A Relationship-Ending Move

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Last Saturday morning at 10 o’clock, the phone rang at my home. The lady on the phone indicated that she was calling from one of Canada’s largest department stores, and asked to speak with my wife. I called my wife and went back to mowing the lawn. About five minutes later, my by-then-very-angry wife came out to tell me what the call was all about.

First, let me provide a bit of background. This is a major retailer and one with which we have been dealing forever. In fact, my wife’s father actually worked for this company for almost 50 years. My wife uses the card every month, especially when we travel, and routinely pays the balance in full when she receives a monthly statement. Last month, we were away on vacation and visiting family for four weeks — see what’s coming? Right! The call was to inform my wife that she had missed a payment and to ask when they might expect the minimum payment of $60.

My wife explained that we had been away and that she had put a check to cover the full amount owing in the mail a few days earlier, when we had returned from vacation. She also expressed her complete surprise and several other pointed emotions at receiving such a call and ended by telling the collections lady that she could be assured that the card would never be used again. She was livid!

Why do companies do such things? They succeeded in ending a very long and profitable relationship by making a stupid move — calling a very, very loyal customer and harassing her for $60, thereby causing a loss of several thousands of dollars annually in sales.

They either have a customer accounts database that fails to show the history of 20 to 30 years without a missed payment. Or they are really focused only on short-term financials. The irony is that this company is regularly written up in the business press in Canada for their use of CRM and their loyalty card program. Someone should explain the concept of loyalty to the collections department or at least share with them what is going on in customer relations. Clearly, they are not talking at the moment.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Good article – and kudos to your wife for not being ‘too Canadian’ and polite in this case.

    I had a similar experience with one of Canada’s large banks – I won’t say who it is here, suffice it to say they are a Canadian bank that rhymes with Blimperial Bank of Commerce.

    After being 3 days late on a student loan payment that has been in good standing for 8 years – I received a very patronizing call from someone in their collections department who informed me that my credit rating would be negatively impacted. I will enjoy taking all of my ‘lifetime value’ (Credit card, mortgage, RRSP accounts, investments, and checking account) from this institution to any one of its its more nimble and reasonable competitors.

    Through my professional experience, I know that its possible to give a collections agent more than enough context to know that not everyone who shows up on their daily call list is a deadbeat. Its also possible to manage workflow towards a more reasonable, humane and customer-sensitive approach to reducing “Days Cash Still Outstanding”. This would be more profitable, as it contributes to customer retention – the holy grail of profitability for financial services.

    My defection isn’t personal – its just good business.

    I pay transaction fees, annual fees, and interest. Financial services in Canada have had record profits year over year. To stay competitive for my business, I feel that some of that profit needs to be invested in service delivery through every customer touchpoint. These fees are not some right that banks are entitled to – it is money for which some value must be returned – in every service transaction, and particularly the more sensitive transactions like collections.

    Colin

  2. Good feedback, Colin, and some solid additions to what I was saying. I agree that it is even more possible today, given existing technologies, to reduce dramatically the likelihood that events such as you and I have described will happen. What continues to astound me is that big companies in particular seem so far removed from thinking about the negative effects that are possible when customer interaction is driven by and delegated to technology.

    Interestingly, I too had a similar experience to yours with the same bank which led my wife and me to end a 30-year “relationship” with that bank. As a result of that experience, we and our three adult daughters and their families all bank with RBC.

    Jim Barnes

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