How to ruin customer loyalty

It’s amazing how just two little words, said sincerely, can make or break your customer’s brand impressions.

Recently, my husband and I went through a horrific experience with a financial planner. This person has always been so good to us over the years and we trusted him implicity. In the last two years, however, he made a ton of moves from one place to another. The explanations were sound so with each move, while we were unsure about moving our retirement money around so much, we stuck with him. He’d built up so much good brand equity with us that we had a lot of  trust in him.

The last move he made was to Valic Financial.  He carefully explained to us all the reasons why this move was going to be beneficial and he even acknowledged all the turmoil we’d been through but wanted us to know “how much our loyalty meant to him” and that he’d love it if we followed him there.  Worried, we asked, “With this new role, we might be very small fish in a big pond. Are you sure we’ll be worth your time and will get the attention we need?”

“Of course,” he said.

Based on his word, we filled out the paperwork and made the moves.

Then we found out two things: one, his Washington state license (he was based out of state) had expired so he was in the process of renewing it. Two, in the meantime, our accounts would be in his district manager’s name but he would be watching them.

That was when phone calls and emails stopped getting returned. 

We chalked this up to transition and to his move to more “institutional” accounts. It didn’t get really bad until we needed some info and to move some money around for our tax returns. And we just couldn’t get anyone on the phone. First we couldn’t get info on where to send the check and then we sent a check for my IRA and kept calling to get confirmation it was received, and all we got were messages that he’d “let us know when it came in.” He kept saying, “I’ll talk to the manager tomorrow to confirm” or “You’ll get an email from me…” Not once did we ever hear back when he’d promised we would.  Panic set in. I finally called the district manager’s office myself and found out from the Assistant that they never received the check. So I had to stop payment and issue a new one.  All of this without two little words from our planner or the district manager:

“I’m sorry.”

Achnowledgement of inconvenience and mistakes can go a long way, if your heart is in the right place. While we still wouldn’t have been happy with everything we’ve been through, we at least would have felt like they were trying to fix things.

Long story short, we finally decided the stress wasn’t worth it and we went with a new firm. And the transfer process hiccups have just confirmed we don’t want anything to do with Valic ever again 0 ur new firm can’t believe how we’re being treated and all the snafus that have occured. We still love everything our old planner did for us, and we’re not sure why his usually impeccable follow-up and responsiveness disappeared when he joined Valic, but given the behavior of the district manager, I’d say he’s entering a culture of unresponsiveness.

Two lessons here: one, if a client is not going to be right for you, don’t tell them that they will be and then disappoint them. Better to cut the ties and let them find what they need elsewhere. That is why understanding your ideal customer is so important. Two, when a client is constantly complaining and upset, don’t make them feel like they are in the wrong, or worse, ignore them. We were fully justified in this case, but even if we were not, saying “I’m sorry” and trying to fix the situation is a better brand strategy in the long run than completely ignoring the problem.

When has your customer loyalty been betrayed? What did you do about it? How have you turned around a dissatisfied customer for your own business?

Photo credit: Flickr blue_quartz

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