People are not perfect. Even your best employees make a mistake from time to time. When that mistake happens to your members or customers, the way your financial institution handles it determines how forgiving the consumer is. Here’s an example of what not to do.

When I travel to see clients, I prefer to stay at a specific hotel chain. I am familiar with the amenities. I know how to access the wifi. The staff always thanks me for being a loyal member…except for a visit I had last month. I was greeted in a friendly manner, but when the desk attendant could not find my reservation in the computer, she grew increasingly irritated with me. I did get a room, along with an eye roll and a lot of attitude for absolutely no reason other than I somehow inconvenienced her.

I complained when I got back home, and the apology e-mail I received from the hotel manager started with this sentence: “Please accept our apology for any perceived rudeness as this is never our intention to be rude to any of our guests.” The rest of the e-mail doesn’t matter, because this is not an apology. What this e-mail really says is, “We’re sorry you thought we were rude to you when were really weren’t.” The rest of the e-mail was equally unapologetic.

The hotel should have handled this situation the way your financial institution should when your employee makes a mistake involving a member of customer.

  1. Acknowledge the mistake. Apologize even if you don’t think your employee is at fault, and don’t use words like perceived. If the consumer says it happened, assume it did for the sake of that one conversation. You have everything to lose and very little to gain if your apology goes south or is “perceived” as insincere.
  2. Describe how you will fix the problem (if applicable). In my case, a simple acknowledgement of mistreatment would have sufficed. The manager could have told me she had spoken to the employee and reviewed their greeting policy so this would not happen again. Obviously, financial transactions are different and warrant quick, accurate and sometimes complex fixes. Over communicate if necessary
  3. Offer something for their troubles. Waive a fee. Defer a payment. Send them a gift card in a small denomination to a partnering retailer. You don’t have to give away the shop. You just have to make them feel like they matter and that you took their complaint seriously.

You will always have your repeat complainers, but for the most part, the average consumer does not complain unless she spots a mistake or believes she is somehow mistreated. Hear your members or customers. Acknowledge them. Treat them like they matter. Those are your first steps to earning their forgiveness.