Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Why do some companies still do this?

Last Summer I signed up for a lawn-caring program from one of the many companies in my area. My lawn was a disaster and after many ultimatums from my wife, I had to take action or possibly face the dog's house for a while. I called many but ended up settling for the largest and most famous one because of their track record.

It was a 6-visit package that included weed control, aeration (fancy eh?), fertilization, etc. I was going to have a nice lawn and in the process make my wife fall in love with me all over again. Things started out OK; the scheduled visits were delivered on time and I noticed improvement. But after the 3rd visit I noticed the lawn suddenly turning yellow and some spots were completely burned. Fearing for my marriage I called them and asked for someone to come in and take a look; the diagnosis: the service professional who did the last visit did not notice an equipment malfunction and applied 10 times the amount of chemical required...

After many more visits they managed to control the problem but I had made up my mind by then not to call them back this year. So I was very surprised one day this Spring when I saw a sign on my lawn from the same company and a letter that thanked me for choosing their business once again. I immediately called them and told them they had made a mistake; I had not signed up for their services and did not want any work done. It took me 3 calls, hours on hold, and many repetitions of my story to many different people (isn't it incredibly annoying when have to repeat ourselves several times?) in order to get to a "manager". She told me that because I did not call to cancel the service last year, they assumed I wanted it again and therefore had already delivered the 1st treatment.

I politely explained that I had not signed up for it and therefore I was not paying; yes, they were charging me $50 for the service I had not ordered. And here is the punch line: the "manager" referred me to last year's contract where on page 15, section 3, subsection 3a, in a font that required glasses way more powerful than the ones I wear, it stated that "if the company does not receive explicit cancellation instructions it will assume the service is reordered for the following year". And to make my ground even shakier, I had signed it...

Why do some companies still behave this way in the 21st century?

It amazes me the lengths some organizations will go to acquire and retain customers thinking they are practicing good business. These kinds of actions destroy relationships and create such negative "viral marketing" that it's simply not worth it; it does not make financial sense to gain $50 and potentially lose $500 worth of new business. Customer management is not retaining customers at all costs and by any available means. It is about creating and maintaining profitable relationships where both parties win: the company makes a profit and the customer receives a benefit that either matches or surpasses the price paid.

After being threatened (!) to have my name sent to a collections agency I ended up paying the $50; they will never know how much money they lost...

Thanks for your time and please join me at the NACCM's Customer 1st Conference on November 19 where I will be talking about putting the customer first and sharing some practical tools.


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