Notarize This

I had an interesting customer service experience today.

I needed to get something notarized for work. I don’t know much about notarizing things, but from what I can tell, a notary public watches people sign documents to verify that the real person matches the signature.

I was told that I could go to any bank and they’d notarize the document for me. I was already running another errand for work and decided to pick up Slurpees for my coworkers on the way back, so I looked for banks in the area and found one: PNC Bank.

I have no relationship with PNC, nor does my work. I’m sure they’re a very nice bank and have many satisfied customers. But I was a little surprised by what happened there because I was not a customer.

I walked in, asked if they could notarize a document for me, and they said sure. I was ushered to an available notary public.

Before I could make it into the office, the person who greeted me asked, “You’re a PNC customer, right?”

I said, “Oh, no I’m not. Do I need to be to get this notarized?”

They replied that I did. I asked if I could pay to have the document notarized (I’d never done this, so I didn’t know if it was customary to pay. I had three crisp $1 bills in the elastic of my boxer briefs ready for them. That’s where I keep all my cash), but they said no.

I thanked them, apologized for the inconvenience, and left.

A little while later, I went to a bank (Commerce Bank) that my work does have a relationship with, asked for a notary, and within two minutes the document was notarized. They never asked if I had an account there, but I volunteered the information as I signed the document. But they clearly didn’t care. The notary public didn’t verify the account on his computer–he just watched me sign the document, stamped the document, and then asked if I wanted a personal account at Commerce. I said no thank you, shook his hand, and left.

I truly have nothing against PNC Bank, nor will I hold this against them. But it did surprise me a bit, especially after I saw how easy it was for Commerce to notarize the document. What did PNC have to lose by notarizing a non-customer’s document? 2-3 minutes, max. And sure, that could accumulate throughout the day, but it’s not like the floodgates were going to open and people were going to pour through the doors demanding notaries.

The guy at Commerce said something interesting near the end of my time there. This was after I told him that I already had accounts with two other banks. He said, “I bet you don’t even step foot in banks anymore.”

I didn’t even have to think about it. “This is the first time I’ve been in a bank in years.”

In a world dominated by web access for pretty much everything, brick-and-mortar businesses have so few chances to make a personal, face-to-face impression on people. Especially banks. Everyone banks online, pays bills online, and if they need cash or need to deposit a check, they go to the ATM. We view banks as computers, not people.

So when someone walks into your bank because they need the one thing they can’t get online, don’t turn them away. Especially if they’re not an existing customer. That’s your one chance to make a personal connection. Don’t blow it.

Do you have any similar stories? I’m not really looking for complaints about businesses, and I hope that’s not how you interpret this post. We do enough complaining. Rather, do you have a story that shows a rare example of a time when you actually needed to show up in person at a business and you walked away feeling like a connection had been made?

26 thoughts on “Notarize This”

  1. Well, in defense of PNC, Commerce, albeit demonstrating exemplary service, is the exception not the rule. Having been in Finance before joining the ranks of Hollywood, I can state that notaries do a bit more than witnessing documents witnessing but that is their core business. Some banks also require and/or offer Medallion Guarantee which is usually required when another bank is involved.

    In any case, the services I provided when I was in Investments precisely had the goal of connecting in mind. I remember helping a nice woman from Colombia with whom I connected easily. She wanted to open an account, and had no clue what to do with the money. When she found out I spoke Spanish fluently, her guard went down. I think in this day and age especially, that extra smile or a few more friendly words can make a world of difference.

    • Orianna–Thanks for providing the inside scoop on how banks work. And I’m glad you were able to help that woman feel more comfortable!

  2. I had a great customer experience at Chipotle the other day. As I went through the line, the people on the other side of the counter all smiled (really smiled, not just flashed a smile) and seemed genuinely happy to serve me. I stopped mid-line and asked, “Why are you all so happy?” One of them replied, “I love the people I work with. They’re all really good people, and we love working togther.” “That’s awesome,” I said. As I reached the cashier, who was also all smiles and spewing balls of cheerfulness from her eyes, I asked, “Are you all still this happy at the end of your shift?” “Yes, happy but exhausted,” she said.

    The group at Chipotle didn’t do anything other than treat me nicely and correctly make my order, but I left feeling really good. Emotional contagion is a very real thing!

  3. I have had the same experience with trying to find a notary about a year and a half ago when I got into a car accident. I needed to sign my title over to the insurance company (car was totalled), but it had to be notarized. I don’t remember exactly which banks I went to, but I know I went to at least FOUR different banks and none of them would do it since I wasn’t a customer. I moved down here 5 years ago and admittedly, I don’t have any financial institution down here. I still use my credit union from back home because everything is automated and I don’t want to mess with changing anything. Finally, I found a notary who works out of his house, but he referred me to a cash checking place because it would be cheaper. I went down there, paid $1, talked to a nice older gentleman in a Grateful Dead tshirt and was out in less than 5 minutes. I will never do business with a bank. From their lack of customer service or even customer consciousness to their outrageous fees for everything – no, thank you.

    • I’m sorry to hear that, Jill. It’s bewildering that bank after bank would refuse to provide this service. I bet if even one bank started promoting the fact that they’ll notarize for non-customers, they’d end up gaining a ton of new customers.

  4. I have found that customer service means more to me than the actual product at times. In fact, I will go out of my way and spend more to support a business that has good customer service because, if they pay attention to those little details, I’m sure the other things just fall in line.

    A few examples of businesses with exemplary customer service? Publix, Chick-fil-a, Netflix, Disney, etc. These are places that go out of their way to ensure that you have what you need and that you have a pleasant experience. I love that about those places.

    • That’s an interesting point, Ansley, that the customer service means more to you than the product. I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s true for some products–if one product is superior to the next, then I’d generally choose the superior product unless there was a significant price difference without a big drop in quality. But for other products I can see it mattering quite a bit, products that are very similar in price and quality.

  5. Recently, I experienced excellent customer service at a specialty makeup store I usually dread going to, because in the past it always felt like my buying something there was an inconvenience to the sales person. This last experience was such a nice change that I almost wish I had a reason to go back and buy something else, since this sales person made such a positive impression on me. When I asked about a product they no longer carried, the woman could have taken the easy way out and just said “too bad, so sad,” but instead she spent about half an hour looking for a similar product that would work for me. Instead of feeling like just another number in line, I felt like she actually cared that I was going to be happy and for some reason she even gave me an unexpected discount on my purchase, which just made the situation even better.

    I think a lot more businesses are starting to realize that their customer service is the only advantage they really have to make consumers physically go into a store instead of just buying online. It’s much easier to click a “buy now” button than drive to a store and potentially deal with the attitude of sales person, or even have to navigate the crowds and traffic.

    • Katy–I’m always bewildered when customers are treated like an inconvenience. It’s a shame, really. Your story shows that it can make a big difference when someone actually treats you well.

      Something I didn’t mention in the post is that while I was greeted immediately and eagerly at PNC, no one said a word to me at Commerce for a good 5 minutes. There were two tellers, one of whom was busy counting money or something, and the other had a customer. The busy one was clearly trying to look busy and avoided eye contact, so I just waited my turn for the teller who was handling customers. But I think that good customer service practices would dictate that the busy teller should have said something. Perhaps, “My station is closed, but the other teller will help you in a minute. Thanks!” That would have been much better than just ignoring me.

      • That’s a pretty awful way to start out any transaction/customer encounter. A lot of businesses have a 10 feet/10 seconds rule, where employees are expected to at least say “Hi, welcome to XXXXX, someone will be right with you,” even if they are working with another customer.

  6. As a PNC customer, I will say that typically I receive great customer service there (including a hug from an overly-friendly teller and a customer service rep on the phone who promised not to transfer me). However, I completely agree that they should have done everything to either a) notarize your document or b) try sincerely to help you (look up nearest public notary, etc). I hope that was an unusual exception!

    • Emma–Thanks for sharing your experience with PNC. As I mentioned in one of the other comments, I really did appreciate the way they greeted me when I arrived. It was such a stark contrast to Commerce.

  7. Jamey, I’m sure you already know this and I’m honestly not sure what the rule is in Missouri, but if you have or know any lawyers a lot of them are notary publics. Most people don’t want to visit an attorney and they are usually pretty busy but if you have a lawyer friend I’m sure he could notarize it for you for a nominal fee. Just a thought.

    Worst customer service I ever experienced was Continental airlines. I missed my connection to San Francisco because their flight was delayed, there was nothing flying out of Houston and they didn’t ever give me a voucher to cover my hotel (or rather motel stay). I did get to experience a 3 A.M. ‘dinner’ at the Waffle House and sit next to some truckers, haha.

    • That reminds me! One of the better customer service experiences I had recently was with Delta airlines. I was at LaGuardia flying back to St. Louis and my flight was delayed by 9 hours due to weather. Delta came around to all of those on my flight (there were only about 12 of us) and gave us each a $30 voucher for food/drinks at the airport. I was so relieved because I’d spent to much $ in NYC that I was like oh great… I’m going to be starving by the time I get back to STL and I am NOT spending $10 on a measly airport sandwich. Because of the voucher, I went into the actual restaurant and was able to get a meal and a beer. I still had to wait the 9 hours, but I really appreciated them making the effort!

    • Jen–I actually didn’t know that lawyers could notarize. Now I know! 🙂 Thank you.

      That’s pretty terrible of Continental. I’m sorry to hear that. Although it’s good to see Jill’s story below about Delta. I’m glad that some airlines still treat passengers as customers.

  8. Every Sunday I get a bagel and tea for breakfast. I used to go to an Einstein’s in the city that was closer to where I lived, but after a year of going there and ordering the same thing every week they were still giving me blank looks. I don’t expect them to know my name, but they could at least show that they recognize me. I started going to the one in Richmond Heights, and after six months there was one worker who would start making my tea when I walked in the door. He’s shift manager now, which makes me really happy because his bosses must be paying attention. Actually, there are several workers there who recognize me and some other people who come in all the time. Any time I have a big order I go to them because I want to give them the business, and I haven’t been to the other location since. All because the workers made the effort to recognize repeat customers.

    P.S. I actually went to Commerce to get something notarized today, and the banker didn’t ask me if I had an account there until the very end. It sounded like if I had said no, she would have just tried to get me to switch banks instead of saying she couldn’t help me.

    • Dawn–I love this story! That’s awesome that the employee at the Richmond Heights Einstein’s started recognizing you and even remembers what you like. (It’s my secret desire to be a “regular” somewhere and have that same kind of service, so you’re talking to the right person here.) Is that the Einstein’s near the Richmond Heights Schnuck’s?

      Perhaps Commerce’s strategy is to notarize for everyone and use that opportunity to try to sell other services. That seems way better than limiting notarizations to existing customers–it’s the perfect way to get new customers in the door.

  9. Jamey- I enjoy reading your blog (and I never know what to expect; thought-provoking entry? comical entry? light-hearted?). Although I have never commented I am able to shed some light on this topic, as I work for a bank. A reason many banks will only notarize for their customers is to minimize risk exposure. A non-customer poses a higher risk than a customer. Additionally, notories are bonded and that bond may not cover non-customers. Hope this clears it up a little!

    • Christy–Thanks for reading, and thanks so much for clarifying this! I hadn’t thought about the risk to the bank.

  10. Why do UK bus tickets beyond London cost therefore
    much? I live in Luton, Bedfordshire and relocated from
    London to here and back in London a bus complete (oyster)
    would just cost £45 and may last about 6 years,
    but in Luton £45 would just get you a 4 week bus ticket.
    Doesn’t other people find that a total rip off!
    No oyster card in london is going to last 6 years!


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