Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Do you really value me as a customer? (Or do you just love me for my money????)

Mary Schmidt has one of her usual goodies on the care and feeding of customers, and you might want to head on over to Mary's to take a look at it. (Here's where to find it.) To summarize, she writes about a recent experience with Am-Ex, which has generously gifted her with an "almost" free appointment book and mini-scheduler. No wonder Mary got cranked up:

...while there is no charge for these (”in limited supply” heh), in the first year, I have to pay a “small fee” to cover the cost of shipping them to my home. That’s $2.79 for the Appointment Book (with a “luxurious” cover. Gollee!) and $1.79 for the Mini-Scheduler (that has calendars for 2007 to 2009 and “much more.” Oh, boy!) Then they automatically sign me up for following years and will bill my account for $26.99 and $16.99 for each of this nifty planners.

The little "fine print" - putting you on the hook for paying way too much in perpetuity for these "free" goods - got me thinking of a couple of other variations on a theme: the perpetual subscription that you have to call, write, and petition your Congressperson if you want to get out of.

A few years ago, when my 75 year old aunt sent me an e-card for St. Patrick's Day, I e-carded her back. What the heck, I signed up for $12 for a full year of e-carding, which I think I took advantage of once or twice.

Then, what to my wondering eyes did appear but another $12 charge for the service. Which I canceled out of, but too late to get my second $12 back. Grrrrrrrr.......

Then I wanted/needed/thought I wanted/needed access to something or other on the Fortune site that required the purchase of a paper-mag subscription. Again, it was one of those automatically resubscribe deals. After two years of receiving a magazine that mostly went straight into the re-cycle box, I wised up and sent a letter canceling my subscription.

Same thing with Consumer Reports. I can't remember now what it was that I was looking for - some appliance or electronics thing or another - but I signed up for access to the online info service. Well, during that year I had exactly zero need to check out Consumer Reports for anything else. (Hard to believe it was a zero-purchase year, but it might have been.) Then there it was on my credit card: $26 for the automatic renewal.

Talk about a real downside of not paying by check!

Now, while Fortune had no way or another to know whether I was reading their magazine, in the case of the e-greeting service (can't remember which one it was) and Consumer Reports, surely it must have been pretty clear to the service that I was not exactly using it. Shouldn't they have, at minimum, sent me an e-mail asking me to re-up. Or - during the year - sending me a note suggesting something that might be of interest to me, a little nudge to get back in there and use the service. ("Memorial Day's coming....don't you have a Civil War veteran you want to greet?" or "We've just come out with our new reviews of solar-powered idea generators, why not take a look."

Nope. I wouldn't swear on my life to this, but to the best of my recall the next time I heard from these folks was a charge on my credit card.

On the other hand, I renew my Symantech Security annually. With a month to go on my subscription, I start getting pop up messages reminding me to renew. Yes, they are a teensy-weensy bit annoying, but I do want to be secure. I will be renewing. And thanks for asking, rather than just tossing a charge my way.

I'm sure for those companies that go the if-we-don't-hear-different-we're-just-going-to-keep-on-rolling-you, it must be worth it. Or seem worth it. They must just make more on "the consumer" than they would if they asked them, pretty-please, to renew. Why chance a refusal, when you can just stick them. Enough of them must not squawk back, but must just go ahead and pay - at least for another year.

In the long run, though, which companies am I going to look more favorably on? Those who ask for my business nicely, or those who are so clearly just in it for the quick buck? Hmmmmm....


Mary Schmidt said...

The ironic thing? I pay with Am Ex when I think there may be any problem - including subscriptions. I can then file a dispute and they handle it (at least, to date they've done so.)

John Whiteside said...

Good topic. I was having a similar experience with Citibank, who I've found is excellent about dispute resolution, yesterday.

Every couple of months a weird charge from a retail store (different one each time) somewhere in Georgia turns up on my bill, I call them, and they get rid of it. Easy. But yesterday, this was followed by an attempt to sell me a $13/month "credit protection" service.

Guys, when I'm calling because of an unauthorized charge, don't sell me something, because I'm already thinking, "This is weird, maybe I should just cancel this card."