I’m not talking about “romantic” breakups, although those can be hard to do. Besides, my last romantic breakup was more than 25 years ago, and I did the breaking up.
No, I’m talking about “business” breakups….breaking up with a business I’ve had a long relationship with but for some reason no longer works for me. Those breakups aren’t easy either.
Even before the recession, my experience has been that a business does not easily accept a breakup from a long time customer of good standing. Which makes sense because I read somewhere that the cost of keeping a customer is usually cheaper than the cost of replacing one.
My first experience with a business wooing me to stay or return as a customer was with my first credit card – American Express. When I was a college senior, I (and probably many other college seniors) received a mail offer from AmEx. The letter stated that even though I had no credit history, AmEx wanted me as a customer because they believed I would become the customer they wanted and so why not start a relationship now, just as I was starting my career?
We would grow together…
Back in 1974, AmEx was pretty prestigious and so of course I accepted their offer. (I did notice sometimes getting a certain “look” when I paid with that AmEx card, as if they were wondering how someone so young could have that card.) A few years later, I was upgraded to a gold account, which at that time had a lot of benefits most other credit cards did not, such as extended warranty and auto rental collision coverage for whatever your own insurance did not cover. And AmEx customer service was top level.
Of course, AmEx cards carried an annual fee then (and still do, I think). The gold card carried a higher annual fee than the green card but I didn’t mind because I felt the benefits were worth the fee. But as the years passed, the fee kept increasing too and when it went to $75 (a lot of money in the eighties) I decided to consider alternatives. And, unlike when I first became a gold card holder, there were now alternatives.
Both MasterCard and VISA had come out with gold cards which matched most of AmEx’s benefits. And their cards had no annual fee. It made no sense to me to keep an AmEx gold card when I could have the same benefits for free. So what if I had been with AmEx for 15 years?
AmEx was not a “revolving’ credit card. The balance was due in full each month. I paid in full and on time every month. That builds a good credit history. So I wasn’t surprised when the MC and VISA gold card offers arrived. I was “pre-approved.” Just sign on the dotted line. And so I did.
After the new gold card arrived, it was time for the parting with AmEx. I was not enthusiastic. It was like breaking up for the first time. Lots of emotion… After all, AmEx embraced me when I doubt any other “national” credit card would have had me. This is how I was thanking them….?
When I called to cancel, the rep asked why I was leaving after so many years. I explained that I could get a gold card with no annual fee. The agent asked if I would stay if the annual fee was waived that year. I asked about the following year and was told they could not address that now. I accepted the fee waiver. Breakup avoided.
But the next year, it was a different conversation. This time the rep said that since they had waived the fee last year all they could do this year was give me a 50% reduction. I saw where this was going. Next year, it might be a 25% reduction and then no reduction. Why drag the ending out? I declined the offer.
Bur within two weeks, I received a “come back’ letter. No annual fee reduction. Just an appeal to our long relationship. I disregarded it. And many more such letters as well as a few phone calls. They did not give up trying to get me back for about a year. I wasn’t aggravated; I found it somewhat flattering.
I recall this experience because I think I’m about to go through it again, this time with DirecTV. I’ve been with DirecTV for about 20 years. But a few years ago I picked up limited cable in order to get cable Internet, which is much faster than DSL. (I gave up a landline phone when I went to cable Internet; that savings paid for the cable Internet.).
Susie is the main TV watcher and I noticed in the last few months that she was watching the cable stations more than DirecTV. Although many of those cable stations are pretty worthless (shopping, religious, etc.) there are some good ones, such as WGN, TVLand, Animal Planet, two (Florida and Georgia) PBS, and all the network stations.
So after discussing it with Susie, I called DirecTV to cancel. I got the same response as I did from Amex decades ago: “why are you leaving?” I said I was retiring (technically true) and needed to reduce expenses. (Two folks I know got a rate reduction by using the “cancel” gambit and if I could keep the same package for $29.95, I’d stay. At least for another year.)
The DirecTV rep didn’t offer me that deal. He said they could address the rate with a different package. I replied I had already checked out other packages and didn’t like the only one that was lower priced than my existing package. DirecTV’s move…
The rep said he had an “unadvertised” package. I could get 150 channels for $29.95 plus taxes. I asked if there was a list of these channels I could look at online. There was not. I asked about a few channels I liked. History… no. Travel… no. A &E…yes. Discover…yes. I decided to give it a try.
After two months, I felt the channels I had were not worth the price. And now I wasn’t interested in the “same package for $29.95” deal either. I wanted to use that money for something else, such as maybe adding a second line to my cell phone plan.
So I called to cancel and had the “why” conversation again. Since I wasn’t looking for a deal, I explained that we just weren’t watching much TV and we were fine with the limited cable. The rep ignored that and explained how we could get new equipment if we signed a two year contract at our current rate. Our equipment was so old (twenty years) that it was not HD or digital capable.
I thanked her for the offer but if I wasn’t watching DirecTV much what was the point? She accepted that logic. She explained the cancellation process (final bill and credit, the equipment was mine but return the access card, etc.) and then thanked me for 20 years of business.
Within two weeks of that cancellation, I received a “come back” letter from DirecTV. New equipment and a special rate for two years as a “new” customer. I did think about it, but decided not to prolong the agony. I’m just not watching that much TV and Susie’s fine with what we have.
I wonder what’s gonna happen when I cancel Newsweek after about 35 years? Now that it’s been sold to a new owner, who knows what will happen to the “quality?” Besides, I can get my news and analysis online for free. (Of course I don’t subscribe to my local newspaper either, for the same reason)
My Southwest Platinum card is also heading for cancellation in about two years when I “really” retire. It is the only card I have with an annual fee and I’ve decided the fee won’t be worth it since I’ll not be charging enough to earn a free ticket to Vegas each year as I’ve been doing since I got that card in 1997. (I’ll replace it with a “no annual fee” hotel card that will earn me free hotel nights.)
Breaking up is hard to do….!