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Asking questions without offending borrowers

Your question:

With our emphasis on retaining and building lending relationships, how can I frame my questions so I don’t offend our long-time borrowers?

Linda says:

Every loan request is an opportunity to create, retain or lose a valuable lending relationship. The questions you ask and the way that you ask them, may determine which you accomplish.

"Attracting new customers costs five times as much as retaining them," reminds Gwynne Whitley, Head of Corporate Customer Service Excellence for Wachovia Bank. (Atop rankings, Wachovia seeks happier customers – Charlotte Business Journal – September 15, 2006 –

Wachovia is not satisfied with satisfied customers and is working on turning them into loyal customers who

  • give it top marks in overall satisfaction with the bank
  • are likely to recommend others to Wachovia
  • are likely to purchase products in the future

As a long-time (over 25 years) commercial, consumer and mortgage borrower, I want to feel that my ‘lender-loyalty’ has paid off. So try this:

"Mrs. Keith, I have not had a chance to work with you before and I see from our files that (something specific about my business). How are you coming on that (or some other updating question)?"

  • Ask updating questions: This tells me that the information I have given before (and before and before that) has not been wasted.
  • Read the file first: So you can ask updating questions and understand my business better.
  • Acknowledge if you are new (to me or to the Bank/CU or to banking). Everybody has been new at something. Acknowledging it reminds me to cut you some slack.
  • Understand my business: If you are dealing with business people, do what you can to build your business knowledge, fast. Read books, take classes, question senior lenders.
  • Be careful when citing guidelines: Long-time customers don’t want to feel they are bound to the same guidelines as someone with no track record at your Bank/CU. Consider: ‘Even with your long-time association and the size of your account balances, I am not able to.’
  • Give me alternatives: If you cannot do what I have asked, can you suggest another way to get what I need…even if it means going elsewhere this time?
  • If there has been a mistake: Listen, apologize, fix it and do something nice. In a long relationship, mistakes are inevitable. With the right approach, you’ll turn an unsatisfied customer into a loyal customer.
About the Author
Linda Keith CPA is an expert in credit risk readiness and credit analysis. She trains banks and credit unions throughout the United States, both in-house and in open-enrollment sessions, on Tax Return and Financial Statement Analysis. She is in the trenches with lenders, analysts and underwriters helping them say "yes" to good loans. Creator of the Tax Return Analysis Virtual Classroom at, she speaks at banking associations on risk management, lending and director finance topics.