Complaints: A Banker’s Best Friend

By John Tschohl

In the banking industry, it’s impossible to avoid complaints. Finances aren’t just about numbers. Consumers can be very emotional when it comes to money—and when a transaction or application process doesn’t go as smoothly as expected, they can end up feeling particularly frustrated—even vulnerable. So when a customer complains, it usually stems from genuine concern. It’s critically important to take care of that customer by listening to the complaint—and resolving it—to ensure a sustainable banking relationship.

If you don’t hear many complaints, isn’t that a good thing?

Maybe. But here’s the problem: Fewer than half of unhappy customers will bring a complaint to your attention. Those who never say anything will tell an average of 11 or more people about their bad experience. If we recognize complaints as opportunities, we can sway these averages, one resolved complaint at a time. No transaction is complete unless the service that customers receive will motivate them to return and do business with you again.

Customers want to know someone is listening and they are understood—and they are hoping you are willing to take care of the problem to their satisfaction. No matter what the situation is, when a customer brings a complaint to your attention—even if they do it in a less-than-desirable way—be thankful. Understand that improper handling of a customer complaint can be costly to the bank.

How to handle a customer complaint in a smooth and professional manner.

When something goes wrong how do you take the customer from hell to heaven in 60 seconds? The solution is to empower and reward employees to solve problems quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction.

Follow up with a phone call. Even a small gesture of apology can turn a bad situation into a good one. The cost could be minimal—maybe a simple upgrade or a gift card to a local business. A simple gesture like this could result in an over-happy customer. When you resolve customer complaints successfully, you will better understand their needs, retain them as loyal customers, and enhance your business.

I have been writing about Stew Leonard’s for over 25 years. President and CEO Stew Jr. has a 6,000 pound granite rock in front of each store that says:

Rule 1 The customer is always right!

Rule 2 If the customer is ever wrong reread Rule 1.


The company has received worldwide acclaim for excellence in customer service and quality and is featured in two of management expert Tom Peter’s books: A Passion for Excellence and Thriving on Chaos.

In banking, of course, it’s not always possible to give the customer whatever they want. Little things like laws and regulations might sometimes get in the way of that. But often, what customers are really looking for is empathy, constructive advice, and some tangible sign that their problem is being taken seriously—and escalated to the appropriate level when necessary.

Understanding the art of the complaint.

There is a way to complain correctly, and the better you understand that, the better prepared you’ll be to handle the complaints of your own customers.

Your customer-facing staff should cultivate their ability to empathize by reflecting on their own experiences as customers. Remind them that we all deserve quality and top notch performance. And we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.

Most people begin their complaint with the person they are complaining about. Of course, many people don’t believe it will do any good, and frequently they are right. After all, if the complaint comes in at that level, the staff involved seems unlikely to send it on up to management to show what a terrible job they did on handling it. Unless, of course, the service culture at the organization supports the escalation of complaints to ensure a good experience, a quality product, and top of the line customer service.

As consumers, there are several things we can do to motivate a business to provide better customer service:

  • Ask for good service: “I really need your help.”
  • Act as if you expect good service.
  • Treat frontline staff as friends—a friendly attitude toward service employees so rare that staff treated respectfully jump to attention to serve you as if you were a celebrity.
  • Change your attitude toward good service. Your chances of receiving good service improve immensely. Speak up.
  • State clearly your expectations and ask for a speedy resolution to problems.

Don’t feel sorry for business, government, non-profit groups—or even banks—when you complain about bad service. You’re doing them a favor by complaining.

Complaints are good for business so don’t shut up, speak up.

John Tschohl is an international service strategist and speaker, and author of the book The Customer Is Boss. He is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minn. He can be reached on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.