The High Bar of Client Expectations

This Christmas season, as you are in line at the Starbucks or waiting on the clerk at the department store, think for a minute as how demanding you are as a customer.  Typically I am usually happy-go-lucky but there are times when I am in a hurry or am having a bad day that I can be a real pill of a customer.  I also can get testy if the person serving me just is not giving the effort for good service that I expect. 

That is the same way your clients and members are toward you as a financial institution.  We all know that no matter how hard we try, at times, events happen, whether in or out of our control, where we fail to meet the high bar of customer expectations.  So what happens then?

Leo Colborne, VP of EMC Corporation quoted, “Customers with problems have to go through a healing process before they can move on.  The goal is to get the customer to say, ‘I’m really not happy about what happened, but I can’t thank you enough for the support you provided to get me through it.”  This is an interesting and true way of what happens when one of your member is let down.  It will happen.  The important thing is what actions you take when this happens.

Clients have certain expectations of customer service.  A study by Cooper and Associates, came up with the top ten expectations of bank retail customers.  Even if you are not in the retail side, these will still apply to you.

1.       Being called back when promised
2.       Receiving an explanation of how a problem happened
3.       Knowing who to contact with a problem
4.       Being contacted promptly when a problem is resolved
5.       Being allowed to talk to someone in authority
6.       Being told how long it will take to resolve a problem
7.       Being given useful alternatives if a problem can’t be solved
8.       Being treated like a person, not an account number
9.       Being told about ways to prevent a future problem
10.   Being given progress reports if a problem can’t be solved immediately

A few of these stick out to me.  Knowing who to contact and being allowed to talk to someone in authority is important.  When you call your office, are you greeted with a person or some system that requires 10-20 different entries on your phone to finally get to a voicemail box and having to leave a message for someone deep in the bowels of the organization?  Another thing is if you are dealing with a problem, take responsibility to fix it as much as you can.  Don’t shift blame to someone or something else.  Truitt Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A has a sign in his office that says, “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” 

Successful repair of the relationship requires that you fix the person first, and then fix the problem.  If your folk focus quietly on correcting the problem without dealing with any emotional damage to the person, you are leaving the message that your product is not reliable, but it can be fixed if one gripes about it.  People lose a little faith in your company when there is a problem that is not addressed.  It is also important to allow the customer to vent and explain his frustration before beginning to fix the problem will go a long way in repairing the emotional relationship.

Your work should always be done in the spirit of partnership.  Those of us in credit unions have a leg up on this if we view our institution as a partnership between members and employees.  We are all in this together.  When there is a problem, if there are actions the member could take to avoid parts of the problem in the future, share that with them.  This should never be done in an accusatory sort of way but with a spirit of we are all on the same team.

Recovering from a service failure is a planned process.  You should have steps in place that are created and agreed upon by your team on how to respond when there is a failure.  Performance Research Associates book, Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, list two big benefits to a well-planned and well-implemented recovery process:  the quality of the solutions offered and the skill of the people offering it.  Of these, people remember the people more than they do the solution. 

Jeff Bezos, founder of said “You can’t guarantee that you will never make mistakes. You can guarantee that you will fix them.”  It is important to realize that any encounter with a disgruntled client is an opportunity to deepen the relationship.  The next move is up to you.