When member service goes wrong, think “damage control”. A good recovery process can turn angry, frustrated members into loyal ones. It can create more goodwill than if things had gone smoothly in the first place.

On the other hand, the failure to resolve the problem results in the member spreading their dissatisfaction to many other people. Think about the last time you had a complaint that was not resolved. How many relatives, friends and co-workers did you tell? Studies have shown that for every 100 dissatisfied members, 4 will formally complain, 91 will tell 8-10 others, and 5 will tell 20 others. That turns into over 800 people receiving a negative view of the credit union!

Five Steps to Service Recovery

1. Apologize. Start by telling the member, personally and sincerely, “I’m sorry.” Members don’t care whose fault the problem was – they want someone to champion their cause. So sincerely apologize on behalf of the credit union and take responsibility for the error.

2. Listen and empathize. You need to listen, and you need to care. These are the tools for service recovery. Avoid using phrases such as, “I understand” and “I know how you feel.”. There is no way you can understand how someone else feels. Instead try, “I can only imagine how you feel.”, “That’s got to be so frustrating.”, or “What an unfortunate situation.”. Listening and empathizing helps members unwind and feel like they are being understood.

3. Fix the problem. Once made aware of the situation, the employee must do whatever is necessary to resolve the problem, as quickly as possible. One of the most effective ways to move forward is to ask the member what he or she would like to have happen. To solve problems, employees must be empowered. They must be able to bend and break the rules in order to satisfy the member. However, most of the time, all the member wants is what they originally asked for.

4. Offer atonement. A recovery process will be valued by members if it includes, even symbolically, some form of atonement. “I’d like to make it up to you.” The bigger the service problem, and the more valued the member, the bigger the atonement will have to be to restore the member to a state of satisfaction. Providing a refund, gift card or other compensation, depending on the severity of the problem, remains a powerful method for service recovery.

No credit union can afford to lose members, if only because it costs much more to replace a member than it does to retain one – five times more, most experts agree. A credit union’s effort to ensure that its members are satisfied over the long term is rewarded by an increase in revenue through repeat business, referral sales, decreased member maintenance costs, and reduced exposure to price competition.

5. Follow-up. A few days after you feel the problem has been fixed, follow up. Call the member and ask, “Have we fixed everything for you?” and “What else can we do for you?”. Make sure they are satisfied.

It is important to create a service recovery process (like above) that includes specifically defined steps that must be followed. Create examples of service recovery with strict instructions for employees to meet or exceed them. For example, in the case of a mis-posted loan payment, offer to let the member skip a payment or give them a gift card. Have pre-printed coupons for a 1/4 {170c5dc430f64c583d5107d62ba05598e67e73b9b6a5f140f81c7d71fdb25fb3} off their next loan or a free order of checks.

Train employees. All employees should be trained to follow the above five steps. Use real examples of complaints in the training. How would you handle it? What could we have done better? Make sure employees understand the extent of their empowerment. If you want to be able to deal effectively with complaints, it is necessary that you absorb the process. That is something that takes practice.