I Believe It Was So and So…
Taking control of risks in a project is your responsibility as the leader, no matter what stage of the game it is. Let me give you an example I recently experienced with my mortgage company who shall remain nameless—okay, it’s Morgan Stanley.
I received a message on my answering machine from them telling me my payment was past due and to call them immediately, which I did.
The first representative told me I was late and owed $100 in late fees that compounded daily! She also told me that because I hadn’t paid my property taxes, my account was now an escrow account (I pay my property taxes separately from my mortgage payment) and they would now take out my property tax above and beyond my mortgage payment and late fees, so I also had to pay an additional $135 on top.
As I scratched my head, I told the representative, “I’ve always paid my mortgage on time and my property taxes are paid.”
“Not according to our records,” she replied. “My screen says differently.”
“When were you notified I didn’t pay my property taxes?” I asked.
“Well it doesn’t show that here on my screen; that would be a question for the tax department,” she answered.
“Can I talk to them?” I asked.
“One moment,” she said and I did wait more than a moment.
The second representative said she saw no record of me not paying my property taxes under the listed loan and assured with her name and extension in hand, I asked to talk to the first representative again—with another “one moment please” that turned into a long, long wait.
This time, I got representative number three who told me I was not late on my mortgage payment and that was a mistake but her screen said I didn’t pay my property taxes and there was nothing she could do about the extra $135 because that wasn’t her department. I offered the name and the extension of the tax department representative I spoke to and she told me to hold—again.
When she came back on the line she told me again there was nothing she could do because her screen was apparently God and in order to stop the screen from saying I must pay an extra $135, I needed to fax or mail a letter to the tax department so the message would disappear. What? Talk about passing the buck here!
Why should I have to write a letter to the tax department who told me my property taxes were not late and my account was not in escrow so they could press a magic button on the mortgage payment department’s side so the $135 didn’t show? And worse, the third representative told me it was the policy of the company to tell the customer it could take three months to clear up this dilemma so indeed they wanted me to keep paying the $135 until the matter (or the button) was pushed to clear the problem.
I wanted to scream but I guess as a project manager, I knew this was poor risk management on the part of the company, not the poor representatives. So, I got the fax number and asked if they would take a credit card over the phone to pay the initial $135.
“No,” said the third representative. "We do take checks by phone, but that is a $20 fee.”
“Is there a supervisor I can talk to?” I hoped and prayed she’d say yes.
“I can send you to his voicemail,” she said and then said, “Goodbye and thanks for calling Morgan Stanley.” I was disconnected to white space, not to any supervisor’s voicemail.
Because I knew I didn’t owe the $135 and felt stymied by the entire useless conversation, I did nothing. I also knew my mortgage wasn’t late because I had a copy of my canceled check. I sort of laughed it off as one person or department passing the buck to another. Or, better yet, a stupid policy that didn’t foresee what would happen if one department was unable to undo what another department did. Ridiculous, I thought.
The reason I mentioned the name of my mortgage company (Morgan Stanley) is because later that very afternoon, I received a phone call from them inquiring about my call to them and they apparently really do “record their calls for customer service.” This fourth representative apologized and told me they had listened to the tape, my account was fine and they were going to make some changes from department to department. I received an apology and was told I owed nothing and was not late. Now there’s a good example of not passing the buck and identifying and prioritizing risks so customers are happy!