I am a loyal customer. Loyal to a fault, in fact. Have purchased my clothing from the same salesman for thirty plus years no matter where I’ve lived or what store he sold at. I purchase my bikes from someone an hour from my house and have for as long as I’ve ridden. Always have. Always will. Same with cars. There are reasons for this, of course. Good reasons in my mind. The salespeople know me. I trust them. I trust their advice. These things take time to evolve. I stick with people I can depend on, where I don’t have to look over my shoulder and feel like I’m getting cheated or misinformed. And, in the few instances where I need an “above and beyond” it’s easier to ask.
So, knowing that my personal car was coming to the end of its lease at a time when it is nearly impossible to find a replacement, I reached out to my friend and asked what to do. He suggested that I simply extend my lease and keep paying until I could find something new. And I did just that. Four months into this arrangement, I received a call from the leasing company asking me if I knew my lease was over and demanding that I turn it in. I told them that I was following the dealer’s plan of keeping the car and extending the lease as discussed. “No”, I wasn’t eligible to extend my lease, they replied. Either turn the car in or we’ll come and tow it away.
I’m a single car household. If I turn my car in, I don’t have transport. “What should I do?” I asked.
A call to my dealer soothed things a little. I put the ball in his court. Several calls later, even though the dealer assured me that they wouldn’t come after me and take my car (we’re a one car household), I still was teetering on unhearing, uncaring, faceless voices who could have cared less. My favorite line of all of the various conversations went something like this:
Me: “You know, I’ve leased a number of cars over the years. SEVENTEEN, in fact.”
Them: “Yes sir. And we appreciate your loyalty as a customer. But you need to turn your car in or we will be forced to collect it.”
I called the 800 number and was routed to four different people who passed me on to someone else. “Your call is important to us. (Is it?) Due to unexpected volume, wait times can be longer than expected.” Thirty minutes later, same answer.
So, after seventeen cars and many years, someone else will get my business. That part is obvious.
These are understandably difficult times. Not the leasing company’s fault that the factories have been shut down and there are no cars to be had. True. But a thirty year customer should be important to someone. Certainly, I wasn’t worth keeping.
This wasn’t the only such incident. Just recently, I ordered some shirts from a well know merchant, whose shirts I’ve worn for forty plus years (they’re always in style). Now it’s a online purchase not an in store event but something that I’ve done before and is relatively seamless. That is, until I got a delivery notice from the company acknowledging that my package had been delivered. In real life, the package wasn’t there and, thus a call to customer (dis)service.
After a trip through the convoluted automated answering service where I learned how important my call was to them, I finally reached a human being. With the usual number of identifiers, I finally proved I was who I said I was and I’d actually ordered merchandise from them. Brief hold.
“It says here that your package was left on your front porch.”
Well, I live in a twenty-story condo building and packages are delivered to a package room, placed in a secure individual locker that only I can open. And I then receive a text and an e-mail. No such notification had arrived, but I wandered down to the package room and there was no package.
“Can I put you on a brief hold? Need to do some more research.”
Eighteen minutes, then disconnected
Pretty much the same routine. Can’t get through to the shipper so I can’t tell you anything.
Fourteen minutes. Bad music. Disconnected.
Third call. Furious now.
Same explanation. The shipper’s line is busy so can’t get through.
You mean there’s not a “merchant only” call in number?
“Sir, we’d be happy to credit your account and even give you a 25% discount on your next order.”
“Next order?” Preposterous. You’re kidding, right? Why would I put myself through this again?
My shirts showed up the next day. The box left out in the open with the brand label on the box. Could have easily been stolen by a neighbor.
I called back to let them know. “You can charge me for these.”
Brief hold. Don’t know how to deal with an honest customer. Sixteen minutes.
Marketing experts talk about the lifetime value of a customer. The second and third and fourth purchases. The referrals. I did all of those things and was still kicked to the curb. This is what happens when companies get so big that they lose their human touch. Forget how they got there. It’s the beginning of the end. At least of relationships.
Lesson for us. There is nothing more important than your relationship with the people we serve. Getting them to trust us is hard. Getting them to stay with us is challenging and we need to do everything reasonable to prove that we are as loyal to them as they are to us.
Financial and legal professionals need to look at every way a client or prospect touches your company and to make certain that they are responded to promptly and properly. The least bit of shoddy call handling, lack of respect for time, insensitivity to the situation is an ask for a lost relationship. Now, especially, with everyone’s life disrupted, we need to elevate the game. Status quo might even be unacceptable. Respond faster. Be more understanding. Listen more carefully. Anything else feels horribly unacceptable.