Sometimes being a retail banker means having to say you're sorry. A lot.
"Hi, my name is Linda Verba, and I'm sorry," the top customer service executive at TD Bank said as she began a speech Thursday before a crowd of banking and marketing executives in New York.
It was a line she had been practicing for two weeks with irate customers after a prolonged systems glitch created serious inconvenience. But Verba said contrition has paid off for the U.S. arm of Toronto-Dominion Bank, in the form of less customer attrition than it expected.
"This will turn into a happy ending," Verba said. "Did we screw it up? Yeah. But I wouldn't do it differently if I had to do it all over again."
The problem resulted from a routine, if complicated, systems integration, as the $134 billion-asset TD Bank tried to combine its systems with those of the former Commerce Bancorp in Cherry Hill, N.J. For more than a week, the posting of direct deposits and other transfers was delayed, interrupting customers' access to their funds at a time when many had bills due.
Commerce, which Toronto-Dominion bought last year, was known for its slogan as "America's Most Convenient Bank," and many industry observers questioned TD Bank's ability to retain that brand reputation after such a large-scale glitch.
At SourceMedia Inc.'s Financial Services Marketing Symposium last week, Verba, the executive vice president of TD Bank's retail operations, said, "It's still too early to tell" the glitch's ultimate toll.
Nevertheless, she said, "we haven't lost as many [customers] as we built in" to projections made before the integration.
She gave no specifics but said in an interview after her speech that part of the projected attrition was expected due to a change in product offerings that TD Bank made at the same time as the systems integration.
"Because there was a change in product set, we anticipated that there would be some attrition. … And those are the things where we actually plotted out what we thought our losses would be," she said.
Verba and her colleagues have spent this month focusing on the devastation felt by TD Bank customers — supplementing their apologies with balloons, gift cards and $25 credits to their accounts.
That last incentive was offered to any customer who called TD Bank's toll-free line and managed to reach someone. It has had a couple of unintended consequences. In her speech, Verba blamed the media for continuing to clog phone lines by publicizing the fact that any caller who got through could get the $25 credit. During a question-and-answer session, one conference participant took the opportunity to tell Verba about his own inconvenience — before asking for a gift card of his own.
More broadly, TD Bank took out print advertisements in 60 newspapers last weekend to apologize, and Verba said her team is brainstorming rewards ideas to "surprise and delight" the customers who stuck with the bank.
But in the interview, she said that most of her apologizing is done.
"There are still individual customers that need help, but globally it's not about recovery anymore," she said. "It doesn't mean I'm not going to say 'I'm sorry' anymore," but "now it's about moving forward and telling them about how we're going to deliver on that promise."