Are You Retaining Your Customers?

by Jason Falls |

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 the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).