Adding Value…No Matter What!

In much the same manner in which I always drummed into my people’s head that their responsibility as a service representative is NOT to just answer customer questions.. and NOT to blindly & obediently fulfill their requests…and NOT to merely “follow orders”, but rather, TO add value…TO probe for the true, underlying need…TO resolve their real issue, even if it’s unstated…and TO meet & exceed the customer’s wildest expectations!

In other words, it’s to go beyond the obvious & add real, tangible value for the customer. (The customer asks for his payment due date as he needs to write a check for his loan or line of credit. His REAL need is to ensure that he makes his payment on time. You should discuss automatic payment options with him as well as using on-line banking/IVR/mobile app to execute the payment.)

Don’t necessarily “trust” that you’re being given the proper orders to follow. (Customer wants you to open an investigation for his “missing deposit” when, in fact, it’s sitting in another account or was already removed due to an IRS tax levy.)

Well, the same overriding principle also applies when you’re representing your organization at a meeting, as a member of a project team or when you participate on a task force.

Don’t go into that situation with your blinders on!

Are we doing the right thing or going about the execution in the right way?

Will my organization be greatly impacted by the execution of a campaign or special promotion, but that same impact hasn’t been accounted for in the program analysis? (Marketing departments are “infamous” for developing a financial impact analysis taking into consideration expected sales results & the actual costs of execution, e.g., advertising, signage/promotional material, direct mail, etc. but often omit the residual impact on their partner areas like Customer Service. Their financial analysis needs to take into consideration the complete picture & the full impact on the overall business.)

Let me provide you with a few examples of when I faced situations like this…

> National Marketing (one VP in particular) developed a business proposition for a service offering very similar to what Western Union already was doing with regard to international money transfers.

Specifically, this lady was trying to develop this product “specifically” for people working in the U.S. (citizens or those on work visas) to “send money back home” to their family & relatives in Mexico & other Latin American countries.

Seemed like a good idea…except for a few thingies.

The product was going to be so competitively priced that it wouldn’t be profitable on its own.

It was being positioned more as a “drawing card” for the Hispanic community.

In addition, I wasn’t sure if this particular customer segment (not Hispanics in general, but rather, Hispanics who were sending cash back to their home country) was within Citi’s targeted market.

(Pls do NOT picket outside my home, send me nastygrams or call me bad names. This is a business, not a charity, and while EVERY large company does tons of stuff for the community, it need not be the driving force in EVERY business initiative.)

And, originally, it was designed to work ONLY at our proprietary ATMs (Citicard Banking Centers) & on-line banking. Mobile banking had yet to be developed. I was fine with that, especially since those self-service vehicles have built-in security safeguards & upfront edits/controls.

But then, in the middle of the project, the Marketing product manager wanted CitiPhone to manually accept & process verbal requests from customers & manually execute the transfers themselves on CWS/CitiPhone WorkStation.

That made me very uneasy.

Not from the point of handling additional volume, but more from a risk & loss exposure perspective.

Systems could not build the real-time edits & controls that I wanted/requested right into the system functionality to prevent employee theft & embezzlement.

The best it could do was supply next-day reports that would provide user metrics & highlight possible abuse.

That wasn’t good enough for me…if the funds were leaving the bank real-time, then I wanted the controls to be real-time as well.

Next-day reports could very well be 1 day too late to prevent or catch significant losses.

Couple that with the fact that there was little, if any, net revenue against which to book these possible losses, the whole proposal made it very uncomfortable for me.

In banking, most Checking accounts are “loss leaders”. Unless the customer maintained “sufficiently high enough” balances &/or paid fees regularly, the business actually loses money on the account.

But Checking is an “anchor account”. It’s the basis for the entire relationship. Everything revolves around it. And many times, even if the customer has experienced problem incidents or poor service, they’ll often remain a customer as “changing Checking acct from one place to another” can be very involved & cumbersome.

But what we were dealing with here was a service that would generate minimal revenue (and not necessarily attract “large balance households”).

As such, I requested a meeting with National Marketing’s Senior Leadership to raise & address my concerns.

She refused my request.

I then warned her that if I wasn’t permitted the opportunity to raise these potential issues to her superiors in Marketing, then I would be forced to take matters into my own hands.

She was a little too confident (haughty?) when she said, “I have the full support of senior management!”

Oh, really? We hadn’t worked together previously & she didn’t realize just how much I relish a figh, er, challenge.

I had spent a few months already working on this project with her & tried, in vain, to get her to understand the severity of these issues. I was also unable to get Systems to build what I deemed necessary.

I then pulled out my trump card!

(No snickering, please.)

I went to a good buddy of mine, Ward Wen, the Senior VP in charge of Fraud Analysis & Loss Prevention for the U.S. Retail Bank with whom I worked together on several projects.

We had a very good rapport & he trusted my expertise & me, explicitly.

(In fact, a few years after I left Citi, he sent me a message on LinkedIn, I believe.

“I recently went to a Banking seminar in California where I met this guy who was so knowledgeable about the business & unbelievably excited about what he was doing. I immediately thought to myself, ‘He reminds me of my good friend Mike LoRusso!’”)

In talking with Ward, I said, “If I was able to have a few head tellers at some big Manhattan branches plotting with me, I could easily rip off the bank for at least $25MM. And, by the time Mike Knollmeyer…RIP…& Tom Wern (USCC Audit & Compliance) read the system reports the next business day, I’d already be lying on the beach somewhere in South America, working on my tan!”

I then fully explained my “plan”!

I also said, “I really don’t wanna station security guards outside all of the CitiPhone reps’ homes to see if they’re leaving in the middle of the night with a couple of suitcases & airline tickets!”

Within a couple of days, I learned that the project got squashed.

> I was representing the USCC on a major project undertaking that was addressing the dilemma of Citibank having all these different marketplaces or FIMPs/Financial Institution MarketPlaces around the country (New York, Mid-Atlantic, Florida, Illinois, California, etc.), all different legal vehicles (Citibank, NA; Citibank FSB; CitiMortgage; Citibank, South Dakota; etc.), and the difficulties associated with “cross-FIMP transactions” & certain prohibited “cross-Legal vehicle arrangements”.

Citi had a number of customers with banking relationships in multiple marketplaces…NY “snowbirds” with additional accts in Florida…customers who moved to California & opened new accounts there, while keeping their original Citi accounts…customers with Deposit-based accts & Citi credit cards & a Citi Mortgage…etc..

In fact, I was one of these customers as I still had my NY accounts but opened new employee accounts (based out of Illinois) when I moved to San Antonio.

As a result, I had 2 different Citibank Banking Cards, 2 different statements, 2 separate on-line banking views, etc..

Well, the bank brought in dozens & dozens of off-shore contract programmers to build all these different rules & processes on top of the existing mess.

I spent hours on end, working with Systems programmers who really didn’t understand how our products & services worked (as well as they should’ve if you’re gonna operate on this massive patient), were unfamiliar with our business rules, etc…and then they would argue with me on conference calls.

I kept on recommending that we do this thing the right way & build it from the bottom up, instead of creating all this patchwork & workarounds.

The complexity of things was getting totally unmanageable!

But they had already invested well over $40MM on programming resources alone!

And then one day, we got a new Project Director, Paul Malusis, with whom I worked before on other stuff.

I called him off-line after one of our weekly project meetings to let him know exactly how I felt & what an unmanageable monster this whole thing was becoming.

I contended that Systems was going about this totally incorrectly. I gave him dozens of examples to support my viewpoint.

About a week or so later, after already investing over $40MM in programming, Senior Leadership killed the whole project effort.

> Citi was one of the last major banks to introduce a “debit card” to the public.

A debit card is an ATM card, co-branded with MasterCard (in this case) or Visa to offer purchasing capabilities to customers.

Citi was planning a massive reissuance of ALL ATM cards.

To help ensure that we had as accurate a customer demographic database as possible, National Marketing wanted CitiPhone to begin validating EVERY caller’s address & phone numbers on EVERY phone call for X months.

And they wanted us to do it for free! (BTW, we were probably handling 60,000 manned calls on an average business day!)

I explained to the Marketing VP, Kevin Malone, in charge of the project that this would “blow up CitiPhone” by significantly increasing our AHT/Average Handle Time, thus increasing our manpower requirements.

I told him that it would cost us ~$3MM to support the effort & asked if he was ready to finance it for us.

He hit the ceiling!

“Just do it, Mike!”

“Clearly you don’t understand how a call center operates. We have timeliness standards to meet & if you force us to increase the length of an average call by X seconds (by performing this address/phone # verification process), then we’ll need Y incremental man-hours or Z more people.and that’ll cost YOU $3MM as I don’t have that kind of $ just lying around!”

We kept going back & forth.

He raised the issue up the ladder to Maura Markus, the head of U.S. Citibanking…and we defended our positioning to her as well.

(I had worked with Maura about 10 years earlier on a number of strategic projects. We were friendly.)

She agreed with us & Kevin withdrew his request.

It’s important that you know your stuff (and build a good reputation in the business) so people will trust your judgment & you’ll be better able to represent your organization’s needs & the company’s overall objectives.

Don’t just sit there & nod your head. Always add incremental value.


Thank again so much for listening!

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