I'm constantly fascinated by the perceptions that different people will have of one business. For instance there's a BBQ restaurant that I absolutely love, I think it's the best in town, but during a casual conversation about weekend plans I had a relative tell me she thought the food was terrible. I couldn't for the life of me understand it. On the other hand I have friends who LOVE a certain downtown restaurant that I think has mediocre food (at best) and terrible service. I gave the place three tries and in my mind it failed to please all three times so it struck out with me.
From a business's standpoint it just has to try and please enough people enough times that it can be profitable. Of course it, or rather the people who run it, should always strive to improve and provide the best product/service possible, but they will never please everyone all of the time. I was reminded of this when I read this comment at Consumerist about the service one family got from American Express:
In 1989, my father died while traveling in another country. We were told by the State Dept. that we needed to deposit $2500 into an account to cover all costs of cremation, processing, and shipping him and his belongings home. Any monies not spent would be refunded to us.
It was a Sunday and none of our banks were open. My mom was frantic. In the course of a conversation with… someone from one of the banks? I don't remember… the woman whispered into her phone that if I had an AmEx card, I should call them, but not tell anyone she had suggested it.
So I called AmEx and spoke with an impossibly perky 15-year-old-sounding person who promised to take care of everything for me. Fifteen minutes later, she called with the transfer confirmation number and said that the State Dept. now had our funds. She also wanted to send the AmEx rep to take care of everything, but by then my poor dad was so wrapped up in red tape that no one could have gotten near him or his stuff.
In the course of the next few days, the State Dept. managed to lose my father in transit so he missed his own funeral, but that's another story. During that time, I got two more calls from managers at AmEx, asking if there was anything they could do to help us…
I know a lot of vendors don't take AmEx because their fees are higher, but I will never forget what they did for us when we had no other way out, and that they actually paid the substantial State Dept. fee for us and wouldn't let us repay them.
We have a friend who has had similar experiences with AmEx.
It's a pain to have to pay it all off every month, but well worth it to me, just to ensure that they are in my corner if, God forbid, I ever need them.
The same relative who disagreed with me about the BBQ place has a lifelong animosity towards AmEx for a reason I can't remember, but I can tell you that Hell will likely be frozen over before she ever uses an AmEx card again. There again we have the same company with two wildly divergent perceptions. Obviously AmEx has pleased enough people to build a very profitable business so I suspect the 'lovers' outweigh the 'haters,' but it's good for all of us to keep in mind that no matter how well we think we're doing we absolutely have someone out there who isn't pleased with us.
BTW, my wife and I just applied for our Costco/AmEx card. Hopefully we'll find our experience to be more like the Consumerist commentor's and less like my relative's.
*I posted this piece at the work blog as well.