Thursday, July 31, 2008

United Front on Bad Customer Service (Chase Bank)

My last post was about American Express and their arrogance/stupidity with their benefit-deprived Black Card but the other credit card banks are not unfortunately much better.

Instead of a Black Card from Amex, I ultimately chose a United Platinum Visa from Chase Bank which gets me miles on an airline with a hub in Los Angeles which has helped me be able to get upgrades for most of the flights I have traveled on in the past three or four years. My AMEX miles are still sitting in their account with it being literally impossible to redeem. Trust me, I tried to use them. Those 750,000 miles are plenty to buy my wife and I a first class trip to Paris and one call to Delta (Amex's biggest mileage partner) got me flights stopping in Salt Lake, Atlanta and then on to Paris thus adding 6 to 8 hours onto an already intolerably long flight. They were blacked out on the direct flight from LAX to de Gaulle in Paris. The last time I tried to book flights to Maui on Delta (they have 2 a day from LAX non-stop) the agent had me leaving LAX at 6 AM going to Salt Lake, connecting to Honolulu and then being stranded there needing another flight. What a great solution. I flew on United and used miles to upgrade.

Today I got an email offer from Chase Bank to upgrade my card to the Gold level. While I have platinum card from them (whatever that means) yet they are touting double miles, no mileage blackout dates (see nightmare above) and other perks. They provided a web link from the email that that was broken. They offered an 800 number and I have been on hold for 31 minutes and counting waiting for them to answer. Their first level customer service girl was "going on her break" and didn't have any idea how to help me. This wait - which is more of a war now and I am curious to see how long the wait would be - may not be over anytime soon. Note: they sent the offer by email but offered no way to correspond by email to take the offer.

All advertising in my opinion boils down to Cost Per Acquisition of client meaning you spend all the money you spend on advertising and marketing to ultimately get quality leads and from those leads you close whatever percentage you can. If you spent $1,000,000 on email campaigns - wouldn't it be nice to know you closed X number of upgrades and each cost you Y per customer? In this case - I was interested customer who is packing significantly above 800 credit. The email got me on the hook and that is where I died as a lead. There was no reasonable way convert and that is a waste of their money and my time.

Ultimately, it was 37 minutes before I got someone on the phone from Chase who explained to me that the Gold card is really a downgrade over the Platinum card I have and that the offer is only for my personal card and not my business card - where I book most of my travel anyway. Brilliant.

Its nice to know AMEX doesn't own a monopoly on moronic marketing and bad customer service. While unquestionably arrogant - at least AMEX picks up the phone faster than 37 minutes.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

AMEX's Black Card Is Really A Black Mark On Their Customer Service Record

I understand the martkeing magic of the red velvet rope. The idea that one cant get into Studio 54 or Sykbar only speaks to your human instinct to truly lust after what you can't have. Once inside, you will rationalize the $22 crappy martini and even think the $3,000 a night hooker/actress/real-estate-agent might really "like you" when she over heard you talking about the movie project you have "in development".

American Express suffers from the same velvet rope malady with their lofty Centurion or "black card". Originally offered to their biggest spending clients who spent $150,000 or more per year (its reportedly $250,000 per year in spending now to be invited to get a Black Card) - the card quickly because a status symbol for the very wealthy around the world. Amazingly the card card comes with as much as $4,000 in fees yet the perks of the card (other than the status of plunking it down to pay for your $800 bottle of Cristal via "table service" in San Tropez) are few as well as being avaiable from other companies for far less money.

When the standard for getting a Black Card was $150,000 per year in spending and a $2,500 fee - my company spending was $140,000. My father convinced me to get an AMEX card before I went to college as I wouldn't spend beyond my means as most college kids do - and his advice was excellent as ususal. As my company and spending grew I got a gold card from Amex and ultimately was invited to get a $400 per year platinum card - which I still have today. I was a loyal AMEX customer for more than a decade thus accumualting points to use for a trip someday (note: AMEX has no meaningful relationship with any of the LA-based airlines like United or American Airlines) to somewhere exotic.

Knowing I was spending a lot on my company, that I was about to renovate a home and that I was going to get engaged thus needed a ring and the full Hotel Bel Air wedding - I called Amex to ask for a Black Card. The level of "the Business of No" I got was astounding. Note: I was $10,000 away from their spending limit at the time and was poised to spend hundreds of thousands more dollars and they told me absolutely no on the black card. I went back and forth with one seniour customer service person who tried to help me but to no avail.

Can you imagine what it costs to earn a client who spends strongly both for his company and personally as well as has a merchant account? Imagine the three percent fees disappearing because that's just what they did. I canceled all but one of my AMEX cards (they can be good overseas) for which I use to maintain the miles I can't find a way to use to go anywhere. I signed up for a United Airlines card which has no prestige whatsoever other than the fact I use the miles I get from it to ALWAYS fly first class on every trip I make on the airline. I am still trying to book a flight to use my Amex miles on one of their partner airlines like Delta. Delta tried to get me to fly to Paris with connections in Salt Lake City, Atlanta and then to Paris. Right.

Warren Buffett should bitch slap the CEO of American Express during his once a year during his once-per-year meeting. There is a reason why you walk into a restaurant and they say "I am sorry sir, we don't take American Express" That's because they too have been screwed or insulted. American Express needs to lean the Business of Yes to retain the wealthy clients of the future.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Under The Umbrella I Found Integrity

I was on the phone with my friend from Philadelphia while sitting on my deck in Brentwood (not too far from the former home of Heisman Trophy winning USC tailback Orenthal J. Simpson) enjoying a glass of Walter Hansel 2006 chardonnay from the Russian River Valley as the three red tail hawks soared above my property - when the world came crashing down on me.

Well, actually it was my big umbrella from Room and Board and the gigantic plastic top of the unit cracked this leaving the umbrella to fall on me disrupting my peaceful evening and leaving me blurting out a few choice obscenities as if I was back in Philly - perhaps at a Flyers-Rangers game.

This isn't the first time this umbrella has broken but the last time was my fault. In trying to get the PERFECT shot for a photo shoot of my house for Modern Home Theater - I pushed in just the wrong way and SNAP. There went the umbrella. I manned up and ordered another one which was quickly delivered and installed without incident. That time was absolutely my fault.

This time my wife called Minneapolis-based Room and Board to ask what they could do for us. In turns out - they can refreshingly do a lot. Within two weeks (including a holiday weekend) they delivered a new umbrella as well as studied why the last one broke. They charged nothing for the new umbrella. Zero for the installation and zilch for delivery. In fact, they were so fast that I couldn't even grease the guys a smooth Andrew Jackson for their efforts (I can't help it, I am an Italian raised in Philly who my friends say will "tip a toll booth attendant" if they would let me). The lead guy who installed the umbrella said that he has never seen this happen other than at my house and if it happened again that they would come out and replace it again.

This my friends - is the Business of YES!

Room and Board gets it in ways airlines and other stagnant companies do not. No $15 charges for Internet access at the Four Seasons or $25 fee to check a bag before a crappy coach flight to somewhere. Room and Board chose not to nickel and dime me and I thank them. The company just made sure I was a happy customer. In fact, they guaranteed that I will be a repeat customer even if I have to drive down to Irvine to their beautiful 40,000 square foot showroom the next time I need some furniture.