How To Get Bank Fees Waived

I’ve made complaining to call centres about bank fees a contact sport and there’s a fifty-fifty chance of getting your money back if you do it right.

I was having a coffee with a mate when his phone rang. His eyes darted at mine as he answered. “Sure. No. Now isn’t a good time. No. Yes. Okay, erm, three-thirty is fine. Yes. Goodbye.”

Ex-girlfriend?

Mother?

Boss?

After a bit of coaxing, he confided it was his credit card company – who were calling with a friendly reminder that he’d missed his monthly payment. By two days.

“What rate are they stinging you with?” I asked.

“About 19 per cent, I think.”

That was a knee-jerk response if I’d ever heard one, so I jumped on my iPhone and checked out the card company’s website. Turns out he was on 29.94 per cent, plus a host of other charges – including a $25 late payment fee.

“That’s a nasty set of fees, brother”, I said. “Let’s at least get back the $25 exit fee.”

“Forget about it”, he moaned. “They’re bastards. It’s not worth the hassle.”

“Hell yeah it is!” I said. “I’ve made complaining to call centres a contact sport, and it’s a fifty-fifty chance of getting your money back. If we win, you can buy me a six-pack.”

Here’s how I scored free beer.

Step 1: Prepare for Battle

I once worked in a call centre. It was horrible – people would ring up, mad as hell, and vent all day long.

It’s easy to jump on the line and blast the call centre operator. You can’t see them, you’re frustrated, so what the hell, right?

But if you act like a jerk, they’ll give you robot responses: “Your call is important to us, but unfortunately there is nothing that can be done.” (Meanwhile they go back to wastethebossestime.com.)

So instead of getting angry, my mate and I prepared by printing the offending bill and taking a look at the company’s complaints handling procedures.

Step 2: “This call may be recorded”

As we were about to call, I opened up a spreadsheet and recorded the date, the time and the person we ended up talking to. (Later I also recorded the outcome.)

And – at the risk of unmasking my OCD – I also wrote down the telephone menu prompts that led us to the right person in the right department. (You’ll probably have to call a number of times, so having the menu options speeds the process.)

And remember you can play the “this call may be recorded for training and quality purposes” game too: write down exactly what is said between you and the operator. If you have further problems, the ability to restate the exact conversation you had, and the person you spoke to, is usually enough to put them back in their box.

I’ve made complaining to call centres a contact sport.

3. Script the conversation

Here I’ve done the hard work for you (see box). Feel free to use this the next time you find yourself in a pickle.

LIFTING THE LATE PAYMENT FEE 

Bank: “Welcome to XYZ Bank. I’m Steve, your customer service specialist. How can I help?”

Barefoot: “G’day, Steve. My name’s Scott. How’s your day going, dude?”

(Note, as I am young, I can get away with the ‘dude’ reference without it sounding all ‘Kev07’. If you’re in doubt, leave it out – but still focus on building rapport. Steve’s in a call centre. A credit card call centre. How many people are asking how his frigging day is going? None. And you, my friend, have passed go; now it’s time to collect some money.)

Bank: “Good, thanks. How can I help?”

Barefoot: “I’ve just noticed I’ve been charged a late payment fee, and I was wondering if you could please waive it.”

Stop. The conversation with Steve went downhill from here. Why? Because of my weak question. That was all Steve needed to go back to robot land and start reading from his script: “Sorry, sir. I don’t have authorisation to remove the fee … yadda, yadda, yadda.”

So, I hung up, redialled, and tried again. This time I got Kirsty.

Barefoot: “I’ve just noticed on my account I’ve been charged a late payment fee of $25 and, Kirsty, I’d like you to remove it. As you can see, I’m almost never late on payments, and I’ve been a really good customer for years.”

(Point to note: as well as using her name, which gives her ownership of the problem, I was up front in what I wanted her to do, and gave her valid reasons why she should.)

Bank: “Let me look through your account.”

Barefoot: “Thanks, Kirsty. I’ve been thinking about getting one of those balance transfer deals from Citibank, but if you can waive the fee, I’ll stay.”

Bank: “OK, I’ve been given authorisation to remove the fee – but this is a once-off. If it happens again, you’re going to get charged.”

Barefoot: “Hello, Corona!”

Bank fees are a numbers game

The banks are greedy bastards, but you can use this to your advantage. They field thousands of queries each day, so they’ve had to get their customer service down to an art – or more accurately to a set of numbers.

It costs the bank around $150 in marketing to get a new customer. It makes no sense to let a customer get annoyed and leave over a $25 fee, because they’ll have to buy them back for $150.

So, if you try a number of times and keep getting Steve rather than Kirsty, ask to speak to the ‘customer retention team’ (all banks have them, though they might call them different names) and state your case.

But in most cases it won’t have to go that far. If you call them and keep your cool, they’re generally happy to help.

The banks make their billion-dollar profits on the back of our apathy. The real lesson is to be proactive – and to always remember Barefoot Rule 132: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

THE TELCO OPTION

Bill shock doesn’t just happen in banking – mobile phone companies are also notorious over-chargers.

You’ve just got to look at the confusing way they price their plans – for what is essentially the same basic service – to know there’s some room to negotiate.

Here’s how to do it:

The big bill script

“I’m sure you get these calls all the time, but I’ve just received my latest bill and it’s over $2,000. This is the first month I’ve had an iPhone, and I had no idea that I was racking up such a huge bill.

“In any event, I simply can’t pay it. I struggle enough to meet my $60 cap plan – which I’ve always paid in full, on time, every time.

“But there is no possible way I can pay this bill. It will go unpaid, and end up in your collections department as a bad debt.

“I’ve learned my lesson. I’d like you to waive the additional data costs that I incurred this month, as a sign of good faith that I’m a good customer of yours.”

Hit ’Em with a Rabbit

If you’re still getting crossed signals after a half a dozen calls, here’s a rabbit to pull out of your hat:

“I understand that, as per my contract, I am liable for the costs I’ve incurred. However, I’m a good customer of yours, and I’ve made a genuine, honest mistake.

“So as a way of solving this, could you please temporarily increase my monthly plan to your top-of-the-line data package, just for last month’s bill?” (In many instances this will bring the bill down to a couple of hundred dollars – or less.)

Call in the TIO

In the unlikely event you still don’t get any love, put your complaint in writing to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (www.tio.com.au), who has the power to investigate customer complaints and make the supplier fix the problem, reimburse you, or compensate you.

Most of the telcos have special customer care divisions that specifically handle complaints referred to the Ombudsman – and I’ve found they’re much more accommodating than the frontline customer service staff.