American Express Comes Through for a Member in Need

Solving a Problem Leads to an Easy Up-Sell

January 16, 2003

When a customer is in crisis, solving the problem on the spot makes the sale! American Express puts itself in the customer’s shoes and saves the day.



Last Friday started out very well. We were running our Introduction to Customer Scenario(r) Mapping Training Workshop, and the participants were doing great, picking up the mantle of facilitator quickly and absorbing the tips and techniques of the methodology with ease. And everyone was having fun. After the session, as I prepared to go to dinner with a number of the attendees, I discovered that, sometime during the day, my pocketbook had been stolen from my office! I had no money, no credit cards, no identification, and, being after 5 p.m. on a Friday, no easy way to get replacements until the beginning of the week.

I, unfortunately, forsook dinner, opting to get home as quickly as possible to make a police report and to start calling the dozens of credit cards, debit cards, ID cards, AAA cards, etc. vendors to put a hold on my accounts and to start the replacement processes.

By some bizarre coincidence, I had thought about what would happen if I lost my wallet, and, just weeks before, I had noted all my credit card account numbers in a notebook at my home. The list had no rhyme or reason; I just wrote down numbers in the order in which I pulled the cards out of the card holder. Let the phone calling commence.

Well-Trained Customer Service Reps

There seems to be an excellent trend afoot in customer service. All the people I spoke with, from the police clerk to the bank rep to the credit card reps were helpful, sympathetic, and informed. They took my information expediently and patiently answered all my questions.

Telephone Systems Need an Overhaul

Getting to these people was not as easy. The telephone response systems for each organization--every one of them--required me to listen to at least four menu options before finding the right one for reporting a stolen card. I was particularly annoyed by the systems that forced me to listen to an up-sell advertisement before offering me any menu options!

It is understandable that companies want to present sales options first. And reporting stolen or lost cards, hopefully, isn't as common a request as product information or account information. But, when it is the action item, the person calling in is usually somewhat distraught and needs quick response and assurances. I recommend that companies make reporting missing cards one of the first options you get when you call the customer service line.

American Express Responds Retroactively

American Express was actually the third institution I contacted because, well, it was third on the handwritten list. The two previous credit card companies were easy to deal with, and both representatives advised me that, if I had subscribed to the credit protection service they offered, and had registered all my credit cards with them, they would have made all these calls for me. To each one, I responded, "yeah, great, but too late now!" I was not in the mood to be shown how I could have saved myself time and effort. It smacked of closing the barn door after the horses had fled. And I felt stupid enough for having left my pocketbook in a vulnerable area. I didn't need to be reminded that I could have avoided some pain if only...

American Express, however, cut me off at the pass. The customer service person told me that, if I signed up for the nominal fee ($29 per year), it would be effective retroactively (to the last few hours), and the company would take over all the notifications for the current theft, including getting me a new driver's license. Sold! I had at least eight more numbers to call, and anything that helps me avoid the Registry of Motor Vehicles is worth a fortune!

Just a half hour after completing my call with American Express, a representative call me to let me know that all the calls had been made and when I would be receiving replacement cards from all institutions.

Solving a Problem vs. Making a Sale

By understanding that I, the customer, had a problem to be solved then and there, and by offering an immediate solution, American Express signed me up for three years of the credit protection plan (at a significant discount off the one-year rate). I desperately hope that I never have to make use of the service again. But having a problem at hand solved in one fell swoop was worth a financial investment. Betting that it might happen again did not entice me.

U.S. Government Doesn't Get It!

The only action item that I have yet to take care of is ...

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