“I…I, use to be a real JERK! But now I’m a people guy.”
– Zed, Police Academy 3: Back in Training
The member comes to my teller window with a large wine jug half filled with coins. She’s dumped about half of the coins into the branch’s coin counter, saving the rest for later, and is now looking to get her cash credit from her receipt. As she attempts to balance her glass jug between her body and the too-small ledge of my teller window, the jar cracks, its integrity about to comprise itself by spilling the remaining contents on the floor of the at thread of the member line. I tell her to hold tight, and I race to the back of the teller area, grabbing a salvaged cardboard box from a credit union supply order, and I bring it around in an effort to give her something with which to carry the now-useless jug back to her car.
I am being a people person. It’s what I’ve been hired to be.
Member: “Looks like I have to go get me a new bottle for these coins.”
Normally, I have nothing to say in response. But not today…
Me: “just imagine the fun y’all’ll have emptying the contents!”
Trying not to say anything in response has been a recurring theme in my summer. This has been my summer job.
A random check of my checking account balance one night, took me to the link on the credit union’s home page that told me that my credit union is looking to hire educators as summer temp workers over the summer. With my only summer school opportunity offered ultimately being a kindergarten class, and being inexplicably (or explicable, if I’d just ask them…) passed over for a second consecutive year of the UCI Summer Youth Program, I send my resume–primarily geared for teaching opportunities, not banking–in to their Human Resource Department for consideration. This isn’t a lark, mind you, but I plan on not losing sleep on this sort of summer work opportunity that I feel is clearly out of my league. There’s no flipping way they’d hire me now, right?
When the phone call comes to ask me to interview, I am stunned. This has become real. Especially when, during the actual interview, that I realize that my interviewer is probably going to offer me the job, calling me the type of “people person” that the credit union is looking for. At this point, not wanting to blow this opportunity, I decide it best not to say anything.
As it stands, while not initially intentionally, I learn that the path to being successful at a teller window lies with not saying anything about what I will see just of outside of it. My branch manager emphasizes that I should focus upon keeping the line moving, but, nevertheless, I have a front row seat for just about every type of transaction, human and financial, you’d expect to see in a credit union lobby. Outside of my window, I witness real life.
On the surface, it’s ordinary going about one’s day: checks get cashed, people using the coin machine in our lobby, loan applications, loud children running about, questions about an account, members forgetting their ID in the car and having to answer personal questions about themselves that they have to rack their brains to recall.
You observe from your side of the window, but the unextraordinary nature of a day’s rhythm begs no comment–most times.
But there are still other things that I watch daily, where it’s best I just watch, and keep my words to myself.
For starters, I wordlessly admire my fellow team members go about their day of member service. This is a mixed group of personalities that I work with daily. They range in their personalities from bubbly and hyper to quiet and patient. I am still so impressed by how well they make things work on a daily basis. I think to myself how I could internalize those lessons for my own use. Part of me wonders if teachers, isolated for huge chunks of their work day in their classrooms with their students, miss out on the key moments for true teamwork that occur as we work through our day at the credit union. No one in the branch seeks any more added attention that couldn’t be given to the member first. While we swap experiences behind the scenes in place like the break room, the talk always finds itself back to deriving ways to maximize the member experience by increasing the quality of their service. These are all good people, and I look forward to working with them each day I have a shift.
From watching my 11 fellow team members go about their jobs interchangeably and seemlessly, I realize that this summer had slowly become the best professional development I could have ever asked for. In order to justify the credit union’s belief in what they seemed to see inside my own personality, I learn quickly to become that very person they think they’re getting when they hired me. It is virtually impossible not to internalize their overriding memes towards outstanding member service.
Still, honestly, at times, it seems, as if the members view us less as an assistance, and more of an obstacle. For instance, there was one member, dressed for that night’s Dodger game, in cap and dark sunglasses, visibly irritated when I have to ask him for his ID when he asks for several hundred dollars out of his account. There are other members who come to any of the teller windows, tossing their driver’s license and member cards into our trays. Another member brings his son to my teller window with dollars so folded and bent that we have to manually, rather than electronically, deposit them into our vault that night.
We say nothing throughout this, because it would be commenting upon the unexplainable.
But even more striking to me is the ringside seat we are given to member’s daily financial struggles.
Several mothers routinely come in to withdraw the small amounts in their children’s accounts, juggling what she can to just to get through the week.
I see teachers and classified school district employees, slowly empty their summer saver accounts, even though we’re nowhere near the end of August.
I see the coin machine busy most days, as coins get converted into more liquid assets, often to just help a member get through to the end of the day or week.
I watch a member nearly break down, happy that I voluntarily reversed NSF fees on her checking account, because she needed to cash a $30 check the next day from a part time job that constitutes her sole source of income until the school year starts.
I see more than my share of cash advances on credit cards, or checking accounts slammed by NSF fees because some members fall prey to the storefront payday advance loans.
Another member comes in with a large check to deposit, out of line with her normal banking pattern. Before we up the funds on a 2-day hold, we learn that the large check is her severance pay. The member lost her job earlier in the day.
Several members come in with postdated checks written by their companies, because their companies lack the funds to pay them outright.
Finally, I hear another member blame all of these financial issues upon the influx of “illegal aliens” into California.
While all of these, and other, observations give me cause to comment, I keep them to myself. I am learning that in order to be a people person, it’s often best to say as little as possible.
But then there are those times when there are no words.
One day, I am working my window when a member comes in to make a large withdrawal after cashing a check. We talk for a moment, as she asks to put a note on her account that she’s traveling to North Carolina. The note is so that she can have unfettered access to her ATM card. She’s on her way to visit with her son’s military unit, about to return to Fort Bragg from Afghanistan.
She wants to pay her respects to them, to thank them.
It seems that early last year, her son, while on patrol as a gunner in an armored personnel carrier, was killed in action.
I wish I could find the words to say something.