My personal interactions with brands are normally the types of things I would share on Twitter or my personal blog. While I’ve occasionally shared some brand run-ins here, I prefer to write about the good things brands are doing rather than the bad. Using Social Media Explorer as a personal rant platform seems a disservice to you, somehow.

But I think my love affair and subsequent fallout with a recent brand has some lessons in customer retention we can all use, so please forgive the indulgence. There will be a point.

When my wife and I moved back to Louisville four years ago, I was thrilled for many reasons. One of which was that I could finally become a customer of PNC Bank. Yes, I was excited to spend my money with a brand and for a reason that proves sponsorships do attract customers.

First pitch, Mets vs Pirates, 7.20.
Image via Wikipedia

PNC Bank is one of the main corporate sponsors of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They are the title sponsor of PNC Park, home to the Pirates and said by many to be the class of Major League stadiums. Without PNC, the Pirates would have certainly moved away from Pittsburgh in the late 1990s/early 2000s as attendance dipped thanks to what is now a major league record 17-straight losing seasons.

I’ve been a Pirates fan since July 2, 1982 when my father took me to see a double header in Three Rivers Stadium against the Montreal Expos. Bryn Smith intentionally walked Willie Stargell in game one and a nine-year-old Jason Falls got chill bumps from the 20,000-plus standing and screaming. It was over. I was a Bucco fan for life.

I contributed to the construction of the Pirates new ball park in 2000 (it opened in the Spring of 2001) and have my name on a Bucco Brick near the Honus Wagner statue outside. Because PNC stepped up and made a much larger contribution to fund PNC Park and kept my team on the North Shore and in Pittsburgh, I vowed to give them my business. In 2006 I was able to do just that. (PNC had no branches in Birmingham, Ala., where we previously lived.)

My wife and I have handled our personal banking there since. When I went into business for myself last year, I didn’t hesitate to turn to PNC. I recently added a second business account there for a new project I’ll be telling you more about soon. From an angle, it may appear I’m as much a fan of PNC as I am the Pirates.

But in the coming weeks, I’m switching banks.

It started when I asked about connecting my PNC business accounts to Quickbooks. It’s a long story, but it took them 10 weeks to mail me a PIN number, only to find out that they don’t support Quickbooks for Mac, or the last two years worth of Quickbooks software updates, which they should have told me up front. (Never mind the fact people wanting to use online banking and Quickbooks don’t do MAIL for chrissakes.) It is ending with misprinted checks, complete lack of communications between bank staff about my account and failure to check the “Overdraft Protection” box despite my request for the service that led to an insufficient funds issue that was mythical since there were plenty of funds there.

There are about a half dozen little issues mixed in there as well, but enumerating them is unnecessary. Suffice to say the last nine months with PNC have been a comedy of errors that has hurt my business. I can’t afford for my bank to do that. They should be helping my business grow, not holding me back.

Unfortunately, it’s not just one person’s incompetence. In fact, my business banker here in Louisville has bent over backwards to help me. It’s the massive, bureaucratic mess that is the bank’s policies, procedures and communications structure that has essentially left at least one small business owner punch drunk from all the misfires and mistakes.

The one snag that sticks under my crawl is that I (respectfully) voiced concerns about the Quickbooks issue, particularly their unusually antiquated approach and inexcusable snail’s pace for a resolution. You would think that a squeaky wheel, particularly one trying to be helpful, might be someone they make sure doesn’t have additional problems. But that was the first of now seven or eight that has broken me.

The lesson in this, as I see it, is that as marketers we’re lucky when our messages reach the right people. We bring customers into the funnel and move the needle on our revenue. Good for us. But getting them in isn’t the end of the job. We have to serve them, listen to them, retain them. We at least have to meet a minimal level of expectations or we risk losing them. And when we know one of them is particularly irritated with us, we need to go to extraordinary lengths to make better.

A couple of times, I even posted public messages hoping PNC Bank’s corporate folks were listening. Nothing. They have a Twitter account. But they aren’t on Twitter, if you know what I mean.

PNC Bank didn’t have to do much to keep my business. All I ever expected from them is to hold on to my money, make it easy for me to grow as a business and perhaps check to make sure I was doing okay from time to time. (Plus keep supporting the Pirates.) But their systemic blunders and lost-in-the-system shrugs ultimately cost me money, time and frustration. I stayed on, hoping it would pass, but the dude that make the laws that apply to me at PNC is apparently Mrs. Murphy’s son.

Does my experience tell of larger problems with PNC Bank? I don’t know. But I don’t want to stick around longer to find out if there are more.

What does your company do to retain customers? Do you have systems in place to find trouble spots in customer relationships and fix them? What can large businesses do to ensure enterprise-level communications help customer relationships, not hinder them? I’m not sure if it will help PNC Bank, but I’m betting your fellow readers could use some ideas.

Thanks for the indulgence.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • stanphelps

    Jason,

    Bummer experience with PNC. You've hit the nail on the head. Most companies are so focused on the purchase funnel and prospective customers that they neglect customer experience. Banks and airlines seem to be the worst culprits although there are examples like Umpqua Bank and Jet Blue who differentiate themselves by creating a strong customer experience.

    The beauty of social media (in my opinion) is its ability to focus the magnifying glass on companies who neglect their best marketing resource . . . their customer. By taking your business elsewhere you've sent a far and wide message about PNC. Too bad they didn't go above and beyond to give you something positive to talk, tweet, Facebook and post to your blog about.

    Best,
    Stan

    @9inchmarketing
    'The average distance between the brain and the heart is 9 inches'

  • stanphelps

    Jason,

    Bummer experience with PNC. You've hit the nail on the head. Most companies are so focused on the purchase funnel and prospective customers that they neglect customer experience. Banks and airlines seem to be the worst culprits although there are examples like Umpqua Bank and Jet Blue who differentiate themselves by creating a strong customer experience.

    The beauty of social media (in my opinion) is its ability to focus the magnifying glass on companies who neglect their best marketing resource . . . their customer. By taking your business elsewhere you've sent a far and wide message about PNC. Too bad they didn't go above and beyond to give you something positive to talk, tweet, Facebook and post to your blog about.

    Best,
    Stan

    @9inchmarketing
    'The average distance between the brain and the heart is 9 inches'

  • Todd Dickerson

    Nice post, Jason. I believe retention is a key factor for new business – it's much easier to sell new products to existing customers than to obtain and sell new customers.

    As for switching – have you considered a credit union? Most credit unions are service-driven – and will go out of their way to be sure their members are happy.

  • Todd Dickerson

    Nice post, Jason. I believe retention is a key factor for new business – it's much easier to sell new products to existing customers than to obtain and sell new customers.

    As for switching – have you considered a credit union? Most credit unions are service-driven – and will go out of their way to be sure their members are happy.

  • http://deliverbliss.com Tim Sanchez

    I'm glad you're leaving; I think it's important to speak with your wallet. It's a pain to switch banks, especially with multiple accounts, and the banks know that. Some choose to take advantage of it.
    I'd be interested to know which bank you're switching to. I am in the process of leaving Bank of America (after a 12 year “relationship”) for USAA. Good luck with your switch.

  • http://deliverbliss.com Tim Sanchez

    I'm glad you're leaving; I think it's important to speak with your wallet. It's a pain to switch banks, especially with multiple accounts, and the banks know that. Some choose to take advantage of it.
    I'd be interested to know which bank you're switching to. I am in the process of leaving Bank of America (after a 12 year “relationship”) for USAA. Good luck with your switch.

  • http://twitter.com/oceanna Christine Durkin

    This is a perfect example of why banks are annually losing 12% of their customers, and acquiring an average of 13.5% per year. (Yankelovich, Inc.)

    When doing the math on a typical business customer, as to what it costs to lose one, the numbers are staggering. Client loyalty guru and author Fredrich Reichheld found that in financial services, keeping even 5% more of your clients from leaving can yield an average of an 80-95% increase in net profits. The numbers factor in the life time value of a typical business customer, vs. the cost to replace one, and the likelihood that the new customer may not be profitable in the near future, or maybe not ever. For more data on this issue, check out this financial services white paper on The Cost of Customer Churn: http://www.fpsc.com/The_Cost_of_Customer_Churn.pdf

  • http://twitter.com/oceanna Christine Durkin

    This is a perfect example of why banks are annually losing 12% of their customers, and acquiring an average of 13.5% per year. (Yankelovich, Inc.)

    When doing the math on a typical business customer, as to what it costs to lose one, the numbers are staggering. Client loyalty guru and author Fredrich Reichheld found that in financial services, keeping even 5% more of your clients from leaving can yield an average of an 80-95% increase in net profits. The numbers factor in the life time value of a typical business customer, vs. the cost to replace one, and the likelihood that the new customer may not be profitable in the near future, or maybe not ever. For more data on this issue, check out this financial services white paper on The Cost of Customer Churn: http://www.fpsc.com/The_Cost_of_Customer_Churn.pdf

  • http://blogging.compendiumblog.com/blog/blogging-best-practices chrisbaggott

    i'm thinking about leaving Charles Schwab because they don't have an iPhone app. Chase lets me pay all my bills from my phone :-)

  • http://blogging.compendiumblog.com/blog/blogging-best-practices chrisbaggott

    i'm thinking about leaving Charles Schwab because they don't have an iPhone app. Chase lets me pay all my bills from my phone :-)

  • http://custservicestories.blogspot.com/ barrydalton

    Jason,
    You've hit on a challenge that many large companies face. Tim Sanchez and I have commented about this several times in regard to the airlines. As customer service people, we spend a lot of focus on the front lines – on the point of interaction – and the people impacts. However, as much as we empower front line employees, recruit, screen and hire for empathy and other like qualities, it will never compensate for the big company processes that ultimatly sour the interaction and the relationship in general.

    This is the brick wall you ran into with PNC. Assuming every representative you engaged with wanted to help you, PNC has handcuffed them by not being able to get out of its own way, out from under its mountain of useless processes that serve no purpose but to alienate the customer.

    Bill Price, in his book “The Best Service is No Service” calls these “dumb contacts. Contacts that are driven by bad upstream decisions and faulty business processes and policies.

    As customer service executives, we have focused a lot of resources and money on six sigma and lean programs. But, the focus of these efforts needs to be not within the walls of the contact center, but upstream. If we can empower these functions, we can use these resources and methods to solve the real drivers of dissatisfaction and, like in your case, customer attrition.

    Thanks
    barry

  • http://custservicestories.blogspot.com/ barrydalton

    Jason,
    You've hit on a challenge that many large companies face. Tim Sanchez and I have commented about this several times in regard to the airlines. As customer service people, we spend a lot of focus on the front lines – on the point of interaction – and the people impacts. However, as much as we empower front line employees, recruit, screen and hire for empathy and other like qualities, it will never compensate for the big company processes that ultimatly sour the interaction and the relationship in general.

    This is the brick wall you ran into with PNC. Assuming every representative you engaged with wanted to help you, PNC has handcuffed them by not being able to get out of its own way, out from under its mountain of useless processes that serve no purpose but to alienate the customer.

    Bill Price, in his book “The Best Service is No Service” calls these “dumb contacts. Contacts that are driven by bad upstream decisions and faulty business processes and policies.

    As customer service executives, we have focused a lot of resources and money on six sigma and lean programs. But, the focus of these efforts needs to be not within the walls of the contact center, but upstream. If we can empower these functions, we can use these resources and methods to solve the real drivers of dissatisfaction and, like in your case, customer attrition.

    Thanks
    barry

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  • Brian Wallace

    Lots of banks don't seem to care these days. This is especially evident when you take a look at all the class action lawsuits they have been facing too. Customer service isn't meant to be a chore – should be interesting to see if and when PNC will contact you in some way.

  • Brian Wallace

    Lots of banks don't seem to care these days. This is especially evident when you take a look at all the class action lawsuits they have been facing too. Customer service isn't meant to be a chore – should be interesting to see if and when PNC will contact you in some way.

  • http://www.steigmancommunications.com Daria Steigman

    Hi Jason,

    Really, no QuickBooks integration? They really need to address that.

    There's quite an irony here, because I just posted a column (http://bit.ly/c4QE4b) about how PNC won my business. It started with a sponsorship and free business checking–which my then-bank didn't offer. But PNC really won me over with amazing customer service. So far, no entanglements with corporate, so I'm safe.

  • http://www.steigmancommunications.com Daria Steigman

    Hi Jason,

    Really, no QuickBooks integration? They really need to address that.

    There's quite an irony here, because I just posted a column (http://bit.ly/c4QE4b) about how PNC won my business. It started with a sponsorship and free business checking–which my then-bank didn't offer. But PNC really won me over with amazing customer service. So far, no entanglements with corporate, so I'm safe.

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  • http://www.simonmainwaring.com/ Simon Mainwaring

    Hey Jason,

    Great post. It's not just critical because brands need to retain customers, but also because it goes to the very heart of social. I believe social tools are teaching us to be human again, especially if we're a brand. Somewhere along the way that notion of the “brand personality” was divorced from any idea of behaving like a human being (unless they happen to be self-interested, obnoxious and deaf). It's time for all marketers to re-prioritize the needs of the customers for our own sakes.

    Thanks for the great post. Simon

  • http://budurl.com/ynfr Megan

    That is just awful. First of all, these big companies need to “listen” to their customers. I don't think you're the first one to leave and you'll definitely not be the last. Seems to me that they only care about raking in more customers rather than retaining them–a big mistake most companies make. They should take care of their customers, it's their bread and butter.
    Second, they should listen to the trends. Looks to me that they are severely outdated. Online banking and phone banking is not a fad…it's here to stay.
    But it's good that we get to learn from their mistakes. They have forgotten the most part of the success of their business…and that is the customers. They need to read and review this http://sn.im/uxp4n
    @barrydalton you're right. Customer service reps can only do so much. I doubt the higher ups would even listen to them. And honestly those reps on the phone, they are outsourced from other countries. So, you cannot expect them to help you with bigger issues like this.

  • http://my-creativeteam.com/blog Harry Hoover

    Jason, nice post. I am a big believer in focusing on customers first. So many businesses don't get this. The best new business program is doing great work for current clients, a subject I wrote about recently here – http://www.my-creativeteam.com/blog/my-new-busi

  • http://www.motiont.com motiontech

    Very great blog post; very interesting points mentioned. What gets me the most is that for most it wouldn’t be that hard at all to retain them as customers. Like in your post, you mentioned 10 weeks to get a simple pin number mailed to you. It is painful to see when businesses appear to not care about their customers, but very frustrating when it is simple things that do the most damage. All I basically ask for as a consumer these days is to get the results expected and have someone (customer service person, cashier) be pleasant. They don’t have to be all happy-go-lucky, but at least but a half fake smile on your face and say hello.

  • http://www.pntmarketingservices.com/newsfeed/article/Customer_loyalty_solutions_sought_by_many_after_dissatisfaction_hurts_brand_image-19646922.html Customer Attrition

    Great article. A mutually beneficial relationship between a business and its customers would seem to be essential in today's competitive marketplace. Thanks for the great read.

  • greecetour

    Interesting !!I enjoyed reading this post . Good keep it up .

  • http://startups.com/ M_Dilli

    The insight of the article is very interesting and realistic. I interact with a lot of entrepreneurs, on a daily basis, and the majority tends to think that the most important aspect and the energy has to be directed to getting a certain number of prospects. But when it comes to keeping them, there are no plans.

  • http://www.socialcubix.com/facebook-developer-uk.php Facebook Developer UK

    Nice Read Jason.

    You should leave PNC and switch to some other bank, which at least cares about their customers.

    These stupid mistakes which more often banks do will surely cost them a lot in future.

    Thanks.

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  • http://www.vocecommunications.com colin crook

    I know this is an old post Jason, but I could talk about this for hours. I'm a huge pirates fan living in san francisco and can't believe what has happened there. I've shared similar banking and baseball pit-falls. Here's to hoping the next Pirates owner has zero to do w/ the newspaper industry and that Alex Payne and Banksimple can get off the ground!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Kindred spirits, my man. Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.vocecommunications.com colin crook

    I know this is an old post Jason, but I could talk about this for hours. I'm a huge pirates fan living in san francisco and can't believe what has happened there. I've shared similar banking and baseball pit-falls. Here's to hoping the next Pirates owner has zero to do w/ the newspaper industry and that Alex Payne and Banksimple can get off the ground!

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Kindred spirits, my man. Thanks for the comment!