The Sales Cycle: How to Lose (or Keep) a Customer for $25

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Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of The PCB Magazine.

I recently lost my wallet and needed to go through the process of replacing credit card, my driver’s license, etc. At the DMV, the service was exceptional. It was counterintuitive, I know, which is why I was so surprised. Later, when I called Bank of America to replace my Visa card, they left me feeling as if the nearly 30-year business relationship I have had with them didn’t matter.

After being bounced around in B of A’s automated system, I finally spoke to a live person. Upon explaining my situation and verifying my identity, the customer service rep decided he could not help me and that I should be transferred to another person. I again had to verify my identity because they are apparently not capable of talking to each other. After that, I once again explained that I needed the card sent overnight, to arrive on Saturday, as I was departing on a trip Sunday. The agent indicated that she could take care of me, but there would be a $25 fee to process the replacement card overnight. I put up a little resistance to the fee, but ultimately I had no choice, so I agreed.  I reconfirmed with her that card would be there and she guaranteed me that it would be.

Saturday came around, and no delivery. I departed on my trip without my credit card, but with a new $25 fee on my account. Monday, while I was 600 miles away from home, the card arrived at my house. I am still traveling without my credit card. The real point here is the lack of customer service.

If you had a customer, one that you refer to as “preferred,” who has been with you for 30 years and never really required any extraordinary service, not to mention has moved millions of dollars through your company, wouldn’t you spend $25 to take care of them? Moreover, if you knew they were in a bind, wouldn’t you do all that you could to make sure they were taken care of? I know I would. Nevertheless, the only thing that I received from B of A was a survey asking me how they did. Of course, you can guess the marks I gave.

The lack of genuine care, and the nickel and diming of a “preferred” customer is what has me looking at moving all (seven or so) accounts I have with them to another provider. It’s no wonder their stock is down to six or seven percent per share, though it is up a bit since Warren Buffett dropped 5 billion dollars into the struggling bank. Naturally, he got the best end of that deal. However, the truth is it’s only struggling because of the bad decisions that have been, and continue to be made there.

Yesterday I called B of A to get a refund of the $25 fee, since the card did not arrive when promised. The service agent agreed and processed the refund. Adding up the costs associated with their poor customer service, it clearly totals well over the $25 they charged me. If I do change all my accounts, which is a big deal and will require substantial time on my part, they will lose at least 100 times more than if they had just taken care of me – a customer.

Unfortunately, they are not the only corporation falling short of great customer service. The airlines are another shining example of how not to treat your customers. It’s not to say we all don’t make some mistakes in business, moreover, it is the approach you take in taking great care of your customer. In a tight market place there is little room for error. Maybe the banks just feel entitled; after all, we rushed in with billions of bailout dollars to rectify their bad decisions. How do they thank us? By making more bad decisions.

What is your customer service policy? Do you make your customers feel special or do you bounce them around in an automated phone system? It really is worth a check to see how they feel about you and your service. If they are ready to leave it may be too late.


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