customer loyalty

FRANKLAND: Random Acts of Hostility are Destroying Your Customer Loyalty

Somebody allowed an inadvertent act of hostility to enter the equation and now a once loyal, frequent, and happy customer is shopping for alternatives.

So called ‘random acts of kindness’ have been a feature of customer experience (CX) programs for some time. Firms empower their employees to find ways to surprise and delight customers during moments of interaction. These aren’t systematic and algorithmically calculated in the way an airline or hotel might upgrade one of their better customers, but something that is truly random. I often quote the example of Virgin Media in the UK, where several years ago a service employee sent a picture frame to a new broadband customer who mentioned that he had just become a grandfather for the first time. He wanted the high-speed internet to be able to Skype or FaceTime his family to see the baby as he grew. The employee sent the picture frame along with a note of congratulations – just because it was a kind thing to do.

There are hundreds of examples of employees at forward-thinking companies making these kinds of decisions and actions.

Unfortunately, there are thousands or hundreds-of-thousands of examples of companies performing the exact opposite — what I call “inadvertent acts of hostility.”

We’ve all been there – the airline that won’t refund your flight that they cancelled, but will give you a voucher for a future flight; the hotel that charges you for a night that you can’t stay due to delayed travel, and then doesn’t provide any rewards; the online subscription company that makes it super-simple to sign-up for their offering online, but requires you to call a number that nobody ever answers during very specific hours, and within a very specific timeframe; the refund that takes weeks, when the initial purchase took seconds, and so many others that chip away at customer loyalty.

Somebody somewhere allowed an inadvertent act of hostility to enter the equation. And, now a once loyal, frequent, and happy customer is shopping for alternatives.

Perhaps the worst example I’ve heard in a while though, was American Express. My brother-in-law has been a loyal and lucrative customer for 37 years. Two-weeks ago, he called to get approval for a large purchase that he was planning to make of equipment for a work project. They suggested he clear some of his balance, even though it wasn’t strictly necessary. He did so and got approval for the purchase.

A few days later, a hold was placed on his card. He called to ask why and was told that it was due to an usual change in his purchase behavior. The rep pointed out that he hadn’t made any similar payments in the previous six months. He asked the rep if he could look and see the conversation history that would point to the prior authorization that he had sought and received. He pointed out that purchasing six-figure sums of equipment during a global pandemic hadn’t been particularly necessary – so, yes, his spending behavior had changed.

He had been a customer for 37 years. He had never had one late payment. His next payment, which was minor, was not due for another several days. His next major payment would be due a month later. He had received authorization to make a purchase, even though the authorization was not necessary. He had cleared some of his balance in advance at the recommendation of the company.

Somebody somewhere allowed an inadvertent act of hostility to enter the equation. And, now a once loyal, frequent, and happy customer is shopping for alternatives.


Dave Frankland is co-author of Marketing to the Entitled Consumer. Dave helps brands turn unreasonable consumer expectations into lasting relationships. As a managing director in Winterberry Group’s consulting practice, he has helped hundreds of companies to develop business, customer, and organizational strategies. In previous roles, he served as Chief Strategy officer of Selligent Marketing Cloud, co-founded and led Forrester’s Customer Intelligence research practice, and has held various strategy and communication roles at brands and agencies.


Photo by OSPAN ALI on Unsplash.

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