Can A Credit Department Affect A Brand? – Part Two

I ended Part One with my wife terminating her relationship with Macy’s. If you haven’t read Part One yet, I suggest you do that before you read Part Two.

My wife has spent thousands of dollars at Macy’s over the years. Their credit department took all of that and threw it in the dumpster when a clerk looked at a number ($27) that appeared in the past due column on an aging and did what she/he was trained to do – with no regard for preserving what had been a valuable, long-term relationship.

Did my wife over-react? Definitely. Do other customers over-react to quirky little pet peeves that we all display in the course of our relationships? You bet. Does my wife care about the great deals that Macy’s offers in their “sale-of-the-day” approach to marketing? Not any more!

But before we make Macy’s call center and credit people the bad guys in this story, let’s look a little deeper. This tale is not about a clerk in Macy’s collection department making a mistake. This is an illustration of what happens in the normal course of business when an organization makes a conscious, strategic decision to become transaction driven and not relationship driven.

Macy’s (and many other companies) uses an offshore Call Center. It saves money; at least that’s the intent. Encounters like my wife’s, and the lost customers they generate, are considered unavoidable collateral costs. As long as they remain within some predetermined parameters they are deemed appropriate – no eyebrows raised, no remedial steps taken and no effort made to retain the affected customers. Those costs are offset by the additional revenue generated by being an effective, price-driven, transaction company and by the savings generated by using an offshore Call Center.

Must that outcome be the end of the story? Can an irate customer be saved? Consider this. Suppose Macy’s trained their U.S. based supervisors in the skills needed to handle unhappy customers whose accounts have been mishandled. And suppose that those supervisors were given the authority to give the customer something to soothe their anger. For example, the U.S. supervisor dealing with my wife might have said, “Mrs. Leider, we are so sorry that these mistakes were made and you have every reason to be upset with us. We very much value our relationship and your loyalty. I have made the corrections to your account and now I would like to do something more for you. May I please send you a $25 gift certificate as a token of our respect? And let me assure you that we will do everything we can at our end to make certain that this kind of mistake does not happen in the future.”

They still realize the cost savings of an offshore call center. They are still a transaction driven organization. And yet – they can, at appropriate times, respond in a way that shows some respect for long-standing relationships and, in many cases, saves customers and maintains revenue streams.

Or they can continue their robotic “I’m sorry,” responses and continue to sweep the problem aside, labeling it unavoidable, thereby making those kinds of encounters part of their Brand.

So I ask you. Can a credit department affect the strength of a Brand? You tell me.

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