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. 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 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…without them offering 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 a “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!

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, directly with the employee in question as well as with that leadership team as a learning opportunity.

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.

Most times when a service representative 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 need was NOT submitting an investigation when we, indeed, should 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 5 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 submit a “photocopy request”.

Wrong!

With a photocopy request, the customer gets a photocopy…nothing else!

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 obey their order or fulfill their request.

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 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 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 much for listening!

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