Your Policies Can Not Serve Two Masters

Recently I had to make a change to a couple of airline tickets purchased through USAirways.  When told I would have to pay $150 per ticket in penalties and any difference in the price of the tickets after the change, I nearly fell out of my chair!  How can a company in good faith charge a client that kind of money for a few keystrokes?  Well hidden in 8pt font at the bottom of my reservation was the policy in clear print, which the USAirways helpful clerk assisted me in finding (how thoughtful!).  They were non-refundable, so it’s not like the airline was going to be out anything.  Then when the new tickets came out $200 cheaper I was told their policy is not to refund the difference.  They can charge you more if the new reservations cost more, but refunds were not possible.  Hmmm, OK, you got me once USAir… But quoth the Raven…nevermore!  Which lead me to thinking…how many of us have policies in our company that put customers on the “customer punishment plan?”

Conversely, look at SouthWest Airlines.  No penalties, bags fly free, you can bank credit for unused flights up to a year.  Now there’s a company that’s looking for ways to put customers first.  What are your policies?  From acquiring your products, credit terms, late payment fees and penalties.  Are they reasonable or is your company look to benefit off the misfortune of your customers?  I think in times when business is struggling it’s easy to strap our customers with punishments to cushion the P & L.  But what’s the long-term outcome?  I can tell you this, I’ll swim to Jamaica before I board a UseLess Air flight again.  And that goes for the half dozen or so business trips I take each and every year as well.  Remember the old adage, it takes a lot to get a customer and sometimes very little to lose them.  And don’t get me started on Banks.  They charge fees for breathing their air when you go inside the branch!

So perhaps this is a good time for all of us to look at the way we interact with our clients and prospects and see if each “touchpoint” is one that’s going to seek to reward them, and if it smells like punishment, it probably is.  Just put yourself on the other side and ask “how would I feel if I just incurred that charge?”  In times when customers are having a hard time financially, are you making it worse with late fees and penalties?  Are these gains now, going to result in ill will for the future?  Make sure it’s all reasonable, balanced, and treating customers like gold…because those companies that look for ways to reward customers instead of punishing them, reap the long-term relationships that the others say they seek.

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