Are You Inadvertently Delivering Customer Dis-service?

Does your organization inadvertently train customer facing personnel to deliver customer dis-service?  I recently had some experiences where the staff were obviously following their rules but the end results were, let’s just say, “sub optimal”.

The cases in mind are at a large Canadian bank, and banks have a special challenge because there are lots of modestly paid personnel dealing with money, and money has a special impact on everybody involved because mistakes are more important than something like too much sugar in the coffee.

In one case I went to my local branch to close an account for a company where we had not transacted business for a long time and did not intend to do any further business.  I took along a paper statement to more quickly identify the company, and the very first thing the young fellow at the counter said was “that’s a different branch, you need to go there”.  This is an amazing first comment from a bank where one of the major strategic initiatives is for customers to be able to bank any where and any time.  I assured him that the business manager of the account said I could do what I needed to do and presented the businesses customer access card so he could sign on to the correct account in his system.  The next barrier he threw back to me was that he needed two signatures for everything.  “Not true” says I whereupon he called over a supervisor, possibly to put me in my place but the result was that the supervisor pointed him to a field on his screen showing that the account is “either” not “both” so we could in fact carry on.  The final attempt at a project prevention was to declare that he could not electronically transfer from that business account to a personal account.  Again we got supervisor intervention which showed that the transfer is quite simple.  The point is that this young fellow tried three times to not do what was requested – prevention over accommodation.  If I had it not been a banker myself in a past history and also not had a conversation with an experienced manager before I showed up at the branch I would have been out of luck.  I understand that the rules are complex and this person clearly did not know the rules in this case and that’s OK.  What’s “less OK” is for a first reaction to be brushing off a customer.  What was it in this person’s training or personal makeup that makes it acceptable to try and refuse something in preference to trying to make it work?

At that same bank I needed a face to face appointment with an account manager to do a transaction that I still believe I should be able to do online but let’s set that aside for now.  We finished the transaction and then came the banking equivalent of “would you like fries with that” and she suggested to me that I really should open a line of credit.  She had just finished going over the general state of affairs and tried to position herself as my trusted advisor which is all well and good but she might have noticed that my cash balance at that time was 25 times what she was suggesting as a line of credit.  Again I was left wondering what was it about her training that would lead her to make such an inappropriate recommendation?

Another simple example that you can try yourself is to go to a restaurant and order something that’s not on the menu but still within the kind of food on offer at that location.  I tried this at a breakfast restaurant and ordered a bacon, egg and tomato sandwich.  This time the result was terrific, I got what I wanted and the young lady serving me also worked out a fair price.

So then, ask yourself what would happen in your company in scenarios like this?  Do you train your staff to protect the company at all costs or do they have flexibility for reasonable requests?  Do your staff have the personal makeup to put customer well being ahead of their own need to appear knowledgeable (even if they’re not) and in control?