Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How to lose a customer for life

I don't carry an American Express card. Did once. Don't any more. Here's why:

My wife and I took an extended trip to Ireland. We happened to have a large amount of cash in our bank account at the time (due to an inheritance), and we decided against carrying travelers checks in favor of using our AMEX card, which, we'd been told, had no spending limit.

We visited the Emerald Isle for about three weeks and had a bonny old time. We racked up a debt of several thousand dollars on our card, which we intended to pay off in full on our return to the States. But at some point before returning, our AMEX card started getting rejected. The account had been frozen. This caused us a bit of hassle, since there was (at that time) no easy way to access the cash sitting in our savings account stateside.

On returning to the States, I called AMEX. The first person I spoke to immediately transferred me to someone "more senior." (I guess some big skull and crossbones popped up on her screen when she accessed our account.) The not-very-friendly more senior person -- let's call him Brad -- explained to me that my card had been suspended due to an unusually high volume of activity over the past few weeks.

Yes, I explained, we'd been in Europe and used the card for almost everything we did. We have plenty of cash and will pay the balance in full before the statement due date. (Note that, according to our statement, payment wasn't due for another week.)

Brad then adopted a slightly hostile tone and explained to me that the card would remain suspended until they received payment.

This bothered me. We had not been informed of any spending limit. We had not ever failed to pay the balance in full by the statement's due date, including in this instance. And we had explained that the recent activity was both legitimate and completed.

Nope, Brad could not help us. The card could not be used until they received some payment. (He emphasized some even though I'd indicated we would be paying the full balance.) OK, fine, I said, you'll receive full payment and instructions to close our account.

Brad seemed fine with that, so I considered the matter final.

Still, my do-gooder instincts compelled me to write a letter accompanying our payment, explaining the situation and offering to re-consider the decision to close the account if someone would contact me to discuss it with us. Nobody ever did.


But then, a month later, I got a form letter "from" the CEO of AMEX, expressing his sadness that we'd decided to close the account, and asking if there was anything AMEX could do to keep our business. Provided was an SASE to send comments. So I sent the same letter back in the SASE.

Never got a reply.

That was thirteen years ago. I've been shredding offers from AMEX ever since.

What should they have done differently?

I started to make another list, but why bother? We both know...

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