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Customer satisfaction in a collections call

Money-1012598_960_720This morning my wife and I received a phone call from what I assume to be an early-stage collections representative of Wells Fargo bank.

My wife and I have been customers of Wells Fargo for many years. We've had different types of loans, mortgages, brokerage accounts, checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards and lines of credit with the institution. I've never had issues making payments in all my years. I have money in multiple cash accounts, and I have very good credit with them (and good credit in general).

As sometimes happens with human beings, I got busy while paying bills this month and simply overlooked a $26 payment that was due on one of our accounts. It was 10 days past due today, and thus we received the phone call.

The young man on the phone sounded tired and jaded as he went through his spiel. His tone made it sound as if my wife and I were on the brink of serious trouble and this was a matter of utmost urgency. He was short, subtly antagonistic, and pressed us to immediately deal with what he intimated to be our egregious financial error.

When told that we would certainly go online and make the payment immediately, he questioned our commitment and asked for assurances. It left my wife and me feeling harassed, belittled and unappreciated as good, long-term customers.

For many years my company has provided third party Quality Assessment (QA) for number of different financial institutions. I've monitored calls between past-due customers and many different collections teams from early stage to advanced late stage and even into litigation. Most of us take for granted the importance of monitoring and coaching customer service interactions, but the impact of interactions with customers in a collections situation can be even more crucial in their impact of customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention.

Three mistakes our friend from Wells Fargo made when he called us this morning:

  1. He didn't take (or his system didn't grant him) the time to consider the context of the situation. We were 10 days past due on a $26 payment, but a cursory review of our accounts would have told him that we had plenty of money to make the payment, have no history of being late, and have been long-term loyal customers. Rather than assuming we were deadbeats, he should have started out by thanking us for our business and offering that he was simply making a "courtesy" call.
  2. He made the situation out to be far more dire than it really was. Because the collections agent ignored #1, his tone and tactics were more sensational and threatening than they needed to be. He made a much bigger deal of the situation than necessary. He should have simply made a courteous request that we make the payment as soon as possible.
  3. He questioned our integrity. When given a promise to pay, the collections agent questioned the commitment and asked for reassurances. Once again, a loyal customer with no history of payment issues was made to feel accused of deceit. Instead of feeling good about our long-term relationship with Wells Fargo, we were left feeling like helpless victims of an uncaring corporate giant who cares little about us or our business.

Having worked in the world of customer satisfaction and QA for many years, I am well aware that what my wife and I experienced this morning was the (un)luck of the draw. Our number came up on the dialer for this one anonymous cog in a small army of collections agents. He may have been the negative exception to the generally positive rule. He may be one bad egg on a good early-collections team at Wells Fargo. Nevertheless, one interaction can cause irreparable damage to a loyal customer relationship.

Customer service that impacts customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer retention isn't just about the customer service team who address problems with a company's service delivery system. Customer service is also about those agents tasked with the critical, necessary interactions with customers who may have dropped the ball in the relationship.

How you handle those interactions can solidify or ruin a lifetime customer relationship.




I expect that part of the young man's performance is based on number of calls per hour. spending any time reviewing stats or history would cut into that metric.

Sigh. seems to be the way of the world.

That's a good observation, Larry. My experience is that our different collections clients have a wide range of system abilities and limits which impact what the Collections Agent sees and knows on the dialer. It leads, however, to another interesting Customer Service lesson: My lifetime of experience as a customer of Wells Fargo has taught me that Wells Fargo agents typically do a great job and have very sophisticated systems. The high standard they have historically set with me as a customer made this experience all the more disappointing.

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