The Art of Handling Complaints

Barclaycard’s Sylvia Veitía finds the best way to represent her company is to speak up for its customers

Most companies tout customer service as one of their strengths, but how many of their customers actually agree? Barclaycard wanted its excellence in customer service to be indisputable, so the credit card company hired Sylvia Veitía. Her role as Barclaycard’s head of customer experience is to make certain that the customer is always heard.

Veitía, a Puerto Rico native born to Cuban parents, has a background in customer advocacy and a passion for fairness. She admits to being somewhat obsessed with making things right for people. She chose to bring that passion to the financial services industry, where she says that customers often need someone to consider their issues with extra care.

While having a passion for customer advocacy is important in her role, it only goes so far. Expertise is something Veitía also has plenty of; she’s been involved with advocacy for 24 years, everywhere from Capitol Hill to local government, advocating and lobbying for consumers. She also has a strong background in client-facing corporate communications, e-business, public relations, and publishing. If she weren’t well versed in every issue and proficient in problem-solving from every angle, the customers she fights for would have nothing more than a shoulder to cry on. Instead, she takes action.

Veitía feels that after honing a variety of skills over the past 24 years, she is finally able to combine her strongest into one role. “Understanding both profit and customer service makes me more capable because I can see the challenges and explain them on both sides.”

She currently leads 12 different teams at Barclaycard that comprise more than 200 employees in an effort to provide a voice for Barclaycard’s customers. As the company’s customer advocate, all complaints go directly to her team. While most people would run, not walk, from a position that deals with unhappy and complaining customers, Veitía welcomes the challenge.

“It became quite clear that I could help the organization attain true market penetration and growth with a really solid customer experience strategy,” Veitía says.

Along with making sure Barclaycard customers have their voices heard, Veitía also helps the company strike the balance between what’s best for the bottom line and what’s best for customers. She’s able to illustrate that it’s not an either-or situation.

Instead of seeing customer satisfaction as detrimental to the bottom line, Veitía helps Barclaycard see it as more of a cause-and-effect situation for growth. “It clicked for me many years ago that the one would lead to the other; it isn’t a choice between customer service and profitability or growth. I had always been on the customer advocacy side, but to believe I could connect both, it became truly exciting.”

For example, Veitía manages a program at Barclaycard called “Voice of the Customer,” through which she and her team carefully monitor call center interactions with customers. When an important internal policy change resulted in a change in the content of the call center interactions, Sylvia and her team identified where the content could be streamlined to be more customer friendly.  During a daily 6 a.m. review of call-center calls, she and her team identified an opportunity for improvement, obtained approval by 9:30 a.m., and had the changes implemented at all call centers by 2:30 p.m.

Within only five hours, her team implemented a policy—without disrupting call center traffic— that would make interactions smoother and easier for customers. She also demonstrated how a robust customer experience program can help a large organization make changes in a nimble fashion.

With customer-focused decisions like that one being made without interrupting company operations, it’s hardly a surprise Barclaycard is the fastest-growing card portfolio in the industry, a level the company has maintained over the past five years. This rapid growth can be seen as a blessing and a challenge, however, especially for someone in Veitía’s position who, as part of the operations side of things, is ultimately responsible for maintaining the company’s growth.

Nonetheless, because Barclaycard is a global company, there’s always someone to help answer questions to or lend support, so the pros of growing quickly outweigh the cons.

“I can turn to peers anywhere in the world and ask, ‘How have you been able to get over the growth of X percent in three months?’” Veitía says. “[Rapid growth] is a great challenge to have.”

Veitía has only been with Barclaycard for two years, but her impact has been felt all over the company. Not only is she keeping the customer’s needs at the forefront of her own mind, but that “customer first” philosophy is spreading.

“I define success in my job in two ways,” she says. “The first is making customer satisfaction a fundamental priority for the organization. I feel the culture is there; we’re making decisions with the customer in mind. The second is knowing what the customer thinks of the organization. We are very excited about what we’ve heard. We see huge improvements in areas that perhaps years ago we did not think were possible. That’s a collective triumph of which we are very proud.”