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“Bring us your complaints”

People will talk, so reap some benefits for your bank. How Regions handles customer beefs

Regions Bank launched its revamped complaints program to learn from trends and patterns seen. “We do this for the customer,” explains Bill Askew, senior executive vice-president. “That’s how you keep the energy on something like this.” Regions Bank launched its revamped complaints program to learn from trends and patterns seen. “We do this for the customer,” explains Bill Askew, senior executive vice-president. “That’s how you keep the energy on something like this.”

Prior to a major rethink of the complaints management program at Regions Bank, “it was a horse and buggy affair,” says Bill Askew. “We collected complaints in a bunch of spreadsheets and in reams and reams of files.”

Askew, senior executive vice-president in the consumer services group, heads strategic initiatives and service quality for $120.9 billion-assets Regions Financial Group. Askew says the process was under the company’s compliance function, until a wake-up call in October 2011.

Askew and O.B. Grayson Hall, Jr., the bank’s chairman, president, and CEO, heard Elizabeth Warren, “inventor” of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, speak about how important complaint processes would become. The pair decided the complaints function not only needed a major overhaul, but belonged under the customer experience team, part of Askew’s responsibilities.

New beginning for complaints

In August 2012, the Centralized Customer Complaint Program was activated. CCCP is a database produced in-house that enables Regions’ nearly 24,000 associates to load customer complaints and enable the bank to identify complaints and track resolution. Management can analyze trends, common themes, and root causes to prevent recurring and systemic issues. The results also cycle into new product development.

Employees receive annual web-based training in system use. A key issue is what constitutes a complaint. Askew says multiple categories of complaints are handled, but not everything has to be a counter-banging confrontation.

“There’s value in all complaints,” Askew says. In fact, if an employee goes to dinner with a friend, and the friend mentions he has had an issue with his Regions home equity line account, the employee is encouraged to upload a summary of the matter to the system. All product and service areas are covered.

Employees are encouraged to find a resolution on the spot. “You can turn a negative into a positive that way,” Askew explains. The system is designed to route complaints to appropriate supervisory levels, to make sure nothing is missed. Askew adds that staff is instructed to put in exactly what customers’ complaints are and not to do any interpretation.

With complaints entered, branch managers, customer service managers, and others review them regularly. Then there are “gatekeepers,” around 45 Regions officials with market-level responsibility, who review consolidated reports.

Role of Regions’ ombudsmen

Tangie Holland, the senior vice-president and fair and responsible banking manager who developed the CCCP program, maintains a staff of ombudsmen that review what’s coming in. Each has been selected because of his or her experience with a specific area, such as branch banking or customer service.

Also, “I want them to have great customer skills and the ability to understand customer issues,” Holland says. Complaints that come from an outside authority, such as CFPB, prudential regulators, congressional offices, and the Better Business Bureau, go directly to ombudsmen, who go right to the source to investigate and resolve. Holland’s area can run issues right up to top priority, telling people: “You’re on this” until the matter is worked out satisfactorily. Holland’s staff reports back to the regulator or other party to acknowledge resolution.

“It sounds like so much work,” says Askew, “but it’s a lot more efficient than you might think. The key is to get your people to enter complaints. That’s not natural for people. People don’t like to deal with complaints because they are negative.” Indeed, gatekeepers ask any unit not reporting any complaints why nothing’s being reported.

Holland reviews issues for quality assurance. She explains that complaints develop “tentacles,” reaching those who unhappy customers know, so it is important for her to be sure that staff is taking appropriate action to remedy problems.

Building improvements from complaints

The bank applies another layer of analysis, a monthly, face-to-face “Root Cause Roundtable.” Holland chairs the group, and Askew sits in. Every business unit is represented—“and someone has to explain if their area shows a spike in complaints,” Askew adds.

“We do this for the customer,” he explains. “That’s how you keep the energy on something like this.”

Askew finds the meetings interesting, because matters often come up that are surprising. “I always get blown away by what people complain about,” he says.

Complaint handling has improved Regions’ ratings in surveys about customer service, and this tends to up the ante. “People who bank with us expect to be treated really well,” says Askew. “And if they don’t get that, they will complain.”

This article originally appeared as part of the cover story “6 real-world ideas for 2016” in the December 2015-January 2016 Banking Exchange magazine

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