How to Lose Your Customers


By Samuel Greengard

Today's technology allows businesses to enter sophisticated marketing relationships with partners. In a best-case scenario, everyone wins: the companies boost sales, loyalty and market share; the customer gets a deal and feels warm fuzzies. This presumably all leads to future business.

Except when something goes wrong. I'm currently fuming over an American Express and TripAdvisor $50 credit card statement offer that I won't be receiving, despite making the necessary purchase and using an AMEX card. In a chain of events that is nothing less than dystopian, I visited the TripAdvisor site looking for hotel rooms for an upcoming trip, clicked a button that offered a $50 credit for a $250 purchase, booked two rooms for a total of $384.27 at the AMEX travel site, and then saw the statement credit declined.

A total of nearly 1 hour talking to a representative and supervisor was pointless. Apparently, I had linked the promotion to a different AMEX card (I have two) and the two hotel purchases showed up as two separate transactions due to the way the e-commerce engine works.

This situation includes more than a few flaws, faux pas and breakdowns. Yes, I used a different AMEX card than the one I had registered with TripAdvisor in the past. But isn't American Express American Express? Why did the travel site accept the offer and not notify me which card I had registered by listing the last few digits? Why did the site force me to book hotels separately rather than as a single transaction? Heck, I could have booked $10,000 or $10 million worth of hotel rooms but if none of them hit the $250 purchase threshold I wouldn't receive the offer.

The bigger question is why supervisors and managers aren't empowered to make decisions—and exceptions? Obviously, I adhered to the spirit of the deal and acted in good faith. Rules are essential and thwarting abusers is important. But without humans at the controls—and when necessary actually thinking and acting on a situation—companies are left with angry customers. In this case, I'm inclined to take my several thousands of dollars a year in travel spending elsewhere over a measly $50. Net loss: AMEX.

A word of advice to CIOs and other executives: Take a consumer-centric view, lose the Byzantine rules and gotchas, and put humans in charge when a glitch or problem occurs. Anything less is a recipe for disputes, lost revenues and customers jumping ship.

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. You can read his latest CIO Insight blog post, "Fake Green Comes Out in the Wash," by clicking here.


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