Sometime ago, I had the privilege of conducting a day of mediation in which the elderly customer of a bank had lost a lot of his life savings in a scam. He blamed his bank. He had raised a significant claim for compensation from the bank. For a number of reasons, the bank did not consider it was at fault. Both parties faced spending much time and money in a polarising legal action.
On the day of mediation, the customer revealed that what he really wanted most of all was an apology from his bank. But the bank was reluctant to appear to admit any liability. It was a familiar potential stalemate. However, with careful preparation and in the confidentiality of the mediation process, it was possible to set up a meeting between the customer and the bank’s senior customer relations representative. In that meeting, the customer was able to set out how he felt and what had happened to him, explaining his long history of loyal association with the bank. He expressed disappointment in the way the bank had acted.
The bank representative just listened, showing real interest in what was being said. After the customer had finished his remarks, the bank representative took a break and discussed what had been said, privately, with two colleagues. After that, the bank representative met again one to one with the customer, in my presence, and graciously acknowledged all that the customer had said, accepted that he saw things in a particular way and recognised that he had suffered loss. The customer was reassured that the bank would do all it could to help him and to make sure that such a thing would not happen again. The bank representative also explained, clearly and respectfully, why the bank took the view that it had no legal liability.
The customer said something along these lines: “At last someone has really listened to me. I feel I have been heard. I want to continue as a customer with the bank.”
A short time later an acceptable outcome was reached, taking account of the risks on both sides. The customer left, relieved and with confidence restored. The bank had retained a customer and ended a potentially costly and damaging litigation.
By engaging in this way, the participants had engaged the power within all of us to approach a difficult problem with goodwill, respect, dignity and yet firmness. They had been frank with each other and also courteous. They sought to engage in the humanity of the situation and to do so with their common good in mind. We can all do this. It requires effort but the rewards are substantial.
John Sturrock QC
Founder and Senior Mediator, Core Solutions
Note: Identities have been changed to ensure anonymity and to preserve confidentiality.