Every time I leave SunTrust Bank I hear the words “Thank you for banking with SunTrust we really do appreciate your business” Ah that’s nice I have thought on more than one occasions, I’m appreciated. Let’s face it, we all like to feel appreciated from time to time.
A couple of years ago prior to my book going on sale I felt a tad less appreciated. I wanted to set up a merchants account to take credit cards online and had arranged to meet with the SunTrust area representative. It was a strange meeting to say the least. If I’d ever had a sales person working for me that not only had their cell phone switched on, but took two calls during a prospect call, I’d be having stern words at the very least.
Consequently, I got over-charged for some stuff, the account didn’t get opened on time and I wasted about 4 hours of my time chasing people down. Mind you, all the while I was comforted by the fact that SunTrust really do appreciate my business.
I made an almighty screw up last week. If I’m being honest, screw up doesn’t even do it justice, it was more of a monumental fuck up!
About 75% of my clients pay me via PayPal and as such I regularly have to transfer money online from PayPal into my checking account. To cut a long and tedious story short, I knew I needed some money in the checking account and transferred the amount I required over from PayPal.
Or rather I thought I did. What I really did was send it the opposite way and put the account overdrawn. The worst part was I never even noticed until my debit card was refused rather embarrassingly in my local supermarket. Until that moment I never even knew it flashed up on the pad “Insufficient Funds” Surely “Card error, please call your bank” would be more diplomatic?
In the two days or so I was overdrawn SunTrust hit me for $410 in charges which equated to almost 40% interest. I’ve no idea what that would come out at if you calculated the annual rate, but it’s a lot. The kind of interest that would normally cause large men with baseball bats and ready mix concrete enquiring after your whereabouts.
I phoned SunTrust to apologize for my error and ask if there was anything that could be done. I was told as a courtesy they would offer me $72 back, because let’s face it they didn’t have to give me jack (something that was pointed out to me several times). I didn’t really feel that was excessively courteous seeing as it had cost them nothing and I was a customer in excellent standing.
So next I called my own branch and was told the same thing. I explained that we were partners (I could almost imagine the women I was speaking to biting her lip and trying to stop herself from bursting into laughter at such a naive comment) and that I bend over backwards to help out my clients when they have problems. That is the essence of good customer service, surely? You know, the extra mile and all that?
I went on to point out that here was an excellent opportunity for SunTrust to demonstrate with more than words that they really do value my business.
No dice, they were keeping the money. After 20 minutes all I had to show for it was the number of the Area Manager so the following day I called her. I got voice mail and left a message asking her to call me back. The following day her assistant called me to offer help.
Even after admitting on what I presume was a taped phone call, the fees I had been charged were ‘Outrageous’ she still couldn’t help. I asked her if she could ask the AM to call me before 4.00pm the following day and she said that wouldn’t be a problem.
At 4.00pm on the nail just as a client arrived she did call. It took about 2 minutes to ascertain she’d phoned to say they were keeping their money because it was my fault.
So here we are today. I’m making arrangements to close my personal and business accounts down and move elsewhere. SunTrust have lost a client over $300, a fee that they would have got back many times over by retaining my business.
The greatest opportunity to build customer loyalty is when things go wrong.
In the Great Depression, John Deere refused to call in the loans of the farmers that had bought machinery off them and couldn’t afford the repayments. Even to this day 80 years later, some families refuse to buy anything other than Deere. They created raving fans, rabid loyalty and long term prosperity by forgoing short-term gain.
By refunding my money, SunTrust would have had a raving fan, and I am very vocal and loyal to business’s that help me out.
A year or so ago I got a phone call from Progressive insurance telling me they had made an error on my account and I was due a small rebate. As I was talking to the lady for some reason it came up that I had a US Driving License. “Oh we don’t have that on record, that will reduce your premium still further. Does your wife also have a license? if so we can backdate both refunds to when you past your driving test, when was that?”
I ended up getting over $300 back from Progressive, money that I never even knew I was owed. Six months ago when my insurance was due to renew on the advice of a friend I got a much cheaper quote from an out of State competitor. I took it to Progressive to see if they could match it. They couldn’t, but got within about $120. Was I going to move? No way, not for $120 I wasn’t, and it’s doubtful I ever will.
That’s a classic win/win. I got brilliant service and a genuine sense of being appreciated as a customer and they got a life time of business worth many thousands of dollars. What’s not to love about that?
SunTrust have created a win/lose/lose. Yes they win $300 and good for them. But in a struggling market place they lose my business, create a disgruntled ex-client and I lose the money and the time it will take me to move accounts.
By the way, I must point out at this stage, I wasn’t expecting to get all my money back. If they’d charged me $75 that would have been reasonable. I also realize that technically they were well within their rights to keep their money, it just made no sense to no matter how you look at it. As anybody in business will tell you it takes somewhere in the region of 7 times as much to generate a new client as it does to retain a current one.
A lot of British people think Americans get great customer service. On the whole their interaction is through places like Disney where staff members aren’t allowed to say no to visiting the hotels and restaurants in tourist areas that have to supply excellent service or pay the consequences.
My experience living here is that Americans tolerate atrocious customer service from large organizations, worse even than in the UK. There are of course exceptions and I’m not saying the UK isn’t sucky, just not quite as sucky as it is here.
As I was sat on hold during waiting to get through to a real live person that lived this side of the Ganges I was pondering the worst companies I have ever dealt with. I was amazed as I went back through my mind how many were in the US considering I lived in the UK for 42 years before moving here.
I thought as I’m on a bit of a rant anyway I may as well purge my spleen and let you know about the 10 suckiest business’s I’ve ever dealt and why they are so sucky.
In traditional style I’m going to count down from 10 to 1. I know you’re excited to see what is at number 1, but there are 9 other excellent candidates if you like pulling your hair out, wasting money and begging Billy Bob in Calcutta to please put you through to somebody that knows what cancel means.
10. Progress Energy: It was a hot day in late July 2007. We were moving home and because our new home was literally just over the road, had decided to carry everything. It may seem sensible not hiring a van when the new home is only 25 yards away, but in 95 degree heat with humidity that would piss off a rattle snake, seem is the operative word.
About 5 hours into the move and I’m having to step over more dead friends in the road with every passing trip. I get back to the old house at exactly the guy from Progress Energy turns up to switch the power over at the new one. He enquires to my whereabouts and when told I’m at the other house promptly leaves.
I return less than 5 minutes later to a house that has had it’s electricity turned off. I called Progress and explained the situation. They said they’d be back on Tuesday. After politely enquiring as to whether the lady has ever been to Florida in July, I get put through to a supervisor. Half an hour later they agree to get a ‘technician’ back to turn it on.
9. Instantunlockcode: The clue is in the name here, keep remembering the name, I urge you.
I paid them $2.99 to get the unlock code for my old phone I wanted to use on a trip back to the UK. Well I say $2.99, it was $2.99 all the way until I clicked to pay then it miraculously went up to $7.99.
Codes are usually given by return e-mail, except in this unusual case of course. I get an e-mail telling me my Nokia is a rare beast as only 42 million were made and they need 24 hours to figure it out. 24 hours later I get a further e-mail telling me they need another 24 hours to figure it out, but not to worry because Steve is on the case. 24 hours after that I get an e-mail saying they can’t do it. Two weeks later after 2 follow ups I get my $7.99 back.
8. Appliance Direct: If you have any fridge/freezers that don’t work, sell them to Appliance Direct and then they can sell them to me. We were left for almost 3 weeks without a working freezer that didn’t work from day one and they refused to swap for one that actually cooled food. It was eventually repaired by the manufacturer after quite frankly I gave up with the bumbling idiots at Appliance Direct.
7. Vonage: Vonage is a communication company and they’ve skillfully managed to install the worst voice recognition system on the planet. In fact, the only thing that has more difficulty understanding the English language is their Indian based support team.
Service is very hit and miss when dialing overseas and I regularly get the message “Lines are temporarily busy” Really? On a VoiP System?
6. Virgin Atlantic: Virgin is an anomaly to me. When you are on their aircraft the flight crew are excellent. The food is sometimes below par, but certainly as good or better than most airlines I ever fly with. However, actually getting on to the plane can be the tricky bit.
If you use their website prepare yourself for a wild roller coaster and don’t believe what you see in terms of prices. A seat can be $600 one day and then $1200 the next and be literally back down to $600 the day after that. In fact it can change on an hour by hour basis for flights months away.
Flights that are completely blacked out on one day may have massive availability the following day and this isn’t just every now and then, it’s all the bloody time. They also use classic bait and switch tactics with upgrades. Twice I was offered an upgrade into 1st class for $400! Twice I tried to book it and couldn’t. That was when they offered me Premium Economy. Yeh, right.
Trying to use air miles is a nightmare because flights that were available when paying with cash suddenly aren’t. And if you want to talk to Customer Service prepare yourself for wait times of almost Biblical proportions.
5. N1 Wireless: Buy an unlocked phone from N1 Wireless, but make sure you check it will work in the UK first! Oh wait a minute, that is exactly what I did do. I got to the UK with my phone and amazingly it wouldn’t work with my UK SIM card. So I went and spent $15 of a another SIM card and that didn’t work either. I e-mailed N1 Wireless and heard nothing. I also called and couldn’t get through.
Eventually after multiple attempts I got to talk to a customer service representative who promptly informed me I should have asked technical support if it worked in the UK, not sales. Eh? So when I specifically asked about it’s compatibility with UK carriers prior to purchasing, and they said yes it would definitely work, that was the time I should have demanded to talk to technical support was it?
I sent the phone back and not only did they not refund my $21 for the 3 day shipping that actually took 5 days, they charged me a $10 restocking fee for a phone that didn’t work.
4. British Telecom: If you’re British you probably know what I mean, if you’re American just be glad you never have to deal with BT. It’s like AT & T, T-Mobile and Verizon fired all their worst customer service people and BT snapped them up to head up a crack CS team.
3. SunTrust: See above
2. DirecTv: Unbelievable, I don’t even know where to begin with this bunch of jokers that have over charged me multiple times, sold me equipment that didn’t work, sent engineers that knew less than I did and bounced me around customer support for hours on end before cutting me off. If it wasn’t for their monopoly on football I would be gone a long time ago.
1. Royal Bank of Scotland: I’m proud to say that even though the UK only have 3 entries, we do claim number one spot.
When your own bank manager and somebody you have known for over 10 years says to you something along the lines of “Tim I know this debt is nothing to do with you, but you only advised me verbally you were no longer a partner in the business. You should have written in to have your name taken off the guarantor” you know you’re in the shit! Three years later and after battering me with lawyers and collection agents notices, they finally dropped their case and sent me a letter of apology. If only they’d have told me how much they appreciated me.
So there you have it, I’ve got that lot off my chest. What I really want to know however, is who are the worst companies you have ever dealt with? Have you had positive experiences of any of the above, or maybe even juicier negative ones?
Let us know in the comments and together we can bring corporate America and corporate UK to it’s greedy money grabbing knees by the next Thursday.