How To Recover When The Credit Union Makes A Mistake

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Early in my credit union career I came across an interesting situation. I received a call from a member who had a history of not being very pleasant. She was calling to complain that her online access was not working the way we had promised. A particular transaction was not going through.

I had a feeling that this was a simple problem to fix. I told her I would look into the issue and vehemently promised to call her back within 15 minutes. Sure enough one box had not been checked by the MSR when setting up the account, which prevented the member from being allowed to complete the operation. The change was made and I called her back within five minutes. She was able to complete her transaction and thanked me profusely. I apologized that she had difficulty initially and told her to call me with any other issues. The member was so taken with the service she received that day she contacted one of our vice presidents to say how impressed she was. More important, she signed up for an additional product.

Needless to say, the member was much more pleasant to the staff from then on. Now I didn't do anything that special except in the fact that I planned it. No, I didn't plan to have the account set up improperly but I did plan on how I would handle these types of situations based upon training I had received previously. Rather than telling the member the account was set up wrong, or worse blaming the MSRs, I concentrated on solving her problem as quickly as possible. The focus was so much on the member and the solution that she didn't even ask why there was an issue in the first place. If the focus had been on the problem she probably would have complained that we as a company were incompetent to anyone that would listen, even after it had been solved.

One of the best ways to turn problems into opportunities is to realize that even the best institutions make mistakes and to have a plan on how to serve members when issues arise. Here are some guidelines to follow:

1. If the problem is the credit union's fault, apologize and don't make excuses.

One of the worst practices an employee can adopt, regardless of position, is to sidestep member complaints. Making excuses, blaming a coworker, or accusing another department are all forms of fuel for the member's fire. Problems need to be tackled head on. Most members will appreciate an apology coupled with a sense of urgency to find a solution on the part of the employee. This will usually change the dynamic as well, i.e. a sense of the member and the credit union working together to fix the problem rather than an "us versus them" mentality.

2. If there is no quick fix, give the member a timeframe.

Some predicaments can't be fixed easily. If it's going to take some time to rectify the problem, let the member know and give him a timeframe as to when it will be resolved. It's generally a wise idea to overestimate the time to fix a problem by at least 10%. You will thank yourself later that you have a little extra cushion if something unexpected develops. If you tell a member his problem will be rectified in three days and it takes only two, that will be a big positive in the member's mind. Always under promise and over deliver.

3. Keep the member informed.

Always keep the member informed on the progress of the efforts to fix the problem. When a member is left to think about an unresolved issue too long without any updates, it could lead to thoughts that are increasingly negative. After a short time the member is convinced no one at the credit union wants his business. A little while longer and the member's thoughts lead him to believe the staff of the credit union are doing nothing to solve the problem and are laughing at him and his predicament.

These feelings eventually reach the point where the member begins to believe the credit union is the source of all his problems, including that toaster you gave him that always burns his bread. So before you wind up receiving a ridiculous phone call, keep the member updated. Even if there is no new news, let him know that you are still working on the issue. The member will appreciate that someone is at least still on top of his concern.

4. If you say you will call by a certain time, make sure you make that call.

This may sound simple but the fact is that most people working in customer service don't do what they say they will. If you say you will call the member within 24 hours, make the call within 24 hours even if the problem isn't fixed. With alarms, to-do lists, and calendars built into just about everything electronic-including cell phones, organizers, watches, and probably even electric toothbrushes-there is no excuse for not remembering to follow up with a member. I guarantee that the member won't forget you were supposed to call. As we have said before, don't make promises you can't or don't intend to keep!

5. Have some extra premium items to give out when necessary.

Practically all members want to feel as if they are special. That feeling is even more prevalent when a problem has occurred. While a quick resolution coupled with a sincere apology may be all that is necessary, a mug or a box of golf balls wouldn't hurt. It's a good idea to allot a few premium items which managers and/or MSRs can access when situations warrant them to do so.

So the next time a disgruntled member calls your number, don't wish you had let the call go to voicemail. Take advantage of the opportunity and strengthen that relationship. It may be the chance to earn a loyal member for life.

Ken Bator is president of Bator Training and Consulting, Naperville, Ill. He can be reached at 630-854-6380 or kbator

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