“Ms. Golden, I wasn’t able to get your credit card to go through.” (How to Handle a Customer’s Declined Credit Card)


Story Highlight

This article is about how to handle a customer’s credit card

After a long day of travel, I stepped out of my Uber and walked into the lobby of the Marriott on Bloor street in downtown Toronto. A friendly lady looked up, made eye contact and welcomed me with her smile.

“Myra Golden; checking in,” I said, somehow smiling back in spite of my travel fatigue. “I recognize that accent,” she said. I’m thinking, no way she recognizes my Oklahoma accent; not here in Toronto. “Where are you from?” “Oklahoma” I could tell by her wide eyes that she did, in fact, recognize my accent. “That’s it! My aunt is from Oklahoma, and you talk just like her!”  Wow, she knows her dialects.

We chatted about her aunt, what brought me to Toronto, and vegan restaurants in the area. While we talked, my phone was buzzing. Probably my husband ensuring I arrived safely. I always text or call him once I get to my hotel. Because I was so engrossed in our conversation, I didn’t stop to check my phone.

Then, at a break in conversation, the lady discretely said, with an empathic smile, I’m having trouble getting your credit card to go through.” I was shocked. Surprised. Feeling panic. It was a debit card, actually, and I knew I had more than enough money to cover a few nights in a hotel in Ontario. What the heck was going on? “I ran it a couple of times,” she said, with empathy in her eyes.

My mind went to a time, recently, when I was having lunch with a large party at a restaurant. One member of our party insisted on getting the check for everyone. I remember the waiter coming back and not so discreetly saying, “Ma’am, your card was declined. I tried it 3 times.”  He was too loud. Judgment was in his face and body language. He even glanced at the rest of the party, who sat in uncomfortable silence for a few seconds.

The waiter handled this so wrong! When dealing with a declined credit card, you must always be discrete, regretful, and if you can, be hopeful.

Back on Bloor street in the fashion district of Toronto, I  pull my iPhone out of my coat pocket so I could check my account balance. My screen showed 2 texts from Bank of America, an alert from my banking app and a missed call, also from the bank.

I put things together right away.  In 5 hours I had bought a Venti Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks in Tulsa, dined at Wolfgang at DFW Airport, and now I’m in Toronto checking into a hotel. My bank, suspecting that the charges might be fraudulent, limited access to my account until I could verify the charges. I was asked to just reply to the text with “yes” if I attempted each transaction and “no” if I did not recognize the charges. I typed “yes,” and immediately got a text saying I could use my card again.

I asked the lady to try my card again, explaining that my bank suspected potential fraud. She told me this happens a lot with travelers and she worked hard to not make me feel wrong in this awkward situation. My card went through, she handed me my room key, and I walked away with a smile.

The way the lady with an aunt in Oklahoma handled my declined debit card was perfect. Here’s what we can learn from her:

1. Be discrete

When a customer’s credit card is declined, they are in an awkward and vulnerable situation. Almost all customers will initially feel a sense of embarrassment and panic. Help your customer accept and react to the situation by being discrete. Lower your voice, lean in toward your customer, and explain the situation without assumptions in your words, tone or body language.

2. Avoid the appearance of judgment

In the restaurant, the waiter said,  “Ma’am, your card was declined. I tried it 3 times.” I felt he was too loud. I picked up negative body language that seemed to say, “You knew you couldn’t afford this.” The lady at the Marriott kept a smile on her face and projected a sense of empathy to me that seemed to say, “I’m sure we’ll get this figured out.”

3. Work to put the customer at ease

The Marriott employee stood supportively behind the desk while I read the texts on my phone. She was patient. When the problem was resolved, she helped put me at ease by telling me this happens all of the time. The waiter, in contrast, just stood there looking at his customer and the rest of the party. He made us all uncomfortable and certainly didn’t put our friend at ease.

When a customer’s credit card is declined, recognize how uncomfortable the situation is for the customer. Be discrete, make sure your words and body language don’t convey judgment and try to put the customer at ease with your words. When you do, you’ll be remembered for correctly handling one of the most challenging customer interactions.

Was This Helpful?

I’m asking you because my newsletter offers ideas like this all the time. If you’re not yet subscribed, sign up here.

For more help in how to talk to customers, check out:

Customer Service Onsite Training Workshops – Fully Customized, Engaging, Fun Customer Service Training for your team

Customer Service eLearning– 8 courses to improve the way your employees talk to customers over the phone and email

Watch this short video to learn more about our customer service eLearning.

Learn more about our elearning