I Got Your Back!

“You may not have worked for me, but I worked for everyone!”

That’s what I recently told my friend Kelley Lara, a former associate of mine at the USCC/U.S. Citibanking Center here in San Antonio.

She had commented on a Facebook post of mine about a meeting we had with our USCC CEO, Mark Devine, & a number of other department & area heads.

I later asked her for a full description as the incident probably occurred about 20 years ago & my memory is resembling Swiss cheese more & more with each passing day.

“It was during a Customer Satisfaction meeting”, she said.

“I was tasked with providing the various survey results to each respective
department manager and they, in turn, were supposed to take the negative surveys (photocopies of which were previously distributed) & contact the customer directly.

“In this way, they could ensure that the original issue was resolved & gain some additional insight from the customer. After completing the exercise, they were required to send me the results to include in my monthly report. Many of the managers failed to complete the exercise.

“Mr. Devine questioned me about missing departmental information. I was so intimidated because here I am, a R-level officer, having to throw senior management under the bus. I explained my procedure and said that I had no alternative but to publish my report without much of the requested information in order to meet my deadline.

“Well, you chimed in & told Mark that I was very good & attentive about everything, including issuing several reminders to everyone. Mark then looked at me and told me to carbon copy him on all requests going forward.

“He then looked at all those present and told them, in no uncertain terms, they would have to answer to him if there were any more “gaps” in my monthly report.

“I was scared to death when he asked me why I had missing information!”

I then explained to Kelley how I handled situations when I personally didn’t receive information or a response back from people.

“I had no problem whatsoever calling people out when they failed to complete a required task…if they didn’t offer any sort of explanation or apology. I mean, seriously now, it was never a matter of them actually being too busy to comply.

“I hated when people wouldn’t respond, not even to explain why they may have needed more time. That’s why I would always copy my boss & their boss on any type of request.

“And I hated when the poor messenger was getting the shit end of the stick, too.

“But I was ruthless with my own people when they weren’t getting answers from different people around the company.

“If the offenders were in San Antonio, it was ‘You go knock on their door & tell them that you’ll wait right there ’til you get what you (I) need! And tell ’em that I’ll be their next visitor!’

“For people in NY, etc., you give them one more chance & tell them that ‘Mike instructed me to follow up with your boss if I don’t get what we requested by tomorrow!’

“Worked very well. I also told them (my people) that I’m holding ‘you personally responsible’. I want what I requested, not excuses nor reasons why I don’t have it.”

No, it’s not ruthless…it’s business.

Business is about getting results, fulfilling tasks, making sure the job gets done.

I don’t give a damned about what effort you put in or whether you can meet your deliverables.

But I’ll be damned if I will allow your ineptitude, inability, unwillingness or forgetfulness to negatively impact MY job & MY performance.

If any of these conditions exist, then speak up!

If you don’t understand something (even if you should), I’ll provide you with all the help in the world, be it advice, knowledge, direction, instruction or whatever you need.

If you’re unwilling (due to situations beyond your control, e.g., the Auditors just made a surprise visit), then we’ll talk it out & see what other options may be available.

If you’re just plain unwilling, then we’ll have the “come to Jesus” chat. If that’s not successful, then I’ll start at the top of YOUR food chain & work my way down to you.

If you’re forgetful, that’s why we send out reminders about impending deadlines.

But it’s EVERYONE’S responsibility to communicate.

Don’t bury my e-mail & ignore it. Don’t ignore my phone calls & make me talk to your voicemail. If you can’t do something within the prescribed timeframe, then raise your hand!

Be an adult.

When Kelley added this in another message, I had a bunch of mixed feelings…

“Yes, it should be that way. I agree. The majority of the time when I couldn’t get what I needed to do MY job was when people considered it a pesky little task & just ignored me.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t feel supported by my own department & manager so my complaints would fall upon deaf ears!

“You were one of the very few managers that ever supported me and I didn’t even work for you!”

So that’s where my “You may not have worked for me, but I worked for everyone!” came from.

That’s how EVERY manager, leader, needs to think!

Everything you see, feel, hear, read or know about is, indeed, YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!

It may not appear under your specific box in the organization chart.

But if you see or experience another department or area not doing the right thing or forgetting to address certain items regarding service delivery, it’s your responsibility to address it…either directly with the employee in question (if you’re going to provide some needed help or better instructions) or with that leadership team (if you have questions/issues with how their people are handling a specific function).

Needs to be looked at as a learning opportunity.

I remember a recurring problem we (actually, customers) were having with the Returned Items department & I believe, FEW/Fraud Early Warning unit who were examining “returned deposits” that our customers originally made.

For example, when we accepted the deposit, we would encode (print on the bottom of) the deposit ticket as well as encode the dollar amount on the checks themselves.

Machinery would then separate the deposits by the banks upon which they were drawn.

(Citi Customer A deposits 5 checks from his customers…$100 from Chase, $150 from BofA, $5000 from Truist, $1500 from Wells Fargo & $2000 from PNC.

We encode the deposit ticket for $8,750 & credit his account for that amount.

We then send out each check (through Incoming Exchange) to those banks so we can receive the funds back…matching what we already credited to Customer A.

If Truist refuses to pay the $5000 check that their customer wrote…ISF/Insufficient Funds, Stop payment, account closed/blocked, etc…they “take back” the $5000 they gave us upfront.

Now, it’s important that we (Citi) “take back” the $5000 from that $8,750 we already credited to him.

Since “debits” usually post at night, we cover (protect) ourselves by instantly making $5000 “unavailable for use” by “holding the funds” in Citi Customer A’s account.

Years ago, this was a manual process…a clerk would physically “place a $5000 hold” on a computer terminal.

But here’s where the problem lied…

When we received “early notification” that the other bank would not honor/pay a check that our customer deposited (in this case, we’d receive notification from Truist that they’re not paying that $5000 check), this Citi unit (Early Warning?) would place a $5000 hold on our customers account.

However, when the physical check itself came back from Truist later, then Citi’s Returned Item would blindly place ANOTHER $5000 hold on the customer’s account!


Very bad.

And neither unit really cared that they were doing a major disservice to the customer (as we were holding TWICE THE AMOUNT that we should have) as they just kep saying, “I’m doing my job!”.

“But you’re screwing the customer by placing 2 holds…one by the Early Warning people & the other by the Returned Items staff…and then we in Customer Service are dealing with a whole bunch of angry customers!”

When I didn’t get much cooperation from either Unit Manager, I immediately went up the org chart to the appropriate VPs & explained what they were doing.

The fix was simple.

Before the 2nd unit placed a hold, check the account on the computer to see if the first unit already did.

Or find a way to transmit the necessary information of what the first unit did (Early Warning) to the second unit (Returned Items) before these items got to them.

The difficultly lied in the fact that the  Early Warning Unit were only addressing “high dollar amount bad deposited checks”, but the Returned Items Unit received all “bad deposited checks”.

“Hey, guys, you’re gonna hafta find a way to coordinate your units’ activities as we’re not gonna accept your disservicing the customers. Understand?

“I know you’re trying your best to cover the bank’s ass, but you can’t do that ‘double whammy’ nonsense to the customer because you’re being overzealous!

“You may nor care as you’re solely focusing on preventing losses, but when it comes to the customers, I care & the branches care & I’ll be damned but freakin’ everyone else is gonna learn to care as well!

“And I’m starting with the big bosses!”

Yes, they eventually got their act together & began doing the right thing, without any additional risk whatsoever to the bank!

Nowadays, almost all of this interbank stuff is handled electronically. Items get scanned by the receiving bank (depositing bank) & transmitted to the paying bank (who wrote out the checks).

OK, back to our original story…

It was almost impossible for me to walk through a Customer Service Unit without my head turning on a swivel whenever I heard the “magic word”.

No, not THAT word, silly!

Things like “I think that…”, “you’ll need to go to the branch for that…”, “we’re not allowed to…” & a few other key phrases.

Customers don’t wanna hear what YOU think.

They called to get the proper response from Citibank & just happened to wind up with you. If you only “think that…” & are not sure about what you’re saying, use the tools at your disposal or go ask for help.

Many times when a phone service rep directs a caller to the branch, they’re mistaken. Gotta trust me on this one as I would get dozens & dozens of complaints DIRECTLY from irritated branch managers (and Area Directors) every single month.

And I would spend a great deal of time & effort researching the issue & providing feedback to the rep/manager (sometimes, falling upon deaf ears as a few managers knew even less than their people), then writing Daily Bulletins to educate the masses & ensuring that our knowledgeware database (SOK/System of Knowledge or the Source) was accurate, complete & easy to navigate.

Same with “we’re not allowed to “.

Most of the time it winds up to be “I don’t think we’re allowed to”…and we’re not here to think about the right answer, but rather, to provide it. We would always concentrate on the proper way to submit an investigation request.

But our biggest area of concern was NOT when we submitted an investigation when we, indeed, shouldn’t have.

I’d always freak out whenever I read completed customer satisfaction surveys where the customer experienced a problem.

Not only was the satisfaction level in the teens (% of customers who were “very satisfied”, which is absolutely scary when you realize that we had our Immediate/Provisional functionality imbedded in our system functionality & regularly completed over 97% of all submitted investigations within 3 business days!!!), but on average, customers spoke to more than 6 Citibankers (including the branches) before their issue was finally resolved!!!

I would always wonder what the hell person #1, #2, #3, #4 & #5 did when they were contacted…what did they say, what did they do, how they set the customer’s expectations regarding the process, etc..

Very rarely did the issue lie with the Investigations Unit. While they made the occasional error, most of the problems arose at the front end.

Here’s an easy-to-understand example…

Customer calls & says he doesn’t recognize a certain transaction that posted to his account.

Instead of using information already available on the system & giving the customer an immediate answer, they would often submit a “photocopy request”.

Or when the customer requests a photocopy of an item, the rep merely nods their head & follows the customer’s instructions like a robot!


You must probe the customer to IDENTIFY THEIR TRUE NEED.

With a photocopy request, the customer gets a photocopy…nothing else! Is it because they don’t recognize that check number as it’s out of their normal range? If so, they don’t necessarily red a photo…just an assurance that the item is legit.

Instead, an investigation…for an “unrecognized item”…should be submitted.

In this way, a photocopy is produced in-house & sent to an investigator who then verifies the authenticity of the item.

If it’s correct, they’ll provide the customer with a letter explaining same & the photocopy as well.

If it’s not the customer’s item, then the investigator will make the necessary adjustment & explain everything in a letter.

Yes, the customer says, “I need to see this item”, but service representatives are tasked with doing the right thing for the customer, not simply obeying orders or fulfilling requests.

Think about it.

What if the photocopy shows that it’s not the customer’s item? That’ll force another contact by the customer. By submitting an “unrecognized item” investigation, everything gets done on the first contact.

In addition, when I ran Micrographics, we’d get several requests each day to provide photocopies on “electronic transactions”, e.g., automated debits from third parties, On-Line Banking funds transfers, ATM transactions, etc..

Did they want my people to send a photocopy of an electrical current? Everything regarding an electronic transaction was already available to the service rep when he had the customer on the phone.

(I had my Micrographics people either explain the situation in a letter to the customer or refer the item to another dept while we sent a letter to the customer. Before I got there, they would simply send the customer a letter that no photocopy was available for the transaction.

Of course, that would “force” the customer to call Citi again.)

It’s called “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes”!

It’s not rocket science. It’s what every area should be doing that touches any customer, internal or external.

It’s also what EVERY leader, manager, supervisor should be doing with relation to their own people & staff.

See what it’s like to be in their people’s situation.

Did they get the proper training?

How are they kept up to date on the hundred of different things that constantly change?

How easy is it for them to get immediate help when they need it?

What happens when they’re having issues with another department or area?

What does it feel like to have your head handed to you…by a belligerent customer or even a supervisor…at the end of a very, very long day?

How often do they receive feedback on how they’re doing?

When was the last time they were recognized/cited/thanked, formally or otherwise, for what they do?

What happens when they have a complaint?

You can only be a good leader when you truly understand, and appreciate, exactly what your people go through on a regular basis.

OK, covered a few different topics in this one, heh?


As always, thank you so very much for listening!

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