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Training Helps Staff Avoid 'Whoops!' Moments

Research illustrates the importance of planning for success.

December 24, 2012
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Last evening I made a purchase at a department store. As I checked out, the very young cashier had an embarrassing moment. “I am very sorry to have to ask you this,” she said, “but I really need to know: Are you 55 or older? There is a discount…”

I am nowhere near the 55 mark. My extremely youthful countenance, I perceived, left me obviously ineligible. Plus, I was not buying orthopedic shoes.

I was surprised and amused at the unfolding social faux pas. I raised an eyebrow during the requisite moment of awkward silence, meeting her gaze. “Ah, no,” I defensively assured, wickedly enjoying her growing discomfort. “However, may I accept the senior discount now that it has been offered?”

“Well…I really can’t do that…” she stammered. “It’s only for old people…” Things were going from bad to worse.

Management perhaps created a difficult situation with this nice albeit sensitive perk and could have prevented the faux pas. Proper training may have prevented the “whoops” moment.

The clerk did not know how to have this difficult conversation; no signs advertised the benefit. Further, there was no contingency plan to respond to unexpected consumer demands or unanticipated service problems.

Might your employees face similar issues? How can you mitigate pitfalls?

Planning is key: Know your members, your staff, and your environment to be ever ready in your service interactions.

Epic fail?

Consumer sentiment influences decisions, but bad news can be a good thing. See “Five Ways Negative Reviews Are Good For Business” from Small Business Trends.

This article focuses on online reviews and summarizes the pluses to be gained from minuses:

Further evidence that problems can be productive is found in the Inc. article, “A Conflict-Free Organization Isn’t Great. It’s Near Death.”

Survey results reveal managers dread conflict as “57% of managers reported that ‘inaction’ was their organization’s main method of conflict resolution, and cited ‘avoidance’ as a regular course of action.”

Avoiding problems won’t resolve them. A Roffey Park survey mentions the costs associated with unresolved conflict, such as absenteeism, strained relationships, turnover, and lost productivity.

When we are aware of problems we can solve them and improve—but it takes training. Avoidance of problems checks growth and leads to higher costs.

Potential for service conflicts exist with checking accounts, according “Banking on Arbitration: Big Banks, Consumers, and Checking Account Dispute Resolution." “Research shows that dispute resolution limitations, such as mandatory binding arbitration clauses, are common in checking account agreements. Many consumers, however, are unaware that these terms could restrict their options.”

Dispute clauses of the 100 largest financial institutions are examined, along with consumer attitudes about the requirements. “Almost nine in 10 consumers disapprove of the procedural components of arbitration, but half of consumers also support the overall goal…to be a simpler, less costly alternative to court.”

Don’t fail to plan

Fail to plan or plan to fail? Research illustrates the importance of planning for success.

The prevalence of cloud computing requires those in the financial services industry take note. See “How Banks Can Select a Reliable Cloud Computing Provider” from the Houston Business Journal for specific success tips.

Look for potential providers to have experience in the financial industry, secure data centers, 24/7 support, and security of all network components.

Your members need to plan for their long-term care needs, according to the Insured Retirement Institute in “The Long-Term Care Challenge: Developing a Plan Can Lead to Greater Confidence.” This report examines consumer costs and confidence in meeting long-term care needs.

Can you help members with this part of their financial plan? “Working with an advisor does have positive effects on confidence levels regarding long-term care costs.”

This confidence declines with age, and “confidence in meeting long-term care costs is lowest for women, those making less than $30,000, and those not married.”

Consumer planning for health care costs also is addressed in “Consumer Directed Plans and Health Care Costs” by Rand Health. “Advocates of consumer-directed health plans contend that consumers…will have a greater incentive to make prudent, cost-conscious decisions about using health care… Critics, however, have voiced concerns that consumers lack the information necessary to reduce spending without also reducing quality of care.”

This study compares consumers’ experiences before and after adoption of such plans, looking at claims and enrollment data. “The analysis shows clear cost reductions, but with potential areas of concern for the long-term health of enrollees.”

This report will be of interest to both consumers and employers who are concerned about the escalating costs of health care.

Health care costs are important considerations for consumers as “Modest Pay Increases [are] the New Normal,” reports Employee Benefits News. “Employees may be getting modest pay increases but are also being asked to contribute more to their health care benefits.”

This trend is expected to continue as employers seek to control health benefit costs. Compensation surveys indicate “the median salary increase in 2013 will be 3%,” although smaller companies may be more conservative. Compensation survey data is summarized.

Once gaffes are committed, damage control may be needed. But advance planning can eliminate problems.

In my shopping example, a more difficult customer may have demanded the discount or asked to speak to a supervisor. I desired neither option, however, and merely enjoyed the fact that the salesperson and I shared a “teachable moment.”

She will likely work on her tactful delivery, and I know my self-perception may not be that of others.

Arm your staff with training, anticipate problems before they arise, and have a plan in place to deal with the inevitable embarrassing moment.

Discretion is the better part of valor—but prevention is the best medicine.






Lora Bray is a research librarian at CUNA.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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