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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

The Service Recovery Counts More

The following post, originally titled "The Recovery Counts More than the Fumble" was published via LinkedIn on September 1, 2016. It was intended as a follow-up to a story I had written the previous day about a hilariously terrible customer experience I had at TD Bank. That story went viral on LinkedIn and caught the attention of TD's most senior leaders... and my follow-up story describes what they did to make things right.

Before you read the follow-up, I encourage you to read the post on which it was based.

But even if you don't, the five customer service lessons I outline below are still worth a read.

A man holding a sign that reads "I'm Sorry",

Nobody is perfect, and everybody makes mistakes.

And because companies employ us very fallible humans, customer service mishaps are bound to happen. The goal of any customer-first organization, therefore, shouldn't be to never make a mistake; it should be to empower front-line workers as best they can to provide stellar customer service, then have systems and mechanisms in place to make things right when the mistakes inevitably occur.

Yesterday I posted an article detailing a less-than-stellar experience I had earlier this week with TD Bank. (You can read all about it here.)

I didn't write this piece because I was angry with the bank. Sure, I was moderately disappointed that a bank error made a decade ago was going to prevent me from taking advantage of the bank's current "free TV" promotion, but being disappointed isn't the same thing as being angry. Truth be told, I don't really need another TV in my house: had things worked out, the new TV was going to live in my basement gym, and that room rarely gets used. (So why bother? I figured out that by withdrawing a few thousand dollars from my line of credit and keeping it in my new TD account for a few months, I could get a brand-name 40" SmartTV for less than $50 in interest charges -- even if I subsequently decided to close my account after a few months -- and thought, "Why not?")

I wrote the piece because I thought the situation represented a terrific "teachable moment" for any person or organization that strives for excellent customer service.

These days, the bar for "excellent customer service" is incredibly high. Customers don't compare the service they get from one bank with the service they get from another, they compare their bank's service to the type of service they get at a Starbucks, a Costco, or a Disney Store. Companies that excel at putting their customers first raise the bar for everybody, and so it's a constant race to keep up with ever-increasing expectations. As I wrote in my last piece, the very best retailers understand that to win in the market, they can't just "deliver"; they need to consistently over-deliver, because that's what customers these days have come to expect.

So I wrote the article and posted it on my LinkedIn account. Then I tweeted a link to the article on my Twitter account (@pullara), tagging @TD_Canada because I wanted TD to be aware of what I wrote. (Frankly, I think writing a "teachable moment" piece and not sharing it with the organization involved is not only pointless but also unfair.) Then I posted a link on my personal Facebook page, accessible only to my family and friends.

Two things happened next, very quickly.

First, one of my Facebook friends (who in addition to being a really nice guy, happens to be a very well-known and influential digital marketing guru... who used to do some work with TD Bank) commented on my article: "I've sent this on to some very senior people at TD."

And second, less than ten minutes after I clicked the "Tweet" button, I had a note from TD Canada Trust's Twitter account:

A tweet from TD Bank responding to an article posted by David Pullara about a poor customer service experience at the bank.

TD Bank had definitely noticed.

First, let's talk about the social media response. I did as I was asked, and sent @TD_Canada a Direct Mail. Over the course of the day, I exchanged several notes back and forth with the person at the other end of the Twitter account, who I'll call "Ted" because "the person at the other end of the Twitter account" takes a long time to type. Here are two key points I took away from that exchange:

1. Ted mentioned that because Twitter wasn't an authenticated channel, he wasn't able to verify my identity or look into my profile at the bank. But then he said, "We can confirm that having an RRSP is not one of the restrictions" to taking advantage of the TV offer. In other words, he openly admitted (on behalf of the bank) that a mistake had been made, and he apologized for it. (Several times, in fact.)

Customer Service Lesson #1: accept accountability, and apologize.

2. "Your comments provide us the opportunity for us to ensure that we are responsive to customer needs, and allow us to identify areas for staff training and development."

Customer Service Lesson #2: Take feedback seriously, and use it to get better.

Later on in the day, I received an InMail from a gentleman named Jasper Lam, who LinkedIn tells me is the "AVP Legendary Customer & Employee Experience" at TD Canada Trust. He didn't appear to be angry with me, as one might expect. In fact, quite the opposite. He wrote:

Hi David, I read your blog and you raised some very good and very valid points. I'm sorry that your experience was far from Legendary, but thank you for taking the time to write your blog. Without your feedback we can't get better and over-deliver for our customers. Our Chief Marketing Officer Theresa McLaughlin, would love to connect with you by phone today to discuss your blog and make it right for you. Could you please let me know the best number to reach you at? Thank you again for letting us know where and how we can get better at TD.

Customer Service Lesson #3: Feedback is a gift. Reach out to your critics and ask them how you can be better. I thought it was really great of Mr. Lam to reach out to me himself, so I responded to thank him for his note and his kind words. I also agreed to speak with Ms. McLaughlin the following day; I provided my contact information and arranged a time for us to connect.

I spoke with Ms. McLaughlin this morning. She called me at precisely 8:45 am when we had agreed to speak, then told me that she was still in the car, apologized, and asked if she could call me back in five minutes from her office. "No problem," I said, "I don't want you distracted while driving."

Customer Service Lesson #4: Be respectful of people's time. Let's be candid: I'm a guy "in transition" (read: currently unemployed) who wrote a blog post, and Ms. McLaughlin is the Global CMO of a fairly large bank. You could reasonably argue her time is worth more than mine, and I wouldn't take any offence at that suggestion. But Ms. McLaughlin clearly understands that "being late" isn't the sin. (After all, everybody runs late sometimes.) The sin is in having people feel disrespected; in this case, that would mean being late for a scheduled appointment without letting the other person know, and apologizing for it. It's possible there was some sensitivity on the matter because I mentioned in my original blog post that my customer service advisor had been five minutes late, but I don't think that's it. I think that Ms. McLaughlin cared about my time.

As promised, she called back five minutes later, and we spoke for almost ten minutes. Here's what happened:

1) Ms. McLaughlin apologized. She said she had read through my blog post and had highlighted some opportunities for change.

2) I asked her if she wouldn't mind telling me what she had highlighted. She told me, and we had a brief chat about the opportunity areas that existed.

3) She told me the bank would be sending me a TV. I was astonished. I told her that the gesture was appreciated, but unnecessary, and she said the bank was truly sorry for my experience and wanted to "make it right." (More on this towards the end of the piece.)

4) I asked Ms. McLaughlin if she would mind me writing a follow-up to my initial article that included these details to document the aftermath of my initial post. I told her that I felt it was important for people to understand how urgently (and how well) the bank had responded to my situation but was also sensitive to the fact that the result of a second post might be to encourage hundreds of other people to write about their negative experiences in the hopes of being similarly rewarded. She said I should feel free to write a second post (which is what you're reading right now) because the bank was truly sorry for what had happened to me.

5) Ms. McLaughlin told me that she had already shared my piece internally and that the bank planned to use this as an internal case study. Deciding to push my luck just a little bit, I told her I had considered developing an academic case study on this situation -- both the initial situation, and the excellent way in which I felt TD was managing the aftermath -- for use at business schools, and asked if she'd be willing to work with me on such an initiative. She agreed to help me if I decided to proceed, an offer I will almost certainly accept.

So TD Bank had definitely noticed. And as it turns out, so did a lot of other people. It's been a little more than 28 hours since I posted my article yesterday morning. And according to LinkedIn statistics, it's already been read 2,759 times. (It's already the second most popular piece I've ever written, right after the "Why I Left Google" piece I wrote in May 2016, which has earned almost 260,000 views.) If you do the math on my "A Penny for your Thoughts" article, it works out to almost two new readers for every minute it's been public.

This leads me to...

Customer Service Lesson #5: in the age of the Internet, you don't have to worry about someone having a bad experience telling 10 people... you have to worry about them telling thousands.

I have a new respect for TD Bank. Not just because they responded quickly and with urgency, or had senior personnel contact me, or even because they're sending me a free television. (Although all of that certainly helped.)

It's because as the article began to gain momentum, TD employees began commenting on it and sharing it with their own LinkedIn networks. These employees didn't try to hide from a negative story about their employer, they acknowledged it with comments like, "Though its painful to see these stories, it's important for them to be shared. I know the Bank takes the customer experience very seriously and is continuously striving to eliminate these friction points" and, "As a TD employee, I shared your post. I'm sorry about your bad experience. Believe me, we are working hard every single day to avoid these kinds of situations. Thank you for saying it out loud. This is how we can help things to change."

Nobody is perfect, and everybody makes mistakes. But being willing to acknowledge, be accountable, and apologize for those mistakes is the way that companies will continue to raise the bar for customer service.

One final note about the television: those who know me will know that my motivation for writing this piece was not to get a free TV. While it's true that I ended the article with that exact suggestion, I did so because I thought it was a playful way to underscore my larger customer service point; I no more expected a free TV as a result of my article than I had expected the bank to issue me a draft for one cent. Those who know me will believe that, but since 2,759 people have read my post, and I don't know that many people, I feel the need to protect my journalistic integrity. So I've decided to accept the new TV from TD Bank (with my sincerest thanks at the opportunity to perhaps get some more use out of my home gym) but will donate twice the amount of what that free TV would have cost me by participating in the bank's promotion to the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

Because I also like to over-deliver whenever I can.


UPDATE (Sept 8/16, 8:50pm EST): Given the fact that my fifth Customer Service Lesson was about how quickly people can learn about a bad experience, I felt it appropriate to update this post with the current numbers: as of right now, my initial post has been read a remarkable 30,000+ times since it was published, which means it's no longer, "almost two new readers for every minute it's been public", it's slightly more than 2 new readers per minute... and that's been going on for almost 10 days straight. It should also be noted that 1,000+ people have "liked" that post, 119 people have commented upon it, and 296 people have shared it. (Although if you like or comment on an article, that article gets shared on your newsfeed too, further amplifying the reach of the post.) All of this is to say that it looks like I significantly understated the scale at which stories about bad experiences can travel, and for that, I apologize. On a brighter note, "good news" stories can apparently travel just as fast: this very article has been read over 21,000 times since it was published a day after the original post, with an even greater number of "likes" and "shares".

UPDATE (May 4, 2023): The last numbers I have available indicate this post was read over 39,000 times. At a certain point, LinkedIn stops providing you with updated "view" figures, but I don't think the exact number matters. What matters is that the "recovery" post was seen by a lot of people... not as much as the "Penny" post, mind you -- which was viewed over 55,000 times -- but still a lot.

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