U.S. Bank Fires Employee for Helping Customer on Christmas Eve

I just read a New York Times article that just has me seething. US Bank fired a customer for doing what she thought was the right thing. The author does a great job recounting the sequence of events that you can find here.

What bothers me most is that it seems to be such a callousness for the customer and nonsensical way they handled the situation.

Keep in mind… the article states that she quickly determined the customer had been misled – the bank’s fault. She received permission from her manager – who worked for the bank – to leave on her break and help the customer. The manager confirms that Emily gave the customer $20 of her own money so he could make it home to his family on Christmas Eve. It was not $1,000 taken out of a bank’s account or another customer or anything that was not above board.

Here they had an employee who personifies customer experience at it’s best… displaying empathy.

Yet, US Bank fired both Emily James and her manager for breaking the policy of call center staff from meeting customers.

Keep in mind, on the home page of US Bank’s website it clearly states their employees are empowered to do the right thing. Emily felt the desire to help a customer after he’d been misinformed by the bank, she got approval from her manager to leave and help the employee, and she gets fired while they hide behind policy.

I understand that rules and policies are in place for a reason. But the real problem here is how the bank handled the situation. If they truly feel she broke the rules and do not agree with what she did, they should have explained their position and reinforced how important that rule is. They should have taken into account her numerous commendations and awards  she’s received during her employment and used this as a coaching opportunity.

At the very least, U.S. Bank needs to clearly explain to all employees exactly what they’ve determined the word empower means and how it would look in their roles.

The article does provide an update at the end that Andrew Cecere, U.S. Bank’s CEO, has apologized to both Emily and her manager and has promised to “make things right.” It seems to me the apology only came under duress after the original article went live and he realized what a PR nightmare this had become.

Customer Experience is all about doing the right thing by your customers. Like Marilyn Suttle says… “People don’t do business with companies, they do business with people.”

Anytime you have an employee like Emily James, I advise you to clone them and have them as leaders for your customer experience. When staff steps out of line, as they will because they are human, let the punishment fit the crime. Don’t fire someone for truly working for the customer benefit.

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