure after reading the entire thing that they wanted you to buy some socks. 

Eddie Bauer is next. Armed with what I think is $30 cash I hit the sale rack. Found me some cool beachy shoes, presented my two gift certificates. Oh, you can only use one of these. Sigh. 

Hertz Rental Car – I’m going to Portland next month and need to rent a car. I’m already Hertz Gold so I get a wee bit of a discount but let’s use this coupon. I do as instructed, plug in my Promotion Code – and blammo. Big red letters at the top of the screen saying “This location does not participate in this offer.” Of course. 

Last night I ordered shoes online from They offered free ground shipping. Sweet. This morning I get an email from them:

We have upgraded your ground shipping to overnight. Here’s your tracking number. I click on it – it tells me that the UPS guy is driving to our house right now with the shoes! Shuddup! This can’t be possible? It will have been less than 24 hours from the time I clicked the purchase button to the time I get the shoes. And they are coming from Kentucky!

That means someone had to, in the middle of the night, walk down a warehouse aisle and find my shoes and pack them up and put them on a plane!!!!!! 

Ding dong. I just got them. Incredible.

Keeping promises. That’s all I expect. If you take the time and money to send me a 20% off coupon – I expect to be able to get 20% off. 

But exceeding my expectations – which by this time were pretty damn low – is where it’s at. 

I will never buy a pair of shoes from Eddie Bauer or Macy’s again. Ever. has my business for life. 

Right now credit unions have an opportunity to stand out. Consumer’s expectations are at an all time low. The CU Warrior has a great post today about this very subject. You should read it. 

Oh, and thanks for reading this. It means a lot to me. 

IMG_0368Love him or hate him, he’s an American Icon and if you had the opportunity to be a part of his show (and the tickets are free!) you’d take it.


So that’s what we did yesterday. Took the 11:30am train to the city to queue up by 2:00 for a 4:30 start. 


I know – some of you are thinking – but wait! It’s Late Night with David Letterman! Well…..eventually. 


Turns out the audience is a big part of the show. The historic Ed Sullivan theatre is not that big – I’m gonna say it maybe seats 400 people. So we have to SOUND big and happy and enthusiastic and laugh heartily and NEVER make that “Whoo Whoo” or dreaded Arsenio Hall noise. There were microphones hanging quite low to pick up audience laughter – not built for primal screeching. 


We were literally trained, tested, and coached by Pages before entering the theatre. They were wonderful. They make it all happen in my opinion. Young enthusiastic, caring kids whose only job is to make sure that everyone has a good time, they follow some basic rules and we work together to make a one hour production perfect. They said things like “David is Simon – You are Garfunkel. David is Elton John – You are his Bernie Taupin. You’re a team. He can’t do this show without you.”


That naturally got me thinking about the branch “experience.” The branch is our stage, and each day before those doors open, do we get the performers pumped up? Remind them what we are about to do and why it’s important? 


When the show was over Dave thanked us all for coming and the Pages lined up at the exits and thanked us all for a wonderful performance. 


When’s the last time we said that to our tellers? 


Thousands of US companies suffer from this neurobehavorial developmental disorder. It is characterized by a persistent pattern of aloofness, sloppiness, lack of concern for appearance and an acute obsession with the bottom line over the value of the customer. 


Though previously regarded as a Department of Motor Vehicles standard operating procedure, it has since been discovered to be spreading rapidly in airlines, banks, car rental agencies and even some beloved department stores. 


It’s a silent killer. 


Just this week, a frequent flyer (me) experienced an outbreak of ATDDD. It began as a simple thing. Maintenance issues on a plane. But it was apparent that they (United) had been suffering for some time. 


Signs they have full blown ATDDD. 182 passengers arrive at their destination 3 hours late, the flight attendant makes the announcement, “I know most of you had connections, well, all your planes are gone, please see a customer service agent when you disembark.”


Customer Service agent greets us: “Welcome to Denver, all of your connections are gone so you’ll have to go to the Customer Service counter.”


Me: “So we’re stuck here for the night.”


Agent: “Looks that way.”


Me: “Will you be getting our luggage to us?”


Agent: “Um, no. That takes too long.”


Me: “But you just said that we are ALL stuck here – can’t they just offload the entire plane.” 


Agent: “Yes, but it will take hours to process. But you can get an overnight kit at the customer service counter.”


Overnight kit contains: cheap black comb. razor. ketchup packet filled with shave cream. toothbrush and toothpaste.




The cure: Know your target audience. Know the competitors FOR your target. Make them irrelevant. Surprise. Delight. Empathize.


United airlines does not get that they don’t fly planes, they fly business travelers. Women AND Men. If our destination is for “business” we most likely don’t want to sleep in our clothes, wear yesterday’s hair and make-up on stage (while being filmed) to speak about becoming a tattoo-worthy brand. 


Anytime you hear “we can’t do that” or “it’s our policy” or “we’ve always done it that way” you may have symptoms of ATDDD. 


Seek help.

IMG_0250Our goal is to be our member’s primary financial institution. To do that we will need to cross-sell products that meet our member’s needs. And if we manage to get a bigger share of their wallet (say 3.67 services per household) we’ll have a profitable relationship and meet our goals. 

Sound familiar? Yuk. Also sounds, sterile, sales-y, and a little sleazy, in my opinion. What if we were to look at the new member experience as a first date.

How do you get that first date?

a) A friend recommends: “Hey, you should join my credit union and date my cousin.”

b) They respond to your advertising: “When you open a new account with us, you’ll get a free iPod and can I buy you a drink?”


c) They’ve done some research (on or “I like free checking, bill pay and long walks on the beach….”

You’re on this first date now (the member is sitting across from you) and it’s a little awkward so the best thing to do is strike up a conversation. You know, find some common bond.  

Good Ice-Breakers:

a) How did you hear about us?

b) What brings you in today?

c) Have you been a member of a credit union before?

Bad Ice-Breakers:

a) “Um, we’re gonna need to see your driver’s license and it’s $25.00 to join.”

b) “We have to make sure you are who you say you are (aka NOT a terrorist) before we can go any further.”

This would be like asking a first date to see their medical records and dating history before the cocktails come! Now, don’t get me wrong, all of these things are important, just NOT in the first five minutes.

I am considering dating. That is to say, moving my checking account. The thought of it makes me sick. I don’t want to have to “chat ’em up and be charming” so the MSR won’t put 20 day Nazi holds on my checks for the first 30 days. I’m gonna have to get to know them and trust them. What if I don’t like them?

It’s a big deal. My entire financial life – my mortgage payments, Netflix subscription, wine club, cell phone bill – everything is going to have to physically be moved over. Then I have to wait for my new VISA debit card. Give up the one with the photo of Portland, Oregon (that I love so much) and getting what? Stock art! A picture of a share draft with a fountain pen poised to write? Arrrggghhhh….

It’s a scary world out there. Clearly the press is not great when it comes to banking. Maybe I should just stay in the relationship I have. It’s been a long distance one for years now. Maybe I can hang in there a little longer…..

Have you eve been accused of something you didn’t do? And there’s no real way to prove that you DIDN’T do it?

I don’t think I’ve ever been this angry. I don’t cry often, I’m usually a pretty perky person but last night I sobbed. It’s over. My relationship with Saturn is so over.

As many of you know, I have been fiercely loyal to my Saturns. From my first, the SC1 named Toonces, and to Cordelia, and Ruby, and Buttercup to my 2008 VUE, Sunkist. I name my cars. I love my Saturns. I actually used to look forward to taking my car in for oil changes. I used to get chocolates and flowers and my car washed.

Not anymore. Saturn of Smithtown is what car dealers are known for. Uncaring, looking for a way to get out of warranty service. They are everything Saturn tried NOT to be.

When I took my VUE in for an oil change last month. Not only did I get the car back dirty (no complimentary car wash, no little treats) BUT I also found out two days later I got my car back with a loose oil filter – thank god for the oil and check engine lights that came on right when I was coming off the interstate in Massachusetts. And thanks to Jon Reske from UMass Five College Credit Union for being my knight in shining armor and driving to an automotive store to get me oil so I could limp into the Springfield Saturn for a quick and painless oil fix!

But yesterday I took my car back to Saturn of Smithtown. I have a nasty leak somewhere in the passenger side. Thought it was coming from the engine. Turns out it’s in the seal of the windshield.

Tim calls me last night at 5:00 (after having my car since 7:30am) “So, when did you get your windshield replaced?” he asks. “What? I haven’t had my windshield replaced?”

My car has 7,200 miles on it. I would know if the windshield had been replaced.

Bottom line: They will not cover it under warranty because it does not have a “GM stamp” on the glass. They have basically accused me of lying. Trying to screw them out of warranty work. Wow.

So Tim at Saturn of Smithtown and his service manager decided they would not cover the repair. I didn’t even ask what it would cost to fix it. I’m done.

I posted on the Rip-Off Report blog this morning only to find another “rip off report” from the same dealership.

I guess my tears came not only from being accused of lying, but I think I had some pent up emotion from the move. New York is not the Northwest. So far I haven’t really missed Seattle or Portland – but something about the way I was treated. I guess it all just came flooding out.

I still don’t have my car – the XM radio stopped working AGAIN. We decided to leave a smaller carbon footprint in NY so it’s our only car. Oh, and the worse part, we don’t have any coffee in the house.

Saturn is gone – the economy sucks – it’s raining.

Thank God it’s Friday.

UPDATE (June 1st, 2009): Rochelle Petis, Executive Member Service of GM just called. She read about my problem and was determined to get to the bottom of it. Well… a much nicer and more detailed way, she basically said there was nothing they could do for me.

Today GM filed bankruptcy. I feel like America filed moral bankruptcy today. When are we going to learn? When is this disease of corporate greed going to be cured?

I cried on the phone to Ms Petis. I told her my sorrow came from the fact that I had hope that by treating people well (my Saturn love of gifts and cheers and tchotchkes) and being honest (not dickering on the sticker but pricing cars fairly) would result in success. That companies would learn that they don’t have to screw people over to make money. That loyalty has its rewards.

GM should fail. Big banks should fail. Too big to fail is killing us. Sure, there’s going to be lots of pain and suffering, but if we don’t rip off this band-aid, we’ll never heal.

img_02221I’m in a very dysfunctional relationship right now – with Saturn.

Today I got my email survey from Saturn. I’ve been waiting for it. As some of you may know, I was a crazy loyal Saturn owner. I’ve owned 5 Saturns over a 15 year period. I included my Saturn story in my first book. I have the mug, bumper sticker, key chain, license plate holder (I heart my Saturn).

But lately, they have disappointed me. Big time.

I blogged about the faux pas of the XM radio and their second survey trying to get a high rating from me. I also threatened to leave them. But I can’t. I’m still trying.

I found out last week that the Smithtown Saturn no longer washes my car when I get service and forgot to torque my oil filter down (or so the wonderful people at Springfield, Mass Saturn told me) so my brand new VUE breaks down on a road trip. Oh yes….it’s bad.

But I’m rooting for Saturn. I know GM has to cut costs to placate the government and Saturn is on the block. Only the dealers can save this brand and I sincerely hope they do. BUT, they have to remember what made us so loyal. It’s not the car, it’s the experience buying and servicing the car. It’s yours to lose dealers.

According to Fred Reichheld, author of the Ultimate Question, loyal customers will do three things:

1. Buy more from you (check – bought five).
2. Market for you (check – included you in my book).
3. Tell you how to improve your business – I’m ready.

Page one of the online survey – language selection. okay. English.

First Question: How satisfied are you that your vehicle was fixed right on this service visit? Completely? Very? Satisfied? Somewhat? Not at all?

WHAT? You forgot to torque down my oil filter and all the oil slowly drained from my car causing my engine to sound like a jack hammer was under the hood as I pulled into a client’s driveway 180 miles from home!!!!!

15 questions later, similar in their delivery.

“How would you rate the lighting in the waiting room?”
Not too bright. Just bright enough. Satisfactorily bright. Not bright enough.

They NEVER gave me an opportunity to tell them what happened and why I can’t give them the highest rating that they are used to.

This is why I love the ultimate question:

On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend Saturn to a friend, family member or colleague?

And then the golden question: WHY did you answer the way you did?

Two questions. No bullshit.

If they had only asked me those two questions, they would KNOW why my loyalty is waning and they could respond to me and close the loop – solidifying my continued love which they so desperately need in order to stay alive!!

And here’s what Saturn needs to know. I would probably give them an 8. A passive score. Because I felt that we had a relationship. I have time invested in this relationship and I want to continue, but ONLY if they care enough to listen to me!


I was the middle of five kids in the typical Catholic family in Northeast Portland in the seventies. My mom had to go to work to help ends meet and so the house cleaning was pretty much left up to the kids. My mom used to say (sometimes scream):

“If everyone would just pick up after themselves, we wouldn’t HAVE a dirty house!”

But since no one followed this brilliant advice, we had a chore schedule. And on Saturdays (when my dad was in charge) NOBODY got to go out and play until the chores were done.

If my mom were still alive and was a culture consultant, like me, she would convert her sage advice to the front-line and it would look like this:

“If everyone would just DO what they SAID they would do, we wouldn’t NEED a customer service department!” 

For example:

  1. If Verizon had actually KEPT their appointment instead of making me wait for hours, and then days for service, I wouldn’t have given up and switched to their competitor (after calling their customer service department four times and being on hold – giving up four hours of my life).
  2. If the guy at Saturn who changed my oil last Friday had properly torqued my oil filter, I wouldn’t have had to pull my car over in Northampton Massachusettes because my check oil light came on and it sounded like a jackhammer under the hood of my car. 
  3. If the guy at LIPA would have made a note in our new file that our house in Port Jefferson is a SINGLE family dwelling instead of a duplex, like we discussed, our gas would not have been shut off today.
  4. If the gal at Group Health pharmacy would have mailed my prescriptions overnight like she promised instead of Bulk Rate USPS – I wouldn’t be blogging bitchy topics like this!

nunsYou know why I’m so passionate about word-of-mouth? Because every single job I’ve ever had was because of a referral. From my ‘Enry Beazely’s wench job to all of my NPS consulting gigs. It’s powerful stuff when you have an “invitation” to apply. You’re definitely at the top of the heap of anonymous resume’s. Such was the case with my interview with the Oregon Credit Union League. Job title: Consultant. I liked the sound of that.

The League put me through several interviews. The typical HR butt-sniffing, then a group breakfast (to meet the team of consultants) and finally one-on-one lunch with my boss. I’ll admit, I’d never been on an interview IN a restaurant. It so freaked me out I did a rehearsal breakfast just to familiarize myself with the menu, lighting, location of the bathroom, etc. Seriously. I ordered oatmeal and coffee if you must know.

Anyway, I got the job, was shown my cube, the phone, and the volumes and volumes of legal books that will act as my references. We also had an in-house attorney and an entire law firm on retainer. My job – to consult on compliance. In other words, help credit unions make decisions by educating them about the implications of the law. Or so I thought.

My favorite book I called the Brady Bunch Book. You see, most credit unions at that time had been offering share draft accounts for only a few years. And these things were tricky. The Brady on Bank Checks book was about 4 inches thick and was the source for all negotiable instrument law. A learned that a check is merely a contract and must contain certain parts to be a valid contract. Signature, amount owned, payable to, date. Can you use a cocktail napkin as a check? Sure, if someone will cash it. Can you collect on a cocktail napkin? Sure! If someone wants to pursue it.

The most important lesson I learned consulting on checks? Always ask the dollar amount of the check in question. I remember spending HOURS researching a particularly stick endorsement issue and finally after many back-and-forth phone calls the employee sighed and said, “Well, it’s only a $5.00 check so I guess it doesn’t matter!” Ugh.

Lawyers. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. The problem with the law? It’s so stupid. If we followed every law that was ever written, we wouldn’t have any members at all. I like to “bend” laws. Show me a check cashing policy that exposes you to zero risk and I’ll show you one that doesn’t take checks! Period.

We are IN the risk business – but we’re also here to serve our member/owners. To treat them like they matter. Common sense is seldom wrong. When compliance starts running your organization, you’re bound to screw up relationships.

I LOVED consulting – hated complying. Maybe it’s because I was raised Catholic. I guess what I’m trying to say is, we HAVE to comply with the laws, but not in a “If you even think about breaking this law you’re going straight to hell” way. Sister Rose Delores was the “compliance officer” at my school. Not only did she take the fun out of being a teenager, I think by being so strict, it MAKES you want to, what I call, viciously comply.

You know what I’m talking about – I think a lot of employees viciously comply. You want me to never take a bad check again – you got it! Holds for everyone! Oh, I’m sorry, that was the chairman of the board’s wife? Yikes.

The compliance officer (sounds like they should carry a badge) needs to understand what business we’re in – people helping people – and that 99.9% of our members are honest, hard-working folks just trying to make a deposit and get some cash. Sure, there’s that .1% out there that’s looking to mess with you. Let Sister Rose Delores handle them.

typeballs1I loved being a teller. Not only interacting with the members but that wonderful sense of completion you have at the end of the day – balancing. Validation of your greatness. Locking your cash drawer, placing it in the vault, and whoosh. You take nothing home but the memories. BUT, as a teller, I wasn’t even ON the organizational chart. And I had goals.

Word on the row (teller row, which is suspiciously close to death row) was you HAD to become a loan officer if you ever wanted to a) make decent money and b) become a manager. This is what prompted me to leave my first credit union. You see, there were only three loan officer positions and I could tell these ladies weren’t going anywhere.

I was taking a night class at Portland Community College and met a gal from a tiny grocery store co-op credit union that said they were hiring. Not ONLY was I going to be a loan officer, I would still have a teller drawer, open new accounts AND do collections! WOW! I WAS the organizational chart!

I interviewed on my lunch hour. The credit union occupied the living, dining room, kitchen and one bathroom of an old house. The sponsor, United Grocers, was right across the street. It was, how should I say “cozy” and so it was important that we all got along. I’ll never forget Lois, the Manager, asking me if I smoked. You see, NO one in this officer smoked and she wasn’t about to hire one now. Yahooooo!!!! I found my new home.

I hate to say this, but learning consumer loans was not that hard. The hardest part was using the Burroughs machine to calculate their payment. Oh, and not making mistakes as you typed up their documents on an IBM selectric typewriter on triplicate carbon paper! Liquid Paper was my best friend. My record – I typed 25 loan docs in one work day! This was before open-ended lending and lines of credit. So we did a lot of $300 one pay loans. BUT, we also would deny members for their “purpose.”

The original charter of a credit union was to make loans for “provident and productive purposes” so if someone came in and asked for a loan to go to Vegas, we would say “No.”

Character, capacity, collateral. It wasn’t unusual for us to call a loan applicant’s supervisor and ask how they were doing at work – what was the likelihood they would be employed for the length of this loan. The greatest collateral we had was their payroll deduction.

To pull a credit bureau on a member involved perfection in typing. You dialed into the bureau using a directional coupler. Oh yes. So if you made a mistake, there was no backspace, no liquid paper, you had to disconnect, redial, wait for the screachy noise and try again. I remember the first time I did it my hands were shaking.

There were no scores back then – you had to learn to read the line items quickly to mentally determine a score. Good, not-so-good, and oops – credit committee.

Credit committee met every Thursday. Back in the day (which according to Dane Cook was a Wednesday) WE didn’t turn down members, their co-workers did. The committee consisted of volunteers who were there to protect the credit union. They really should’ve been called the “character committee” because the decisions were based less on credit worthiness and more about this person’s reputation.

This also created a built in “shame” of non-repayment. Members understood that they were truly borrowing their co-workers money (just in a less awkward way) and not repaying was not cool. We made a practice of parking repo cars in front of the credit union. Everyone knew that “Joe” defaulted.

I’ll never forget the day when I saw my first notice of bankruptcy. WHAT? Some lawyer is telling me that the member I trusted is not going to pay us back. Ever? That’s when I realized it was hard to be a collector AND a loan officer at the same time. For days, all my loans went to credit committee – no one was worthy. I had issues I needed to work through.

I’m amazed today when I see that credit committees are basically gone, members inputing their own data and a big giant computer brain scores and approves the loan. Wow.

After awhile, the loan officer title lost its luster for me. Take application, pull credit, calculate debt ratio, type docs, input data, cut check. Next. I needed a new challenge.

Next up: Compliance? Seriously.

200126682-0012It’s 1981. Ronald Reagan is president. Some say Carter ruined the economy (depends on whether you were a Democrat or Republican). Anyway, interest rates were CRAZY out of control, inflation was rampant, and financial institutions needed cash. John Lennon’s Imagine was on the top of the charts.

I had just been promoted to Member Service Representative, when Tom Sargent handed me a memo from the League. Reagan signs Economic Recovery Act that allows credit unions to issue All Savers Certificates!

Cool!!! I get to be a marketer. You see, in 1981, we didn’t have a marketing department. Very few credit unions did. Our members marketed FOR us. But this program was only going to begin in October so we couldn’t wait for the “word-of-mouth” to do its job.

I was so excited! I like to draw and this was waayyyyy before Photoshop, Illustrator or, well personal computers really. I got some cool paper and colored pens and made my mark. I stuck these posters up in the lunch rooms of every government agency we served. And waited.

October 1st, the doors opened and then it happened. First one, then another, and another, and by the end of the week we had opened 450 new accounts! At one point, we had a “line” to my desk and up until then had no real need for a waiting area so we had to improvise.

At the end of that first week Tom called me into his office. He told me that he was very impressed with the initiative I took and that I was directly responsible for the credit union’s success. He gave me a $200 a month raise. And when you’re making $650.00 a month, that’s like becoming a millionaire, winning the lottery, moving into upper class. Well, anyway it was REAL money. I could start driving my car to work again.

These were exciting times. It taught me two things that I still practice.

One: always plan for overwhelming success.
It always seems funny to me when I see people getting uptight during busy times, say in a restaurant, hotel, etc. I mean, wasn’t that your GOAL to be packed?

Two: rewarded behavior is repeated.
It wasn’t the money as much as it was Tom recognizing my efforts. He will always be my mentor and I owe a lot of my work ethic today to him. Congratulations Tom for winning the Herb Wegner award this year!

Next up: Too good to be promoted.

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March 2023