Customer Service is a Mindset

There is a special place in Heaven for the folks who invented automated answering systems. I’m sure you have stories to tell. How much time have you wasted trying to get a human being when you needed help from a provider?

I recently came across a database that includes the best-known numbers for companies. Find help from credit companies, government offices, software providers, shipping and travel companies. The list provides instructions on what to do when you reach the number so that you can get a human on the other side of the phone (e.g., press 0 and then say "customer service").

As I looked through the list, I did not see an entry for ING Direct, where I bank. That’s quite all right, because as they say in their outdoor ads, "To Speak to a Person, press 1 then 800 ING Direct." I had to call them yesterday: I had locked myself out of my online account. When I dialed their number, after one touch-tone selection, I got a person.

Not just a bored or routine-sounding customer service rep. She was cheerful and energetic and I could only fairly describe her as prompt, professional, and pleasant. We sorted out my problem in a few minutes and I was on my way. I’ve done business with ING Direct online and over the phone for a couple of years — that has been a consistent experience for me.

Not very sexy, right? If you think about it, and if you’ve read the articles about the latest JetBlue, Verizon and other companies’ customer fiasco stories, you know that what happened to me is not the new normal. It’s still pretty rare, especially when rated on the consistency scale. When nothing bad happens, we have nothing to talk about. Or do we?

Customer service is a mindset, that’s why I chose "Customer Conversation" as the title for this column. The word conversation explains that it’s much more than you are just doing things right on the phone or at critical touch points as you deal with your customers. It includes all the activities you engage in when operating your business and the impressions you leave in others as you do so.

Why is ING Direct such a good example of that? Although they have no physical bank buildings you can walk into, you can still reach them in person at any time by phone and mail in addition to the Web — that is nice, even when you happen to lock yourself out of your online account like I did. Wait a minute; did I say that I could reach a human online? Well, yes, in a matter of speaking.

Have you ever been on their Web site? Take a look at the link there and hear the company’s voice and brand promise come through in every page and prompt. ING Direct is *the* bank that will help you save money. Period. High interest rates, flexible account arrangements with your existing checking account from another bank, and funky Cafés where you can meet live people and do your online banking. There’s one in a busy corner in center city Philadelphia: it looks more like a fun place than a stodgy environment where you make financial decisions.

The recent JetBlue example made me think of ING Direct because both companies have a no frills attitude. That’s because they want to provide a service that makes the most effective use of your money. This can mean cheap as in low cost, not in experience. JetBlue Airways says: we exist to provide superior service in every aspect of our customer’s air travel experience. They had to reaffirm this after the recent incidents. They did with a completely volunteer initiative: a Bill of Rights for their customers.

What does ING Direct promise in their communications with their customers? Save your money, they say. As in "money doesn’t grow on fees", "money in the bank changes everything", "your money may experience growing pains," etc. This still doesn’t mean making trade offs and sacrificing in their relationship with you. Remember, you can still lower the cost by being efficient — you don’t have to be boring and disengaged doing that. Customer service is a mindset: what are you focusing on?

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA •

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  • Valeria Maltoni


    Yes, good people are hard to find, especially with the pressure companies are under to keep their cost position low. Standardization is a good thing as in consistency. You are quite right when you write that there are consequences for deviating from the script. That's why good service is a mindset and it needs to be so for the whole company.

  • Su

    Good customer service is hard to find and good customer service reps are even harder to find. Most reps read from a script and are afraid to deviate from that script. Then again, alot of companies do not give their reps any leeway or permission to do so, resulting in a customer service rep whose hands are tied and can only offer or do so much.

  • Valeria Maltoni


    As you astutely point out in your blog, customer consideration begins from the top. That also means hiring the right people -- as in fit, way of thinking vs. skills and talent.

    Thank you for expanding the conversation.

  • Dave Sovde

    Thanks for the database thatconnects callers to a human being.

    You are so right. Cusomer service is a mindset. It takes daily best of the best motivation, mindsets, and mission. Ing says it all on their website when the speak to what they are looking for in an employee.

    "If you are looking for a challenging position and an invigorating workplace; if you’re driven, passionate and a creative thinker; if you’re willing to find ways to think outside the banking box to help people save their money, check out the open positions."

    They are seeking top quailty achievers from day one. Thank you for making me aware of their story.

  • Valeria Maltoni


    Welcome to the conversation on customer relationships and thank you for sharing your experience with ING Direct. Flexibility, the ability to learn from listening to feedback and observing behavior, and the willingness to "let go" of central control are all hallmarks of innovative thinking.

  • gianandrea facchini

    valeria, i used to work the ing account for about one year. the company is incredibly successful because they are not scared by innovation. we agree with them a remuneration scheme based on a pay per perfomance: they gave to us the control in real time of each single step required for a prospect to get the account. as soon as some data was going out of the benchmark, there was the possibility to get into the problem and solve it.