By Terry L. Brock
I have an ex. It is an ex-cell phone company to be exact. You might have experienced something like the problem I had. My story is a good lesson in what Relationship Marketing is supposed to be---and what it is not.
I used to be in love with this cellular company. I really was. Their service was consistently good. Their prices were good. I even had good service at their local stores each time I went to see them. However, an incident occurred that drove me from being a loyal customer to utter contempt for them.
Recently I visited Vancouver, British Columbia and needed to check my email. I have often used an Air card to go on the Net. The air card I have worked reasonably well on my laptop. When I went to Canada I noticed that it worked just fine After about 20 minutes of checking email, everything seemed fine.
I was shocked when I returned to the States and got a call from my ex cell phone company. They told me that I was to incur a charge of about $453.00 for usage. There was no message given that I would have additional charges. They have some very smart people at this company. It would not be difficult to put a screen on the computer saying something like, “ We notice you are accessing your wireless card. Thank you for your business. If you use it here in Canada, you will have an additional expense of X cents per kilobyte charged. To continue, press the “Accept” button. Otherwise, press “Decline” and you’ll be disconnected. Thank you for using our service.”
Something like that would have been perfect. Instead, I was hit with stealth charges. Yes, I’ll have to plead guilty that I didn’t’ devour the legal contract and memorize it! However, the employees I spoke with insisted I should have known about it because it was in the contract I signed years ago. Sorry. The real world doesn’t work that way. Letting someone know that they are going to incur additional, unusual charges is only reasonable.
What Went Wrong – And Could Have Been Different
They could have let me know that I would incur additional fees. A contract, which was signed years ago, is not sufficient. The representatives with whom I spoke kept saying that the contract stated certain terms about additional charges. Well, I could be the only one who hasn’t memorized their cell phone contract but I don’t remember the agreement I signed several years ago. Somehow I don’t think I’m the only one who hasn’t memorized their cell agreement and knows every nook and cranny of it. Yes, they could legally say they were right. However, the bigger issue is that they turned a loyal, die-hard customer into someone who is utterly disgusted with and infuriated with their company. It is obvious they are more interested in a legal contract than in building positive, long-term relationships with their customers.
They eventually credited some of the fee but I still ended up paying about $270. It was fine that they credited this but still it doesn’t resolve the issue in my mind. Even from an accounting perspective (not marketing and customer care), they were able to wrestle an additional $270 from me. Contrast that with the $60 that I spent every month. A quick calculation shows me that in about 4.5 months I would have paid at least $270.00 to my ex-cell phone company. Now they will get nothing in the future.
You might not experience this same problem directly but if the company did this and follows this type of attitude towards those who pay their salaries, what could they do to you in the future? And the cell phone companies wonder why customers desert them so quickly!
All we are asking is that companies behave like human beings and demonstrate something that doesn’t appear in their legal contracts ---- care. An old saying still is valid, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It is obvious to me that this cellular company ranks zero in the care department. Relationship Marketing is about hearing the customer and helping everyone involved. It is about Relationships---not legal contracts.
So, what is the lesson for you and me in our business? First, be aware that these hidden charges that can occur. Second, vow to be more human and see things from a caring perspective in our own business. Third, do the math! Don’t lose a customer at $60/month forever over a one-time $270 charge. This is particularly true if that customer has been with you for several years never missing a payment.
Relationship Marketing is all about relating to customers as people first, and then doing business in a mutually agreeable way that benefits both parties. My ex-cellular company could have said, “Mr. Brock, we see what happened and we could legally charge you the full amount. Instead, because you’ve been with us for so long and have never had a late payment, we are going to dismiss it this one time. Please continue to use us and thank you for being such a great customer.” If they had said something like that, I would be raving about them. They would also make a lot more money from a die-hard, loyal customer.
Instead they have a sorely disappointed and frustrated customer who not only will not use their service but also will be quite vocal to others to avoid it. They will lose a lot more than the $270.00 they are getting from me this one time through the loss of my business and those I can influence.
Relationship Marketing is about caring. If caring is not there, a painful divorce can occur. Don’t let this happen to you and your company.
Terry Brock is an international marketing coach and columnist who helps businesses market more effectively, leveraging technology. He shows busy professionals how to squeeze more out of their days using time-honored rules and practical technology tools. He can be reached at 407-363-0505, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at www.terrybrock.com.
Copyright © 2008, Terry Brock, Achievement Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved Internationally. No portion may be reprinted or used without prior written permission.