Avoiding CEM: Customer Elimination Management

Apr 12, 2004

By John

I don’t care what kind of flashy loyalty program you try to execute, if your service stinks, you lose customers: loyal customers; even customers who have paid big bucks for the privilege of being loyal customers.

In the April 2004 Direct magazine, “curmudgeon-at-large” Herschell Gordon Lewis writes about his experiences with American Express Platinum Card customer service, or as he characterizes it, “Customer Elimination Management.”

The storyline is reasonably familiar to anyone who has reluctantly placed a customer service call: lack of flexibility; lack of courtesy; ending with a trip to the “hold” valley of the damned.

The only unfamiliar part of the story is that all this is served up to an American Express Platinum cardholder – his wife. I guess $395 a year just doesn’t buy much in the way of service anymore.

Here’s an excerpt:

The rep stated she would have to “create a profile.”

Margo demurred, but the rep said frostily that it’s totally necessary to create a profile.

“Why? I just want the names of two good restaurants in the Chicago Loop. And if you don’t want to make the reservations, I’ll do it.”

Her response was to ask for — make that demand — our phone number and e-mail addresses.

Margo said all these were on file at AmEx.

“Shall I then say you prefer not to give your phone number?”

An exasperated yes.

“OK then, please hold.”

Moderator’s Comment: Does it make any sense to invest in a loyalty-marketing program if your shopper satisfaction
level with employee contact isn’t superior to your competition? Can technology solutions (self scan, automated systems) be used to efficiently improve customer satisfaction?

A $395 a year tax on customers should guarantee a reasonable level of customer service. Regardless, a retailer has to make sure loyalty-marketing efforts
are not undermined by unsatisfactory shopper/employee interaction.
Anderson – Moderator

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