Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Respect your customer, even when offside

Did you know that Canada’ s three national credit bureaus not only keep tabs on how much you’ve borrowed and how much you’ve paid back – but on how many times you've been late paying your credit card bills?

I just learned that while researching my column for MoneySense magazine. I looked up my credit reports at TransUnion and Equifax, and there were my late payments – made how many years ago – still on file, still working to make lenders think less of extending credit to me (or charging me more for the privilege). Six years those late payment stay on file!

But I'm here to tell you that it works both ways. Entrepreneurs don't forget, either. And they (okay, we) don’t easily forgive.

As a business owner, about four times a year I get a direct mail from American Express promoting its corporate card for small business.

The letter uses the right language: simple, declarative, flattering. (“As a business owner, it was your idea that opened doors. Your dedication that got customers calling, And your perseverance that keeps them coming back.” And it offers “quarterly management reports” and 200 bonus rewards points a month (whatever those are).

But it will be a cold day in Richmond Hill before I get an Amex card. Why? Because I remember how they treated me when I was late paying off a card one month, 10 years ago. Never mind the exorbitant interest rates (now 30%) they charge – they treat you rudely and dismissively, like a thief in the night. And this on top of the annual fee I (or my employer at the time) was paying.

Entrepreneurs are not always the most organized people. Sometimes they lose track of the trees as they keep their eye on the forest.* If you want to serve them properly, treat them (okay, us) as respectfully when they're offside as when you're first wooing them.

Because power imbalances are temporary. Memories are long.

(*After all, even big businesses slip up. Example: on Jan. 23, 2007, Amex’s website offered this information about the fee for its Small Business Corporate Card: "$30 annual fee ($50 annual fee, effective March 14, 2005).”

1 comment:

George Torok said...

Rick, I also will never use American Express - not because of any late payment. But because I remember how I was treated by them when I travelled around the world. In Amsterdam, New Delhi and Sydney. It was a few decades ago - and I still remember.