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We lost a client recently. These are the facts.

The client came into our branch asking to do two things. First he said he no longer had a mobile phone number, so he wanted us to delete it. The employee said our system does not accept clients with no mobile phone numbers, so she would keep the old number in place. The client warned that the number will not reach him, and the employee said that's fine.

Next the client said he wanted to change his tax residency status. Legally, we need to know this and had sent mass mailings asking our clients to update us if they have changed. The client is no longer resident in our country and had moved elsewhere. He brought along a laptop with a screenshot of the income tax services website of the new country. The employee said the client's tax ID number wasn't in the screenshot, and the client couldn't remember it offhand either. The client asked if the employee had access to the internet so he can find the number. She said no - our computers are only connected to the intranet. The client said fine and left.

One hour later, the client came back with more screenshots and the ID number. The employee said she needed the documents printed out. The client "threw his arms up in exasperation" and said, in that case, he would like to close the account. The employee closed the account, and the client walked out presumably never to return.

When I came to know this later I got angry. I feel like the employee should have told the client she needed the documents printed out the first time. If she didn't, she should have tried to print it out herself the second time, e.g. using a USB drive the transfer the screenshots to her computer. If she didn't do that either she should still have called her supervisor for instructions before closing the account.

However, I recognize I might be biased against this employee. Further the damage done to our business is light, the client was one of our smaller clients. Therefore I would like to get an uninvolved opinion. Is this employee incompetent?

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    How did you receive this information? Video recording? Another person telling you? The employee telling you? Some other way? – Just another Java programmer Dec 29 '19 at 6:50
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    Is the person responsible for training her incompetent? – Solar Mike Dec 29 '19 at 7:18
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    You are completely missing the part where you tell us why you think this person might be incompetent. Were they wrong to do any of what you described? Was it against company policy? Were they trained to do it differently? – nvoigt Dec 29 '19 at 7:47
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    Asking a bunch of anonymous strangers on the internet for guidance in personnel matters is not a very good idea. We lack knowledge in many areas - among them are: 1) we don't know you, B) we don't know your employee, C) we don't know what business you're in, D) we don't know your business policies and procedures, and E) we don't know what country you're in. This question boils down to, "Please agree with me so I can fire this person". – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Dec 29 '19 at 22:04
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    I wouldn't make a decision on incompetence based on a single incident. Everyone has an off day. The question is if this is a repeated pattern. – user3757614 Dec 29 '19 at 22:20
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I don't think the employee did anything wrong beyond forgetting to ask for hard copies. In addition, this client seems like they were already primed to leave.

Your employee made one clear mistake (although not a major one) in not being clear that a hard copy of the information was required. The rest seems perfectly within the range of acceptable behavior.

My answer assumes you are a bank/investment firm/accounting firm of some sort. The word "branch" makes me think the first. I used to work for one. It is less applicable if you are not one of those.

First he said he no longer had a mobile phone number, so he wanted us to delete it. The employee said our system does not accept clients with no mobile phone numbers, so she would keep the old number in place.

Is this accurate? Does the system used require a phone number? Most client systems seem to require this. If it is accurate, then there is little the employee could do. They would not be incompetent, just constrained by the system.

He brought along a laptop with a screenshot of the income tax services website of the new country. The employee said the client's tax ID number wasn't in the screenshot, and the client couldn't remember it offhand either.

Is the tax number required? If so, the employee would not be incompetent, just following policy.

The client asked if the employee had access to the internet so he can find the number. She said no - our computers are only connected to the intranet. The client said fine and left.

Are the computers actually only connected to the intranet? You seem to be a financial entity of some sort, so that wouldn't be absurd. If that is true, there is no incompetence there either. Just reality.

Even if the computers did have internet, allowing a random client to have access to a machine with client information is a security risk and is something that should not be allowed.

The employee did the right thing from an information security standpoint in not allowing the client to use the computer.

If she didn't, she should have tried to print it out herself the second time, e.g. using a USB drive the transfer the screenshots to her computer.

And this is also an enormous security risk... Please report to the IT security manager of your company for a lecture on infected USBs. At my bank, unknown USBs were not supposed to be plugged into our computers, especially not those which are used to access client information.

Go talk to your IT/legal team members about these two proposals which involve a client or a USB on a work computer with client information on it... I suspect they will not be happy.

If she didn't do that either she should still have called her supervisor for instructions before closing the account.

Is this a policy? If so, then only supervisor accounts should be able to close client accounts. If it was not a policy, why should the employee have needed to get their supervisor?

First he said he no longer had a mobile phone number, so he wanted us to delete it. The client is no longer resident in our country and had moved elsewhere.

This client seems like they were already out the door. Moved out of country. Didn't want to give a new mobile phone number (and they almost assuredly have one).

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    One way to improve this is point out the one apparent fault of the employee - not explaining the first time around that they will need tax number printed out. It's a minor slip but it seems that it was the straw that broke this camelback back. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 29 '19 at 9:41
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    Great anwer, though the final bit is just speculation. While mobile phones are quite ubiquitous these days, it’s not that uncommon to not have a mobile phone (or a phone number) either. I’ve gone for nearly 3 years without one this decade because I didn’t have a need for one. – Cubic Dec 29 '19 at 14:21
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    And even if the system requires a mobile phone number, if the employee knows that it's acceptable they could fill the field with a fake number, and add a note somewhere to say that it's fake. Perhaps one of the numbers in the range set aside for use in fiction, e.g. for the UK: ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/… – bdsl Dec 29 '19 at 16:20
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    The employee closed the account of a customer who was frustrated by the employees bad support and didn't even notify a supervisor before closing the account. If that's not bad, I don't know how the company is supposed to make money. Of course we can ask for the reasons, e.g. incomplete handbook, bad childhood, etc. but that doesn't make the action less bad in any way. – Chris Dec 29 '19 at 19:13
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    @Chris except for being unclear about hard copies, what did the employee do improperly? The customer's proposed solutions are unacceptable from a security perspective. Regarding account closure, is it policy to notify the supervisor about an account being closed? If yes, she screwed up. If not, what made this situation special? – Matthew Gaiser Dec 29 '19 at 19:46
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These don’t sound like rare situations where an employee should have to rely on feelings and intuition to decide what to do. If you don’t have documented procedures for what to do if a client brings in screenshots on a digital device or asks to close their account, you have way bigger problems than one employee.

I wouldn’t attempt to make any judgement about this employee’s competence based on these facts alone. You probably shouldn’t either. What if the employee had followed your intuition to use a USB drive to transfer the files and the client had a virus on his computer that infected your network? Would the employee be incompetent for allowing this to happen? My point is, instead of judging incompetence based on the outcome, it should be judged based on following procedures vs. not following procedures.

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“Incompetent” is a strong word - probably too strong. I think it is fair to say however that the employee is not maximally competent. That is, there are certainly people out there who would have handled the situation better than your employee, though perhaps such people are not easy to find and recruit for the type of position your employee has (or indeed, possibly, for any position).

Let’s examine how your employee behaved and how a more thoughtful person might have handled it.

The employee said our system does not accept clients with no mobile phone numbers, so she would keep the old number in place.

A maximally competent employee would be sensitive to clients’ concerns about large corporations collecting data about them, including things like old addresses, phone numbers etc. Even if it is true that the system requires a phone number, a better response would have been to tell the client “I have deleted your old phone number from our system. However, the system does not allow me to leave the phone number blank, so I’ve entered the number 000-000-0000 instead. Be assured that this won’t be an issue in any practical sense.” If I were the client, I’d be much happier with such a response.

The employee said the client's tax ID number wasn't in the screenshot, and the client couldn't remember it offhand either. The client asked if the employee had access to the internet so he can find the number. She said no - our computers are only connected to the intranet. The client said fine and left.

All the talk of IT security notwithstanding, sending a client away empty-handed because of something as trivial (in 2019) as lack of internet access seems shortsighted to me. Again, even if the reality is that the branch’s computers are only connected to the intranet, the employee didn’t even attempt to think creatively or even show the client that she would like to help. She just said no. She could have said “oh, I can set up a hot spot with my phone, it’s easy”. She could have said “give me a minute, I’ll consult a colleague”. She could have done any number of things to show the client she cared. Even if she had failed and the client still had to leave and come back, I bet they would have ended up a much happier client.

One hour later, the client came back with more screenshots and the ID number. The employee said she needed the documents printed out.

Well, it was a clear mistake on the employee’s part not to mention the part about needing a hard copy. As a single incident it doesn’t say much, but an accumulation of similar mistakes would truly be evidence of at least mild incompetence. In any event, the client’s frustrated reaction is completely understandable and predictable.

Even after the mistake had been made, the employee could have (and should have) gone out of her way to help the client print out the screenshots. Sorry, I don’t buy the nonsense cop-outs about IT security. How about using a camera (on your phone, or one of the branch’s computers) to take a picture of the screenshot and print it out? How about helping the client finish whatever business they had and telling them they have to email the screenshot to the branch later? How about just acting in a way that gives the impression she cared? All of those are things that a maximally competent employee would likely have thought of doing, and that would probably have changed the outcome of the story.

The client "threw his arms up in exasperation" and said, in that case, he would like to close the account. The employee closed the account, and the client walked out

Again, the employee’s response shows lack of caring, empathy, and imagination. She had an opportunity to stop the client from closing the account using some combination of creative thinking, charm, apologies, consulting with colleagues and whatnot. She didn’t even try. She may not be incompetent, but it is a certainty that some people would have handled the situation better.

Finally, I do not mean to suggest that the above analysis absolves you and your company of any blame. Just like the employee is not maximally competent, your procedures also seem not maximally competent, and it seems likely that the training your employees are given is also somewhat at fault. Good training and good procedures will squeeze more competent performance even out of mediocre and mildly incompetent employees. With that said, one cannot have procedures that cover every possible scenario (in particular, I completely disagree with the statement “If you don’t have documented procedures for what to do if a client brings in screenshots [...], you have way bigger problems than one employee” from @AffableAmbler’s answer), so it’s reasonable to expect employees to be able to think on their feet and have some measure of common sense when some unusual situation occasionally arises, as it inevitably will. If what you really meant to ask was “am I reasonable in being somewhat dissatisfied with the way the employee handled this situation?” my answer would be “yes”.

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    if the computers are locked down to the point of being air-gapped from the internet, they're not going to have cameras or be able to talk to a phone at all. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Dec 29 '19 at 19:08
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    @DanNeely you’re missing the point, which is that the employee didn’t even give the appearance of caring about the client’s problem, or of wanting to figure out a solution. If the employee had tried to help but failed because of technical reasons, the client would have been much less unhappy. The bottom line is, this question is about human relations and psychology, not about IT security. Also, let’s be honest, this is a bank, not NORAD or some maximum-security weapons facility. They have internet access, in a back office at least if not in the tellers’ desks. – Dan Romik Dec 29 '19 at 19:27
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    I work at a bank. Every "creative" proposal you want the employee to do either exposes the bank to legal risk, fraud risk, or IT risk. And while the branch may have internet access in the back, allowing a customer access to the network with their own computer or the use of a computer with client information in unacceptable. The average employee shouldn't know the corporate wifi password, so giving it to the customer is out of the question. You can take a client in the back, but they would need to be allowed to use the computer to print out information. That is unacceptable. – StumpedMoneyHacker Dec 29 '19 at 20:13
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    @StumpedMoneyHacker thanks. I agree with everything you wrote and to be clear, giving the client or asking them for passwords was not what I was proposing. Mentioning internet in the back office was in connection with the possibility of printing out the screenshots. The point is a creative solution could likely be found that would be compliant with applicable regulations. And the larger point (which all of you IT/security-minded people are conveniently ignoring) is that even if a solution could not be found, the client would have appreciated the employee’s sincere efforts to help. – Dan Romik Dec 29 '19 at 20:23
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    Wasting my time pretending to try and help before finally having to admit that "nope I can't do anything without you bringing hard copies" would leave me far more irate than just admitting to being helpless up front. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Dec 29 '19 at 22:27
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I think the question is less about the employee, and more about identifying your own part in this:

  • Have you offered the right training to your employees?
  • Have you shared with your employees the right way to escalate something?
  • Do your employees know your expectation when it comes to saving a client?

If the computers don't allow outside internet access, but your expectation is that they should use a USB drive to get screenshots and then try to print... that's probably not something most will come up with on their own unless you set the expectation.

If you have given your employees all of the tools and training they need to do their job, and have share a position on what they are and are not empowered to do when the system won't let them do what they think is right, then it might be the employees' fault. Until then, though, the responsibility rests on you as the manager.

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    A version of this scenario could even make a good role-playing exercise for training, as it requires employees to think creatively about how to address the customer's needs and mitigate the disappointment of being repeatedly told no while staying within the bounds of policy. And it's an opportunity to explore possible solutions that make sense for the business (for some clients, it might make sense to offer to send an employee to the client's home at a convenient time to pick up the documents, and while that may not be practical for everyone, offering email or a secure document drop might be). – Zach Lipton Dec 29 '19 at 21:46
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If you don’t know whether the employee is incompetent, you are not competent to hire or fire.

Your policies are incompetent. The fact that many companies make the same idiotic mistakes doesn’t make them less stupid.

  1. You refuse to do business with people who choose not to have a phone or choose not to give you the number.

  2. You demand a printout of the tax ID instead of being willing to type it in when told what it is or seeing an image of it.

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The employee said our system does not accept clients with no mobile phone numbers, so she would keep the old number in place.

Next time, please use a 555 telephone phone number instead.

This should reassure the client that their private information doesn't get leaked to whoever has been assigned their old mobile phone number (especially when mobile phone numbers are so central to 2-Factor Authentication these days).

In the US, 555 telephone numbers are used as fictitious numbers in television shows and movies, so they are guaranteed to never work. If you are not located in the US, see if your country has a phone number scheme that can be used similarly.

she should have tried to print it out herself the second time, e.g. using a USB drive...

I'm not going to repeat everything that has been said about this, but this is not good security. Even if the USB drive is clean, the client's computer may not be.

Next time, refer the client to the nearest print/computer shop that will allow him to print this out.

Or if this is going to be a recurring issue, install a cheap Chromebook/Chromebox in the lobby along with its own printer, to be used by customers only. And even if your clients don't have a Google account, they can always start a session in incognito mode.

And even if your clients brought a malware-infested USB drive with them, it's better if they stick it into a Chromebook (not connected to your intranet).

If she didn't do that either she should still have called her supervisor for instructions before closing the account.

Honestly, this could have upset that client even more, without solving the underlying issue(s).

Lost a client, is our employee incompetent?

I don't think she's incompetent.

That being said, we can't really answer that question for you.

All that can be surmised from your post is that she forgot to tell the client that this information had to be printed out initially.

We don't know how she has been trained. We don't know how much experience she's supposed to have. We don't know your bank's level of service. Are these million-dollar accounts? We don't know how many other distractions she had to deal with at the time. And to err is human, that doesn't mean the person is incompetent.

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